The historic Sebring racetrack is now under new NASCAR management and the changes to the old track are obvious. The pit straight now features high fencing on both sides for safety. Security has been tightened and proper credentials for track access and parking are closely inspected. The first 12-hour race was held on this abandoned military training base in 1952. Sixty-four years later it’s one of the oldest endurance races in the United States. The present track length is 3.74 miles and it is rough, hot and demanding for the cars and drivers. Sebring is brutal on teams, but they come back repeatedly in an attempt to conquer this classic venue. The Weather Tech Sportscar Championship is the series sponsor and replaces the previous sponsor [Tudor]. Corvette competes in two of the four race categories: Prototype (P) and GTLM (Grand Touring Le Mans). In GTLM the Corvette C7.R is a consistent class winner including a one-two victory at the 2016 24 Hours of Daytona. Four DP Corvettes qualified 3rd, 4th, 6th and 8th. The No. 31 Whelen DP was the quickest Corvette with a time of 1:51.943 and was .88 of a second behind the pole winning Honda LMP 2 Prototype. The other three Corvette DP’s were not far behind. In the GTLM class, two M6 BMW’s captured the GTLM front row positions. The No. 3 C7.R driven by Magnussen, Garcia and Rockenfeller was .43 of a second behind the pole time in fifth place. The No. 4 C7.R driven by Gavin/Milner/ Fassler was sixth, .46 of a second behind the BMW! The GTLM class always offers close competition.
The green flag fell for forty-nine competitors at 10:40 a.m. under sunny skies. However ominous clouds could be seen to the far west of the track. The rain predictions were hovering around 80% to hit the track during the race. Near the end of the third hour Corvette DP’s were in 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th overall. The No. 4 C7.R was third in GTLM and 12th overall. The No. 3 C7.R was fifth in GTLM and 18th overall, and rain began covering the circuit. The rain soon turned into a severe lightning storm and the race was red flagged at 1:30 pm (2h 50m). The course was deemed to be too dangerous for corner workers and TV crews. Corvette C7.R No. 4 driver Tommy Milner had this to say, “It was super tricky conditions, I watched the 66 Ford go off in front of me just before the red flag.” The driver of Corvette C7.R No. 3, Antonio Garcia said, “I don’t know how the No. 25 BMW and I didn’t crash at the end of the straight. We were navigating for half the straight not controlling the car at all on slick tires. I spun at the end of the straight, but did not hit anything.” The race resumed at 3:46 p.m. after a two hour and fifteen minute red flag pause.
When the race restarted under yellow flag conditions the Corvette DP No. 5 and 31 held the lead. After the green flag resumed the race the Corvette DP’s stayed in front as the hours clicked off. However, the third place Honda LMP2 prototype was close behind. Drama hit the No. 3 C7.R Corvette at (7h 11m) when Jan Magnussen was trying to pass the leading No. 911 Porsche on the main straight. A slower Audi was between the Porsche and Corvette when the Porsche hit a puddle and slammed into the Audi. The Audi hit the Corvette and sent everyone spinning and banging into each other. The right side of the Corvette was a mess. It went behind the wall for extensive repairs to the nose and right side of the car. It returned to the race eighty three minutes later and finished 41st overall and 9th in the GTLM class. The Porsche was retired.
As the race neared the finish, the two leading Corvette DP’s held the lead. However the No. 2 Honda LMP2 slipped by the No. 5 Corvette DP and tucked in behind the No. 31 first place Corvette DP. With five minutes remaining the Daytona wining Honda passed the Whelen Corvette to take a 2.926 second victory over the Whelen Corvette DP. Meanwhile Tommy Milner took the checkered flag in the No. 4 Corvette. He placed first in GTLM and 11th overall ahead of the No. 25 BMW. It was Corvette Racing’s tenth GT victory at Sebring. With two GTLM wins in a row, Corvette Racing is hoping this momentum helps them secure another championship. Stay tuned!