Sebring 12 Hours

Florida, USA

At the first time of asking, Chip Ganassi has added victory in the Sebring 12 Hours to his triumphs as an entrant in the other blue-riband American motor races — the Indy 500, Daytona 500, Daytona 24 Hours and Brickyard 400. His team came out on top at the end of a thrilling second round of the United SportsCar Championship, in which no fewer than nine cars finished on the lead lap.

The #01 Ganassi Riley Ford EcoBoost DP of Scott Pruett, Memo Rojas and Marino Franchitti didn’t look a likely winner until the closing stages, and then only as a long shot. But when the safety car came out for the 11th time, during the last hour, Franchitti had already made his final stop. That put him at the front of the queue when the green flags signalled the beginning of a 20-minute sprint to the finish.

Franchitti, who again joined full-season drivers Pruett and Rojas, proved equal to the task and was able to exploit the advantage of four slower cars between him and the chasing Extreme Speed Motorsports HPD ARX-03b LMP2 driven by Ryan Dalziel. Franchitti raced into a six-second lead within a couple of laps. He was powerless to prevent his fellow Scot closing to within three seconds, but finally prevailed by a shade under five.

The winning Riley wasn’t the fastest car at Sebring, although the oversteering machine picked up pace as grip levels increased in the latter stages of the race. It never truly looked like a contender, certainly not when Franchitti was facing the wrong way at the hairpin late in the penultimate hour, but the tactical call to make a final fuel stop at the earliest possible moment proved crucial.

The fastest cars for much of the race were the second Ganassi Riley, driven by Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan and Sage Karam, and the Action Express Coyote-Chevrolet Corvette DP shared by the Daytona 24 Hours-winning crew of João Barbosa, Sébastien Bourdais and Christian Fittipaldi.

The Action Express car led more laps than any of its rivals and appeared set for victory in the penultimate hour, as Bourdais closed down on Dalziel (sharing the lead ESM car with Scott Sharp and David Brabham). He more than halved a 20-second deficit to the leader, but found himself fourth in line when the sprint to the chequered flag began.

Bourdais nipped ahead of Olivier Pla’s Oak Racing Morgan-Nissan at the restart, but was unable to find a way past Dalziel and had to settle for third. The second Ganassi Riley’s chance of victory disappeared when Dixon spun after being pushed wide at the hairpin ahead of the final yellow-flag period, leaving the car only sixth.

The second race of the new USC suggested that sanctioning body IMSA had found the correct balance of performance between the DP and P2 machinery. The second ESM HPD ended up fifth in the hands of Simon Pagenaud, Johannes van Overbeek and Ed Brown, making it three DPs and three P2s in the top six. The DPs had the edge early in the race, but the P2 cars picked up speed as more rubber went down, the ESM cars and the Oak Morgan setting their fastest race laps during the closing stages. Gary Watkins