Three Takeaways: Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring

By David Phillips

IMSA Wire Service

Well, that was quite some finish to the 2024 Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Cadillac. Not quite as dramatic (or expensive!) as 2023’s pre-checkered flag demolition derby but plenty exciting nonetheless with Louis Deletraz muscling past a typically determined Sebastien Bourdais’s No. 01 Cadillac Racing Cadillac V-Series.R in the final moments for the overall win in the No. 40 Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti Acura ARX-06.

Some 15 minutes earlier, Jack Hawksworth in the No.14 Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3 outbraved Daniel Serra’s No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 296 GT3 into Turn 1 to snatch a Grand Touring Daytona Pro (GTD PRO) lead he would hold to the finish. And even if the Grand Touring Daytona (GTD) and Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) class winners – the No. 57 Winward Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 and No. 18 Era Motorsport ORECA LMP2 07 – held station during the final hour, it was hardly a Saturday night cruise, witness their winning margins of 0.646 and 1.127 seconds, respectively.

So, what else do we take away from the IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship’s annual pilgrimage to Sebring International Raceway?

A Victory of Sorts

There is no such thing as a moral victory in racing. However, the No. 63 Lamborghini Iron Lynx Lamborghini SC63’s seventh-place finish in its IMSA debut certainly amounts to a qualified success. With the understanding that the only truly successful Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) entry was that of the victorious WTRAndretti Acura, the fact that the new Lambo completed 12 grueling hours of racing around Sebring’s 3.74-mile torture test of a racetrack with a minimum of mechanical issues had to be both satisfying and encouraging to Lamborghini and the Iron Lynx team.

That the “Verde Mantis” finished on the lead lap and drivers Romain Grosjean, Matteo Cairoli and Andrea Caldarelli turned competitive lap times – the car’s best lap was only 0.653 seconds slower than the winning Acura’s best lap (and faster than that of the second-placed Cadillac) – is similarly promising, particularly given that Job 1 was to run the full distance rather than setting any speed records. All in all, the performance announced in no uncertain terms that Lamborghini is well on the way to joining Acura, BMW, Cadillac and Porsche as a potential winner in GTP.

Dynamic Racing

The combination of 12 tough hours of racing at Sebring together with a limited number of Michelin tires resulted in what could best be described as dynamic racing in all four classes. The bone-jarring track surface, coupled with conditions ranging from mild mid-morning, to hot and humid from midday though the afternoon, followed by the relative cool of the evening meant race engineers, mechanics and drivers were constantly chasing track conditions.

And with a limited number of sets of tires available to cars in each class for the race (11 sets for GTP, 12 for LMP2, 15 for GTD and GTD PRO), teams had no choice but to double-stint several sets during the course of the race – always with an eye to having their cars on fresh rubber in the final hour or two. That the tire performance was (by design) subject to significant degradation as the miles built up only added to the challenge.

Inevitably, any given car’s performance was subject to ebbs and flows based not only on how well it (and its drivers) adapted to constantly changing track conditions, but also to whether its tires were being double-stinted and, perhaps more importantly, how well the drivers “managed” those tires. Abuse them while battling for position or in search of quick lap times on their first stint? Be prepared to spend the second stint searching for grip and/or ruing those extra tenths gained at the expense of tire life in the first stint.

Thus were nine of the 11 GTP starters, 11 of the 13 LMP2 starters, six of 12 in GTD PRO and 10 of the 22 in GTD credited with leading their class at one time or more during the race. Yes, there were a number of factors beyond outright speed to account for those numbers, but any way you put it, that’s dynamic competition.

36 Hours of Florida Champions

Winward Racing and Era Motorsport both enjoyed great success in the “2024 36 Hours of Florida.” On the heels of their GTD and LMP2 class wins, respectively, in the Rolex 24 At Daytona, both teams emerged victorious at Sebring as well. They also followed circuitous different paths to their Sebring success.

Winward did itself no favors by running unapproved sensors on the No. 57 Mercedes in qualifying, a move that resulted in Philip Ellis’ pole-winning time being thrown out and the Daytona-winning Merc moved to the back of the GTD field. A fast car is a fast car, however, and it took a little more than two hours for the Winward entry to rise to the class lead. Subsequently, Ellis, Russell Ward and Indy Dontje were rarely out of the top three and took the lead for good with about an hour and 20 minutes remaining.

Similarly, the No. 18 Era ORECA started P10 in the LMP2 field. After surviving a spin by teen phenom driver Connor Zilisch that put the No. 18 off pit sequence with the other LMP2 cars, they found themselves running fourth as the final hour ticked down toward the finish. However, the three leaders all had little choice but to stop for a splash of fuel to be able to go the distance, opening the door for the Era squad to take its second win of a still-young season.

Next up for the WeatherTech Championship is the California swing. The Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach will feature just the GTP and GTD classes in a 100-minute street fight on April 20. The GTD PRO competitors join GTP and GTD at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca for two hours and 40 minutes of racing fun on May 12. Let’s see what happens out West.

LMP2, meanwhile, will return for the next IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup round – the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen – on June 23.