At the start of the 66th running of the once around the clock classic in central Florida, the Cadillac teams all took turns leading the race. As pit stops cycled throughout the afternoon the prototype class lead would change every 45-minutes. Just before the eight hour mark, the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac DPi-V.R had contact coming through the last turn with another prototype. The resulting front left suspension fix cost January’s Rolex 24-hour winners 13 laps and any chance at winning the race.
As the sun set, and the 85-degree temperature began to decrease, the Cadillac teams started to set their strategy for the run to the checkered flag. The No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac DPi-V.R, with Mike Conway behind the wheel, took the overall race lead at the eight hour mark. The No. 90 Spirit of Daytona Cadillac DPi-V.R and the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R were also on the lead lap and very much in contention.
With a hour-and-a-half remaining, Felipe Nasr took the restart following a yellow, caused by the No. 90 Spirit of Daytona Cadillac, in second position just behind the leading No. 22 Nissan (eventual winner) with the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R driven by Renger Van Der Zande in third. In fuel saving mode, as the 22 Nissan has more fuel capacity, Nasr was driving to maintain contact with the 22 while conserving to make just one more pit stop and hold off a raging Van Der Zande. Van Der Zande was able to get by for second place and Nasr held on to come home on the last step of the podium in third position with teammates Jordan Taylor and Ryan Hunter-Reay.
“Not a win, but to come home with a second the way we started is good,” Taylor said. “The team adapted well to everything that happened on track and in the pits. Great day for the team they executed well and it was a great points day after what happened in Daytona. We are on the right footing now heading to Long Beach. We are learning more about the new tire and continue to learn more at Long Beach. The made good changes throughout the weekend on the car. We struggled a little in the heat in the middle of the day then the car came back to us at night when we really needed to race.”
“It is fantastic,” Van Der Zande said. “It was hard to find a real race car. We were testing in the heat and the race finishes in the night when it is cool so you are in survival mode during the heat of the day. The car really comes alive at night. The engineers are super stars and they know what they are doing. They give me everything I need to perform. It was an eventful day. I got tapped on the rear and they made a quick fix. I have a lot of faith in my new team. They don’t give up and they stay calm when things happen. We were the best of the rest today.”
“I think we experienced the full gambit today,” Hunter-Reay said. “We had ups and downs. My stint in the middle was certainly interesting. I had oil all over the windshield and dirt on top of that. The sun was setting into Turn 17 and I could barely see three feet in front of the car. Jordan and Renger did a great job. We got some good points for the team. We were close, but not the win I want here.”
The Whelen Engineering Cadillac team of Felipe Nasr, Eric Curran and Mike Conway finished third today.
“It was tough out there,” Nasr said. “At night everyone was set. We had to save fuel and give up track position. I want to win. The team wants to win. Today, we had to take what we could get. It was a long race. The Whelen Cadillac was really good. We led a lot of laps and stayed in the top three. We are leading both of the championships. It is a really good result for the team. We will take it.”
“Overall a really good day,” Curran said. “Crazy race, good fun here at Sebring. We had a car that was capable of winning. We just didn’t have the sheer speed and fuel capacity of the 22 car. The Whelen Cadillac was good and reliable. We had great pit stops. We need to win one of these Sebring 12 hours. It all started for me here with Sonny Whelen. My first race with Sonny was a win, I would love to get another one. We’ve had three podiums in a row in three years, but not a win in the prototype. We are strong enough.”
“The same as last year, we were third last year too,” Conway said. “We could just keep ahead of the Nissan in clean air. In traffic, they could get by with their straight-line speed. We just ended up a little shy at the end. It is a good result for the 31 Whelen Cadillac and good points. I wish the team luck the rest of the season and I hope they can win the championship.”
In the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac DPi-V.R, the team of Filipe Albuquerque, Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi were able to soldier on after their crash and come to the checkered flag 10th in class for valuable points.
“Today it was not our day,” Albuquerque said. “The plan was going well. During the race we had good pace and the car was getting better. We also had a lot contact on the track and the crash was a shame. We want to fight for the championship. When you don’t get the win, you go for the podium. The team did a great job to fix the car and we were able to finish 16th overall. Bring on the next race.”
Tristan Vautier, had a heavy crash coming through Turn 17 in the No. 90 Spirit of Daytona Cadillac DPi-V.R with two hours remaining. He went wide, got into the dirty part of the track and hit the tire wall at the exit. The resulting damaged forced the retirement of the car that was running on the lead lap at the time.
“It started from the beginning of the out lap – I flat spotted a tire because I was too impatient trying to change a switch on the car,” Vautier said. “When I got to Turn 17, I locked up a bit. I didn’t feel as though I was as wide as I was, but when I realized my left side tires were in the marbles, I tried to get on the gas. But once you’re in the marbles, it’s like ice, and the wall came to me pretty quickly. I’m very sorry for the guys, because it was a big crash and it will take a lot of work to repair. But my hat is off to the entire team, they gave us an amazing car today. Our pace was good and the car was good throughout the entire race. I’m just sorry it ended like that.”
The next stop for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship series will be the Bubba Burger Sports Car Grand Prix at Long Beach, April 13-14.
Source. Kyle Chura/Cadillac Racing