The 12 Hours of Sebring was held for the 70th time this past weekend in Sebring, Florida under clear skies and 90° temperatures. Sebring is already one of the toughest circuits in the world for both cars and drivers, and it is especially difficult when it’s hot. The BMW teams competing had mixed results, but left Sebring with some very encouraging performances in what was only the third competitive race for the new M4 GT3.
From the start, the M4 GT3s looked much better at Sebring than they did at Daytona at the end of January, where they were off the pace and had teething issues with diffusers falling off. The mounts for the diffusers have been reinforced, and IMSA BoP (balance of performance) adjustments gave the M4 GT3s more power and a little less weight for Sebring. Those adjustments (and recent testing at the track) helped Robby Foley put the #96 Turner Motorsport M4 GT3 second in the GTD class in qualifying, just two-hundredths off the pole time of the Wright Motorsport Porsche. Madison Snow was just a tenth behind Foley in the #1 Paul Miller Racing M4 GT3, in their first race with the car. In GTD Pro, Nick Yelloly qualified the #24 M4 GT3 in seventh and Augusto Farfus was right behind him in eighth in the #25 car. Both GTD Pro BMWs were slower than the GTD entries, but a red flag during the session restricted lap attempts. The GTD Pro pole went to Risi Competizione driver Daniel Serra in the #62 Ferrari 488 GT3.
The Sebring race typically sees many cars lost to attrition, and the #1 Paul Miller M4 GT3 was caught up in an accident about three hours into the race, after a spinning car left Juan-Pablo Montoya with nowhere to go in his LMP3 prototype, forcing him into the back of the BMW, breaking the rear suspension on the M4 GT3 and effectively taking it out of the race, though it did return after losing several laps during repair. Before the accident, the #1 car was right at the front in GTD and was very competitive—a good sign for the remainder of the season. The #25 BMW Team RLL car driven by John Edwards, Connor De Phillippi, and Augusto Farfus also went out early with power steering issues, and lost several laps.
The two other M4 GT3s were fighting at the front of their respective classes for most of the race, and both were in position to either win or be on the podium with just a couple hours to go. Unfortunately, a gearbox issue led to an unplanned pit stop for the #24 car with just an hour to go with works driver Phillip Eng at the wheel, and he ultimately ended up in fourth along with Marco Wittmann and Nick Yelloly, who shared the car with him. The GTD Pro win went to the #3 Corvette. “It’s been a highlight for me to race on this famous track for the first time,” said Wittmann. “Although we missed the podium, we can take a lot of positives from this race. I’m sure the first podium will come soon.”
The Turner Motorsport M4 GT3 piloted by drivers Bill Auberlen, Robby Foley, and Michael Dinan was also very competitive, and was leading the race in the closing hours when a miscommunication regarding driving time led to an unplanned pit stop. Drivers have a maximum amount of time they can spend at the wheel, and the team realized late in the race that Auberlen (who was competing in his 500th race in a BMW) would have been over his allotted time if he had stayed in, resulting in a forfeiture of points. The team put Foley in to finish the race in fourth, with the win going to the #47 Cetilar Racing Ferrari 488 GT3. “The new BMW M4 GT3 ran perfectly over the twelve hours,” said Auberlen. “We lead a lot of this race – didn’t quite have the pace to win it but stayed in second. Due to an error with the calculation of my maximum driving time we had to come to the pits. This one was much better than Daytona. Let’s take this, take the points and move on to the next one.”
All in all, the BMW teams have a lot to be encouraged by after Sebring. Yes, there were some reliability issues with the power steering and the gearbox in the RLL cars, but to finish fourth in both of the highly competitive GTD Pro and GTD classes is still quite an accomplishment on such a tough track in demanding conditions, and it bodes well for the sprint races that will start in early April with the Grand Prix of Long Beach.
BMW Team RLL also announced at Sebring that they will only race one car in the GTD Pro class for the remainder of the year, as they will allocate more resources to focus on getting the new LMDh prototype ready for next season. They will compete in the remainder of the 2022 season with John Edwards and Connor De Phillippi driving the #25 car, and they will be joined by Augusto Farfus in the longer races at Watkins Glen and Road Atlanta. Turner Motorsport and Paul Miller Racing are both committed to the balance of the season with their cars in the GTD class.—David Haueter
[Photos courtesy David Haueter.]