The second round of this year’s IMSA WeatherTech Sportscarcar Championship took place at Sebring International Raceway on Saturday (March 17th). The Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring sponsored by Advanced Auto Parts in 2018 is always an assault on the senses. The traditional smell of orange blossoms as you drive to the track was overpowered by acrid wood smoke this year after one of the local landowners accidentally burned 300 acres of land. The smoke still hung heavy over the track for the warm-up on Saturday morning.
Qualifying on Friday proved challenging for Corvette Racing at Sebring, as the two C7.R Corvettes could only manage seventh and ninth place in the GTLM Class. In only its second race, the brand-new BMW M8 GTLM took the pole with the #25 car recording a 1:55.839, the sister car, #24 was third. In comparison, the #3 Corvette with Antonio Garcia at the wheel managed a best lap of 1:56.588 and Tommy Milner in the #4 could only do a 1:56.900, more than a second slower than the pole.
#3 Corvette Trials
The race start was trying for the #3 Chevrolet Corvette C7.R of Spaniard Antonio Garcia as he suffered a left rear puncture on the first lap. The St. Patrick’s Day luck further deserted the #3 as the battery then failed in the car. It was discovered the alternator was not charging properly during the second hour of the 12 hour race. Antonio Garcia cut a frustrating figure as he sat on pit lane with a dead car.
The team had to replace the battery and then take the #3 C7.R behind the wall to change the alternator. The car rejoined unlucky seven laps down on the GTLM class leaders. The #3 Corvette C7.R then suffered repeated power steering issues during the race. Despite all the issues, the three drivers Antonio Garcia, Jan Magnussen and Mike Rockenfeller soldiered on.
The reward for never giving up was the #3 eventually finished eighth in the GTLM Class of nine cars but 45 laps behind the eventual GTLM class winner. The #66 Ford GT was the only car to finish behind them and they were the cause of their own downfall as twice they hit other cars on track. First contact occurred with their teammate in the #67 Ford GT exiting pit lane and then the #24 BMW during one of the many re-starts following a full course caution.
The #4 Corvette C7.R of Tommy Milner, Oliver Gavin and Marcel Fassler worked its way up to fourth from ninth, thanks to swift pit work by Brain Home and the rest of the pit crew. The #4 then got some of the St. Patrick’s Day luck when the #4 pitted on lap 111 and two laps later, there was the second full course caution. This cycled the #4 to the front of the GTLM class and issued maximum points in the North American Endurance Cup at the four hour mark in the race. Points are awarded at various times during the four longest races of the IMSA WestherTech Sportscar Championship and team Corvette earned their share.
Olly Gavin only dropped one place during his stint to the #911 Porsche and Tommy Milner took over the car and was still in second place. At the halfway point under a sixth, full course caution, Tommy dropped to sixth during pit stops. Marcel Fassler drove well with no mistakes and the #4 C7.R was always on the lead lap until the end of the race. The #4 Corvette eventually finished in sixth place, ahead of the #24 BMW which clashed with the #66 Ford GT earlier in the race. The GTLM Class victory went to the #911 Porsche just ahead of the #25 BMW and the #912 Porsche completed the podium.
Im-balance Of Performance?
The current IMSA Balance of Performance seems to be hurting the Corvettes more than any of the other cars. For the second race in a row – following the dominant victory at Daytona by the Ford GT – Corvette has run a strong race with no mistakes by the team or drivers. Yet at no point have they had any chance of taking the class victory.
The overall victory went to the Tequila Patron Extreme Speed Motorsports (ESM) #22 Nissan DPi, ESM had a bittersweet day after the sister car the #2 started from the front row of the grid but clashed with pole sitting #90 Cadillac DPi at Turn 1 Lap 1 and retired immediately with gearbox damage that the team could not fix.
Corvette’s next race will be on the Long Beach Grand Prix course in California on April 13-14th so be sure to check in and see how Team Corvette does in this next battle for points and podium.