Ganassi’s surprising Sebring win


This year’s Sebring 12 Hours was a fierce race all the way with 10 different leaders and more than half a dozen cars capable of winning. In the end, it came down to pit strategy and yellow flags when the race’s 11th and last full-course yellow flew with just under an hour to go.

Franchitti, Rojas and Pruett on the podium

Minutes earlier, Marino Franchitti had completed the last pitstop for one of Chip Ganassi’s pair of Riley-Fords and stayed out under the yellow while leaders Ryan Dalziel and Sébastien Bourdais came in for their final loads of fuel. When the green flag waved again with only 20 minutes to go Franchitti took off on his own as Dalziel and Bourdais worked their way around a brace of slower cars.

Driving perfectly, Franchitti brought the car home to score a resounding win by four and half seconds for Ganassi and team-mates Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas. Dalziel/David Brabham/Scott Sharp finished second in one of two Extreme Speed HPD ARX-03b-Hondas chased closely by Daytona 24 Hours winners Bourdais/João Barbosa/Christian Fittipaldi.

This was the first time Ganassi’s team has raced at Sebring. Franchitti won the P2 class there last year but this was the first outright victory in the classic race for Dario’s younger brother. “It was incredible,” Marino remarked. “We couldn’t believe we were in position to win. It’s certainly the biggest day in my career.”

“We were lucky the way the traffic and the restart went,” he added. “With about an hour to go I didn’t think it was going to work out. The car was a real handful but we finally found the sweet spot right at the end and the whole team and my team-mates did a great job.”

Bourdais qualified on the pole in one of Action Express’s pair of Corvette Daytona Prototypes and the car led a good deal of the race, much as they had at Daytona. But the LMP2 cars – helped by a small increase in fuel tank capacity and refuelling rate – were more competitive at Sebring than they had been at Daytona and as the race wore on Brabham/Dalziel/Sharp were able to take the lead and assert themselves.

2014 Sebring 12 Hours top 10
1 Marino Franchitti/Scott Pruett/Memo Rojas, Riley-Ford
2 David Brabham/Ryan Dalziel/Scott Sharp, HPD-Honda
3 João Barbosa/Sébastien Bourdais/Christian Fittipaldi, Corvette DP
4 Alex Brundle/Olivier Pla/Gustavo Yacamán, Morgan-Nissan
5 Ed Brown/Simon Pagenaud/Johannes van Overbeek, HPD-Honda
6 Scott Dixon/Tony Kanaan/Sage Karam, Riley-Ford
7 Max Angelelli/Jordan Taylor/Ricky Taylor, Corvette DP
8 Brian Frisselle/Burt Frisselle/Jon Fogarty, Corvette DP
9 Oswaldo Negri Jr/John Pew/Justin Wilson, Riley-Ford
10 Jon Bennett/Colin Braun/James Gue, ORECA-Chevrolet

As the final hour approached they held a small lead over Barbosa/Bourdais/Fittipaldi and were looking like winners until the final yellow intervened. But Franchitti/Pruett/Rojas were in the hunt all the way, led the race for some time and were deserving winners. Ganassi’s cars have raced with BMW engines in recent years but the team switched to a new Ford turbo ‘Ecoboost’ V6 engines over the winter so this was a big win for both team and manufacturer.

Finishing fourth was the Morgan-Nissan P2 driven by Alex Brundle/Olivier Pla/Gustavo Yacamán who ran with the leaders all the way and enjoyed a few laps in the lead. Each of the first nine finishers completed 291 laps, well short of the race record of 383 laps set in 2009 by the Rinaldo Capello/Tom Kristensen/Allan McNish Audi R15.

Tenth overall and winner of the Prototype Challenge category for Oreca FLM09 spec cars was the Jon Bennett/Colin Braun/James Gue’s CORE Autosport entry who engaged in a race-long battle with fastest qualifier David Heinemeier Hansson/Duncan Ende/Bruno Junqueira. Bennett/Braun/Gue also won the class for CORE Autosport in January’s Daytona 24 Hours.

Twelfth overall and winner of the intensely competitive GT Le Mans category was the factory/CORE Autosport Porsche 911 RSR driven by Jörg Bergmeister/Michael Christensen/Patrick Long. They were chased home by one of the SRT Vipers with Rob Bell/Jonathan Bomarito/Kuno Wittmer at the wheel and one of Bobby Rahal’s BMW Z4 GTEs driven by Bill Auberlen/Joey Hand/Andy Priaulx.

The GT Daytona class was won by Andy Lally/John Potter/Marco Seefried’s Porsche 911 GT America who finished 23rd overall. Forty-two of the 62 starters were running at the chequered flag.

More from Gordon Kirby
Sebring’s great past and hopeful future
The racing wisdom of Mario Andretti
Dale Earnhardt Jr wins Daytona 500

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