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IMSA: 12 Hours of Sebring – ESM Honda-Ligier wins second straight enduro

 

The #2 Extreme Speed Motorsports Honda-Ligier JS P2 won the Twelve Hours of Sebring to take its second straight win in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. With 5 min 45 sec to go, Pipo Derani passed Dane Cameron (#31 Action Express Corvette DP) to take the lead and the eventual victory, sweeping Daytona and Sebring in back-to-back rounds of the Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup.

 

“What a tough race this was,” said Derani. “We had some contact, some spins, and moving our way back to the front was just unbelievable. In the end, I knew we had a great car, and new tires. But with only 10 to 15 minutes to go and still be in fourth was difficult to believe that we were going to make it. God had an eye on me and everything I executed was perfect.” Scott Sharp, Ed Brown, and Johannes van Overbeek co-drove with Derani.

 

ESM is the first team to sweep Daytona and Sebring since Doran-Moretti Racing in 1998 in a Ferrari 333SP. Wayne Taylor and Jim Pace also accomplished that fete in 1996 co-driving a Riley and Scott Oldsmobile, with Sharp sharing that car in the Rolex 24 victory.

 

Cameron took second place along with co-drivers Eric Curran and Scott Pruett. “It was eventful for sure, a pretty wild day,” said Curran. “Between the weather and delayed race and red flags, overall we’re really happy. Leading with just a few laps to go and finishing second is still a great result … a win would have been nice but we’ll take the second and head on to the next race.”

 

After leading the first two Patrón Endurance Cup segments, the sister Action Express #5 Corvette finished third, driven by Christian Fittipaldi, Joao Barbosa, and Filipe Albuquerque. Fittipaldi led at the 4-hr mark, picking up the 5-point bonus for the first Patrón Endurance Cup segment. Barbosa had control 8 hours in, bringing home another five points.

 

The Patrón Endurance Cup continues with the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen at Watkins Glen International in July and Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta in October.

 

Colin Braun took the lead in Prototype Challenge 5 hr and 52 min into the race and the #54 CORE autosport Oreca FLM09 dominated the second half of the race. Joined by Jon Bennett and Mark Wilkins, Braun gave the team its second Sebring victory in three years. While attrition thinned the seven-car PC field, Tom Kimber-Smith stepped up in the defending class-winning #52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports entry to challenge Braun. Kimber-Smith was leading with 23 min remaining, but Braun executed what proved to be the winning pass moments before the final caution period began on Lap 229.

 

Reprising their Corvette Racing’s sister car’s start to 2015, Tommy Milner, Oliver Gavin, and Marcel Fassler won GT Le Mans, backing up their season-opening victory in the Rolex 24 At Daytona. Milner passed the BMW M6 GTLM of Lucas Luhr for the class lead at the 9 hr 38-min mark. From that point, the Corvette led all but one of the remaining laps, briefly relinquishing the lead on a pit stop. The battle saw Porsche, Ferrari, and Ford also take turns in the lead.

 

“I don’t think I’ve ever had such a strong race car when I got in for the final three hours,” said Milner, who also co-drove with Gavin in winning the GTE Pro class in the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans. “I knew I could pass the cars in front of me. It was difficult with all the cautions, but we got it back up there. I had a 20-sec lead and then we had a caution. I knew everyone was racing for the win, so I kept pushing and was able to bring it in.”

 

Dirk Werner took second place, 2.882 sec behind, driving the #25 BMW Team RLL M6 started from the pole by Bill Auberlen and also driven by Bruno Spengler. All three drivers took turns up front, leading five times for 61 laps. Rounding out the podium was the #912 Porsche North America Porsche 911 RSR driven by Earl Bamber, Frederic Makowiecki, and Michael Christensen.

 

Ford Chip Ganassi Racing led its first laps, the #67 Ford GT moving to the front twice with reigning IndyCar champion Scott Dixon behind the wheel and leading for a total of 18 laps. “I think we missed a little bit, but obviously we’ve made good progress since Daytona,” said Dixon, with the team reporting no mechanical problems and none of the issues that plagued the team in its debut at Daytona.

 

The race took place in changing weather conditions, including several short but intense downpours and a thunderstorm that led to a 2-hr, 15-min red-flag shortly before the 3-hr mark.

 

One day after Jeff Segal demonstrated the potential of Scuderia Corsa’s #63 Ferrari 488 GT3 by capturing GT Daytona pole, Alessandro Balzan backed it up, taking the lead with 9 min remaining and going on to capture the GTD victory in its maiden voyage. Balzan beat Jens Klingmann in the #96 Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3 by 2.28 sec, joining Christina Nielsen and Segal in giving Ferrari its first class triumph at Sebring since 2011. It was Nielsen’s first victory in WeatherTech Championship competition and the first class win for a female at Sebring since 2006, when Liz Halliday won LMP2.

 

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