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ESM Streaks To Sebring Win

| , RacinToday.com Sunday, March 20 2016
Tequila Patron ESM's Honda Ligier was a winner at Sebring.

Tequila Patron ESM’s Honda Ligier was a winner at Sebring.

The No. 2 Tequila Patrón ESM Honda Ligier JS P2 won its second-straight IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race Saturday when it captured the 64th Twelve Hours of Sebring event in Florida.

As he did in the season-opening Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway, Pipo Derani captured the checkered flag for ESM with late-race heroics.

With five minutes and 45 seconds to go, Derani passed Dane Cameron in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering/Team Fox Corvette DP from Action Express Racing to take the lead and the eventual victory.

“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. I can’t believe it all. It happened like that. I was so focused to bring the car home. The adrenaline was so high I couldn’t think about anything else.”

Cameron took second place in the No. 31 Corvette DP along with co-drivers Eric Curran and Scott Pruett. After leading the first two Patrón Endurance Cup segments, the sister Action Express No. 5 Mustang Sampling Corvette finished third, driven by Christian Fittipaldi, Joao Barbosa and Filipe Albuquerque.

Fittipaldi led at the four-hour mark, picking up the five-point bonus for the first Patrón Endurance Cup segment. Barbosa had control at the eight-hour mark, bringing home another five points the No. 5 team earning the maximum 10-point bonus for leading both segments.

“It was a long day,” Cameron said. “I drove a lot and I am going to sleep very well tonight. I am really proud of the effort we put forth today in the Whelen Engineering Action Express Corvette today. It was an excellent effort from our team and I think we can be quite proud all around for the effort. All the drivers, the guys in the pits our spotters and everyone was really great today.
“We just didn’t quite have enough in the last couple of laps which is obviously very disappointing to come so close. It was a strong endurance race for us so we can push on toward the championship.”
Following his third place finish, Portuguese driver Albuquerque was complimentary of his team, and acknowledged how difficult accepting the third place finish was after spending time leading throughout the event.
“It was a hell of a day and crazy weather for everyone,” Albuquerque said. “We survived everything and we led a lot of the race.  I think Joao and Christian and the team did a great job, but in the end it was just strategy and place. The P2 car was same story as Daytona. I couldn’t have expected him to brake so late into turn seven. I was at my limit and I couldn’t brake later. It was just pace. It is so frustrating to see the last seven laps with the win so close but at the same time so far.”

The race was run in wet conditions and had to be red flagged at one point because of heavy rain and lightening.

The DragonSpeed Nissan Oreca 05 finished fourth.

Drivers Marc Goossens, Ryan Dalziel, and Ryan Hunter-Reay drove the Visit Florida Racing Corvette DP to a fifth place finish.

 “We had positive points today,” Dalziel said, “we just didn’t have the result. Speed-wise we struggled again, so I think the first thing we have to do is get a little more speed out of the car. I think we narrowed the gap to the other Corvettes from Daytona to now so I take that as a positive. We got to run up front for a big chunk of the race but unfortunately Marc (Goossens) was actually spun by the eventual winners. He drove like crazy today and had almost five hours in the car. We have a lot of people here from Visit Florida so hopefully we gave them something to cheer about. And it was a good points as far as the No. 10 and the No. 60 finishing behind us so we will take the positives and make it better for Long Beach.”

Colin Braun took the lead in the Prototype Challenge at just under the halfway mark – at 5 hours and 52 minutes – and the No. 54 CORE autosport Flex-Box Composite Resources 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 No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports ORECA FLM09 to challenge Braun. Kimber-Smith was leading with 23 minutes remaining, but Braun executed what proved to be the winning pass moments before the final caution period began on lap 229.

“It was fun racing Tom [Kimber-Smith] and that whole group,” Braun said. “They are all class competitors. We almost had the field a lap down, but then the Corvette and the Porsche got together to close up the field. Mark did a great job holding Tom off before I got in. Then on the restart, some GT car ran into my door and spun me out. So we worked our way back through the field, and we did, because we had a fast race car. Jon did a great job early in the race managing the car in the monsoon – that certainly wasn’t an easy task. So it was a great job for the team.”

Braun took the checkered flag 1.282 seconds ahead of Kimber-Smith, who co-drove with Robert Alon and Jose Gutierrez. Renger van der Zande, Alex Popow and David Heinemeier Hansson rebounded from problems early in the event to take third in the No. 8 Starworks Motorsport entry.

Tommy Milner, Oliver Gavin and Marcel Fassler drove their Corvette C7.R to victory in the GT Le Mans category.

Milner passed the BMW M6 GTLM of Lucas Luhr for the class lead at the nine-hour, 38-minute 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 in the highly competitive class.

“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-second 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 the checkered flag in second place, 2.882 seconds behind, driving the No. 25 BMW Team RLL IHG Rewards Club BMW M6 GTLM 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 No. 912 Porsche North America Porsche 911 RSR driven by Earl Bamber, Frederic Makowiecki and Michael Christensen, followed by the Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GT3 of Giancarlo Fisichella, Toni Vilander and Davide Rigon.

Alessandro Balzan drove Scuderia Corsa’s No. 63 Ferrari 488 GT3 to victory in the GT Daytona class.

Balzan took the checkered flag 2.280 seconds ahead of Jens Klingmann in the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3, joining Christina Nielsen and Jeff Segal in giving Ferrari its first class triumph at Sebring since 2011. It was Nielsen’s first victory in WeatherTech Championship competition.

“The last five minutes were almost like the 12 hours,” Balzan said. “We decided not to change the tires, so it was the advantage not to lose a lot of time with cold tires. We had a nice race with the BMWs. We had a bit of contact, but that is to be expected because you are fighting for the win. Then I took advantage of the traffic and was able to pull away.”

Nielsen became the first female class winner at Sebring since 2006, when Liz Halliday won the LMP2 class.

“I’m just as thrilled as I can be,” Nielsen said. “Sebring is a unique event, probably my favorite beside Petit Le Mans. Getting my first win here feels amazing – it’s something we worked super hard for. Now I guess we’re in a good path for the championship.”

Nielsen and Ashley Freiberg made it two women on the GTD podium, as Freiberg joined Klingmann and Bret Curtis in the runner-up BMW. They were followed by Rolex 24 class winners John Potter, Andy Lally and Marco Seefried in the Magnus Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3.

| , RacinToday.com Sunday, March 20 2016
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