Bill Auberlen, Connor De Phillippi, and Alexander Sims drove the #25 BMW Team RLL M8 GTE to a second-in-class GTLM finish in the IMSA 12 Hours of Sebring on March 17. It was the first ever podium finish for the M8 GTE.
The team’s second car, the #24 M8 GTE driven by Nick Catsburg, John Edwards, and Jesse Krohn, led early, but dropped out in the final hour. The #96 Turner Motorsport M6 GT3 driven by Markus Palttala, Don Yount, and Dillon Machevern finished eleventh in the GTD class.
Both of Team RLL’s M8 GTEs were quick; De Phillippi put #25 on the pole, and Krohn placed #24 third on the grid. The cars’ performance at Sebring stood in contrast to their pace in the season-opener at Daytona; IMSA’s Balance Of Performance adjustments and Team RLL’s hard work since January have clearly turned the cars into strong contenders in the competitive GTLM class.
Krohn leapt into the class lead at the start, with De Phillippi close behind in #25. But Car 24’s race took a turn for the worse in the fifth hour, when Edwards was involved in an incident with the #66 Ford GT. The BMW went to the garage to repair a water leak; it returned nine laps down and motored on until the final hour, when it exited the race.
Car #25 ran close to the class leaders and turned competitive times until it lost a lap for a brake change before the halfway point. But it moved up duringthe second half of the race, getting back on the lead lap and claiming a place among the GTLM front-runners. In the final hour of the race, with Sims at the wheel, #25 ran a close second behind Nick Tandy in the #911 Porsche that he shared with Patrick Pilet and Fred Makowiecki; the Porsche held on for the win, the BMW finished second, and the #912 Porsche driven by Laurens Vanthoor, Earl Bamber, and Gianmaria Bruni finished third.
The Turner M6 GT3 broke into the top ten at times, but finished eleventh in GTD, where the class win went to Bryan Sellers, Madison Snow, and Corey Lewis in a Lamborghini. Palttala will run for Turner for the balance of the season; he replaces Jens Klingmann, who will be running in other series for BMW in Europe.
After the race, Sims said, “It was very nice to be in the hunt for the win. The fight with Nick Tandy was fun. Ultimately they turned on the pace a lot in the last stint, so I couldn’t catch him, really. Second place is pretty good. The BMW M8 GTE was working well, and BMW Team RLL did a great job. We are in the mix now.”
BMW Motorsport director Jens Marquardt added, “We have seen another exciting and extremely tough twelve-hour race here at Sebring—and we can take many positives back home. Congratulations to BMW Team RLL and our BMW Motorsport crew on the maiden podium finish for our new BMW M8 GTE! The 12 Hours here is more demanding than many 24-hour races on other circuits; that makes this result even more special. Far more important than the result are two other findings: On the one hand, the BMW M8 GTE was able to show its potential, which is underlined by the fact we recorded pole position and the fastest race lap. On the other hand, the GTLM field was far better balanced than it was at Daytona. The fans saw a thrilling race with close battles and excitement to the very last lap. This is what we all want. We are now looking forward to the upcoming races. At Long Beach we will go flat-out again.”
The GTLM class races again at Long Beach in April; the GTD class returns at Mid-Ohio in May. — Brian Morgan
[Photos courtesy of BMW Motorsport.]