Race Weekend Central

Toyota GAZOO Racing Scores Dominant 1-2 In 1000 Miles Of Sebring

Toyota GAZOO Racing’s Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez led roughly the entire second half of the race Friday (March 17) to win the 1000 Miles of Sebring, the season opener for the FIA World Endurance Championship. The race was run to a distance of either 1000 miles, or eight hours, whatever came first. In this race, the eight-hour mark was reached 29 laps, or 108.46 miles, short of the scheduled distance.

Ferrari AF Corse’s Antonio Fuoco started his new Ferrari 499P from the overall pole and lead early. Much of the race weekend leading up to the event had been rather crash-strewn and the start of the WEC event was no exception. On lap 5, Richard Mille AF Corse’s Luis Perez Companc spun in turn 1, hit the tires and rolled his Ferrari 488 GTE.

The crash put the No. 83 Ferrari out and brought out the safety car. Perez Companc was ok and walked away without injury. However, as you see above, it took a little time for Perez Companc to get out due to how the car came to rest.

A split pit strategy developed here that held up for most of the rest of the race. Fuoco pitted here from the lead to top off his fuel. Meanwhile, Toyota GAZOO Racing’s Sebastien Buemi chose to stay out.

Normally, this would result in the lead swapping once Buemi stopped. That didn’t happen due to Fuoco getting a drive-through penalty for passing a slower car on the restart prior to the start-finish line. As a result, Buemi’s No. 8 Toyota was able to maintain the lead and pulled away from the competition.

The No. 8 team continued to lead until a full course yellow came down to debris on the track. Brendon Hartley was low on fuel and took emergency service in a closed pit to put a minimum amount of fuel in his Toyota GR010. Once the green came back out, he stopped for a relatively slow full tank of fuel and tire change.

That stop allowed Kobayashi in the No. 7 Toyota to take the overall lead. Aside from pit sequences, they did not give it up for the remainder of the race.

An 11-car Hypercar class grid was seemingly supposed to provide for a more competitive race at the front. That wasn’t really the case as the Toyotas ran nearly flawless while everyone else ran into issues. The Peugeots both ran into electrical issues pertaining to the transmission. The Ferraris and Porsches got penalized and the others didn’t have the pace.

Conway, Kobayashi and Lopez’s margin of victory was 2.168 seconds over Buemi, Hartley and Ryo Hirakawa. Fuoco, Miguel Molina and Nicklas Nielsen were two laps down in third. Chip Ganassi Racing’s Cadillac for Earl Bamber, Alex Lynn and Richard Westbrook were fourth, while Porsche Penske Motorsport’s Dane Cameron, Michael Christensen and Frederic Makowiecki were another two laps back in fifth.

In LMP2, United Autosports’ No. 23 with Tom Blomqvist, Oliver Jarvis and Josh Pierson dominated the proceedings from the class pole until the ORECA 07-Gibson rolled to a stop on the run to the hairpin. It was thought to be a simple electronics issue, but the truth veered into the bizarre.

Team co-owner Richard Dean told SportsCar365.com that the in-car camera came loose and bounced around the cockpit. Eventually, it hit the ignition off-switch that marshals are supposed to be able to activate from outside the car, disabling the ORECA 07.

It is a very rare sight for something tied into the TV broadcast to end chances for a team to win a race. The closest parallel to this in NASCAR occurred during the NASCAR Winston Cup Series’ Global Crossing @ the Glen in 2001 when a telemetry box installed inside of Robby Gordon’s Lowe’s Chevrolet to provide on-screen information for the NBC broadcast, burst into flames. Gordon was running second to Jeff Gordon two laps earlier.

The retirement of the pole winners completely opened up the class. Now, you had Hertz Team JOTA, Prema Racing’s No. 63 and Team WRT in the mix.

Ultimately, Hertz Team JOTA’s David Beckmann, Will Stevens and Yifei Ye ended up taking the win. This entry is a one-off entry for the team that ran in place of the full-time No. 38. That car is a Porsche 963 bound for the Hypercar class that the team has not taken possession as of yet. The current plan is for that car to debut at Spa at the end of next month.

Hertz Team JOTA’s margin of victory was 2.863 seconds over United Autosports’ No. 22 for Filipe Albuquerque, Phil Hanson and Frederic Lubin. PREMA Racing’s Mirko Bortolotti, Daniil Kyvat and Doriane Pin were third, followed by Inter Europe Competition’s Albert Costa, Fabio Scherer and Jakub Smiechowski. Team WRT’s Rui Andrade, Louis Deletraz and Robert Kubica were fifth.

GTE-Am was an early duel between the pole sitting Iron Dames Porsche of Sarah Bovy and Corvette Racing’s Ben Keating. Keating was able to take the lead away from Bovy a couple of laps into the race, but Bovy was able to get him back.

The two traded the lead back and forth until Corvette Racing was caught out by a full course yellow due to debris. Bovy was able to stop while Keating ended up on a different strategy. The ultimate result was that the Iron Dames Porsche ended up with a big lead.

Everything was great for the Iron Dames until the three-hour mark when Rahel Frey had an off-course excursion exiting turn 1 that ripped off the rear diffuser and rear bumper. That resulted in a long stop to replace both parts that cost the team a couple of laps and put them out of the hunt. The team of Bovy, Frey and Michelle Gatting would eventually finish eighth in class.

The Iron Dames’ woes put Corvette Racing’s Keating, Nicky Catsburg and Nico Varrone back into the class lead. From there, Corvette Racing was gone. No one else could compete with them as Corvette took their first WEC class victory outside of Le Mans.

Corvette Racing’s margin of victory was two laps over Dempsey-Proton Racing’s Julien Andlauer, Mikkel Pedersen and Christian Ried. Kessel Racing’s Scott Huffaker, Takeshi Kimura and Daniel Serra were third in their Ferrari, while the two AF Corse Ferraris were fourth and fifth. The No. 21 of Stefano Constantini, Ulysse de Pauw and Simon Mann beat out the No. 54 of Francesco Castellacci, Thomas Flohr and Davide Rigon.


About the author

Phil Allaway has three primary roles at Frontstretch. He's the manager of the site's FREE e-mail newsletter that publishes Monday-Friday and occasionally on weekends. He keeps TV broadcasters honest with weekly editions of Couch Potato Tuesday and serves as the site's Sports Car racing editor.

Outside of Frontstretch, Phil is the press officer for Lebanon Valley Speedway in West Lebanon, N.Y. He covers all the action on the high-banked dirt track from regular DIRTcar Modified racing to occasional visits from touring series such as the Super DIRTcar Series.

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