This weekend in central Florida, Porsche set about rectifying their transgressions at Daytona back in January. After failing to so much as put one car on any class podium, they came to Sebring with something to prove. They'd run strong here in 2017, but bad luck took them out of contention. They needed this win to get the monkey off of their back. They needed to prove to the world that the 911 RSR had what it takes to win the kind of endurance races it was built to dominate. Porsche ran a very "Porsche-style" 12-hour race, and they pulled off exactly what they needed to in order to make it happen. As the clock wound down to zero hour, Porsche #911 was in the GTLM-class lead with enough of a margin to make the win a convincing one. To add icing to the already delicious cake, the #912 car finished on the podium, back in 3rd position. It was the dream Sebring that Porsche needed, and it will supply them with momentum for the remainder of the IMSA season, one hopes.
Neither Porsche was particularly quick over a single lap, qualifying on the third row of the GTLM field. It is important to note a pair of things here, first that qualifying doesn't really matter in a 12-hour race, and second that the GTLM class consists of nine cars and all of them were within seven tenths of a second in that qualifying session. In typical Porsche fashion, they'd been running the qualifying session in what amounts to more or less race trim. The team tends to set up their car to run well late in the race, and let the race come to them, assuming they have the luck to make it that far. That was their strategy in 2017 and it nearly paid off, so too in 2018, but this time it did pay off. Sebring is a bumpy and nasty track, but it's a completely different animal as the temperatures drop drastically after dark.
On the very first lap of the 12-hour race, the #912 moved from 6th up into 4th, and the #911 moved from 8th to 5th. Once the two Porsches were running in lock step nose to tail, they did their best to keep things that way for the entirety of the race. For almost the entire 12-hour race, if you could see one 911 RSR in the frame on your television, you could see the other shortly behind. They didn't waste time battling with other racers, or with each other, simply pounding out laps and staying on the lead lap. It was a beautiful thing to watch, frankly.
Then it started happening
The competition started falling out of the race with a variety of issues. One of the Corvettes, which had run flawlessly at Daytona, had water pump trouble and spent time in the pits with overheating issues. One of the BMWs was hit by one of the Fords and both of them suffered the indignation of several-lap repairs. Including the lone Ferrari, Porsche was the only team left in GTLM with two cars still in good nick at the halfway point of the race.
That, of course, wasn't enough to guarantee victory, there was still a lot of racing to do. Both of the Porsches spent time leading the GTLM field; Laurens Vanthoor was the first to do so on lap 40. Nick Tandy took until almost the 6-hour mark to make it up into the top spot. At one point, the #911 car stayed in the class lead for over two straight hours, leaving that spot only to come in for scheduled pit stops.
— Porsche Motorsport (@PorscheRaces) March 17, 2018
Very Few Problems
Porsche suffered only a pair of small problems during the entire 12-hour race, and both happened to the #912 car. With just under four hours of racing remaining, Gianmaria Bruni took just a bit too much curbing on the left hand side of the track, and dropped his left side wheels off the end of the rumble strip. The resulting drop was violent enough to dislodge the Porsche's entire rear bumper and downforce-inducing diffuser, exposing the mid-engine car's undercarriage for the whole world to see. The pit stop to repair the car was incredibly short, as the bits came off reasonably cleanly, and the car didn't even drop a lap off the lead. The next issue happened when former Porsche privateer David Heinemeier Hansson pitted his Lexus GTD car and stopped in the 911 RSR pit stall just as the #912 was coming in for a scheduled service (below). In waiting for DHH to figure out he was pitted in the wrong place and get out of the way, the 912 car lost 12 seconds.
— Porsche Motorsport (@PorscheRaces) March 17, 2018
After ten hours and ten minutes of racing (279 laps), the #911 car moved into the lead with Patrick Pilet at the wheel. The Porsche was well set up for the run to the end, as Pilet handed off to Nick Tandy to close out the final couple of stints. BMW driver Sims spent quite a while staring at Tandy's tail lights, working the gap down to as little as three tenths of a second at one point. The heavier BMW proved harder on its tires, however, and as the stint went on, Tandy was able to find more pace, stretching the gap to second out to a few seconds. He made some incredible moves through traffic, and never once put a wheel wrong. Once the smoke cleared and the fireworks were released, it was Nick Tandy, Patrick Pilet, and Fred Mako with the GTLM victory, taking Porsche's second victory for the new-spec mid-engine 911 RSR (the first was at Lime Rock Park last July).
Thanks to this victory, the #911 trio move up to second place in the driver's classification. Porsche also advances to second in the manufacturer's championship.
Comments on the race
Pascal Zurlinden, Director GT Factory Motorsports:
“It’s a great achievement to score two podium spots at Sebring. The secret was our consistency and the fact that we didn’t make one mistake. We may not have been the fastest over a lap, but over the distance the drivers and the entire team put in a perfect performance. Even when we had to repair the #912 car in the pits, we pulled out all stops to get the car back up the front. Today was a great day for Porsche. Thank you to all the employees at Weissach. They contributed as much to this success as our team here in Sebring.”
Patrick Pilet, Driver, Porsche 911 RSR #911:
“This win was missing from my collection. It was a great team effort. The pit crew didn’t make one mistake and our strategy was perfect. To celebrate this achievement with my friends Nick and Fred is incredible. After the qualifying, victory seemed a long way off. But when you’re determined to achieve something and you go for it, you can do it. This race is proof of that.”
Gianmaria Bruni, Driver, Porsche 911 RSR # 912:
“I’m proud to be a part of this squad. What they’ve achieved today is hard to describe in words. It’s unbelievable how quickly the mechanics got our car back in the race after I left the circuit briefly towards the end and had to pit with a damaged diffuser.”
2018 Sebring Race result GTLM class
1. Tandy/Pilet/Makowiecki (GB/F/F), Porsche 911 RSR, 328 laps
2. Sims/de Phillippi/Auberlen (GB/USA/USA), BMW M8, 328
3. Vanthoor/Bamber/Bruni (B/NZ/I), Porsche 911 RSR, 328
4. Westbrook/Briscoe/Dixon (GB/USA/NZL), Ford GT, 328
5. Vilander/Pier Guidi/Calado (SF/I/I), Ferrari 488, 327
6. Gavin/Milner/Fässler (GB/USA/CH), Chevrolet Corvette, 327
7. Krohn/Edwards/Catsburg (SF/USA/NL), BMW M8, 296
8. Magnussen/Garcia/Rockenfeller (DK/E/D), Chevrolet Corvette, 283
9. Hand/Müller/Bourdais (USA/D/F), Ford GT, 277
Porsche did not do quite so well in the GTD category
Both the Wright Motorsport 911 and the Park Place Motorsport 911 finished on the class lead lap, but neither were ever really in contention for the victory, and both had a number of issues on track. At one point, the two Porsche GTD cars even had a coming-together at Turn 17. Their strategy was alright, but it was a rough day for everyone involved.
2018 Sebring Race result GTD class
1. Sellers/Snow/Lewis (USA/USA/USA), Lamborghini, 321 laps
2. Balzan/McNeil/Jeannette (I/USA/USA), Ferrari 488, 321
3. Keating/Bleekemolen/Stolz (USA/NL/D), Mercedes, 321
6. Long/Nielsen/Jaminet/Renauer (USA/DK/F/D), Porsche 911 GT3 R, 321
9. Bergmeister/Lindsey/Pappas (D/USA/A/USA), Porsche 911 GT3 R, 321