If you ask any driver in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship what the toughest race of the year is, most of them will say the 12 Hours of Sebring. The Sebring race is half the length of the Rolex 24 at Daytona, but there are more gear changes and more braking points on each lap, not to mention Sebring’s notorious bumps. Being successful at Sebring requires toughness on another level from Daytona, and while there were no BMWs on the podium in this year’s race, the BMWs did show that they should be competitive for the rest of the season.

The BMWs were all given balance of performance (BoP) adjustments between Daytona and Sebring. Most notably, the M4 GT3s were given a 10kg weight increase, 9.1kW less power output and 2-liters less fuel capacity. In GTP qualifying, a big wreck for Mathieu Jaminet in the #6 Porsche 963 caused most of the session to be red-flagged before most cars had put in representative laps.

By the time qualifying was restarted there were only around 3.5-minutes left, which wasn’t much time to warm up tires and put in a flying lap. Philipp Eng ended up qualifying the #24 BMW M Team RLL M Hybrid V8 in fourth with a 1:48.829 lap, while Connor De Phillippi qualified the #25 car in ninth. Pole position went to Pipo Derani in the #31 Cadillac with a 1:48.152. In GTD Pro, Madison Snow qualified the #1 Paul Miller Racing M4 GT3 in seventh with a 1:59.586 while pole went to the #14 Lexus at 1:58.714. In GTD, Patrick Gallagher qualified tenth in the #96 Turner Motorsport M4 GT3 with a 2:00.459, with pole set at 1:58.778 by the #57 Mercedes.

During the race, the four BMWs managed to avoid some of the accidents and mayhem that caught out other cars, most notably the #31 pole-sitting Cadillac that ended upside down on the tire barriers after coming in contact with a Ferrari (driver was OK). The M Hybrid V8s were competitive in the race and led at times, with Maxime Martin putting in a great driving stint in the #25 car to stay in front of the faster #10 Acura for 27 laps. The #25 (driven by De Phillippi, Martin and Nick Yelloly) ultimately finished a strong fourth with the win going to the #40 Acura, which had a great battle with the #01 Cadillac in the closing laps. The final podium spot went to the #7 Porsche that won at Daytona. “We showed good potential, but unfortunately didn’t quite make it to the podium,” said Martin after the race. “We had a clean race, and it’s of course annoying to be the first crew not on the podium. My first Sebring race in the top category was a great experience. It feels good to be able to fight for the overall win in such a race. The track is tough, but I had a lot of fun.”

The #25 BMW M Team RLL M Hybrid V8 finished fourth in GTP.

The #24 BMW driven by Eng, Jesse Krohn and Augusto Farfus had some setbacks with a tire puncture (which seemed to afflict a lot of cars this year), and a damaged rear wing. Krohn mentioned that the drivers all thought the car felt a little strange as well during the race but couldn’t pinpoint what was wrong with it. The finished in sixth.

The #24 BMW M Team RLL M Hybrid V8 finished sixth in GTP.

In GTD Pro, the #1 Paul Miller Racing M4 GT3 driven by Bryan Sellers, Madison Snow and Neil Verhagen proved to be a contender, running toward the front and leading at times. They experienced some bad luck with the timing of a pass-around under caution with three hours to go that put them to the rear of the class, but they fought back to finish in fourth despite handling issues late in the race. The GTD Pro win went to the #14 Lexus that started from pole, followed by the #62 Ferrari and the #19 Lamborghini. “I really think that was near the maximum we could have achieved today,” said team owner Paul Miller. “If you look at the pace of it all, we had about a fifth-place car and could have challenged up to about third, so to finish fourth is something we can be really proud of.”

The #1 Paul Miller Racing M4 GT3 finished fourth in GTD Pro.

In GTD, which was the most populated class with 22 entries from ten different manufacturers, the #96 Turner Motorsport also had a strong race with drivers Robby Foley, Patrick Gallagher and Jake Walker. “We had zero issues and the car ran great,” said team owner Will Turner. “The team nailed every pit stop, the drivers were all quick and it was anyone’s race to win.” The Turner car ended up sixth, with the top six cars all within ten seconds of each other at the finish. The win went to the #57 Mercedes, followed on the podium by the #47 Ferrari and the #120 Porsche.

Turner Motorsport finished sixth in GTD with their #96 M4 GT3.

Next up for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship is the Grand Prix of Long Beach street course race on April 19th-20th, which at 100-minutes is the shortest race on the calendar and is quite a contrast to the long races at Daytona and Sebring. The Long Beach race is for GTP and GTD class cars only. The full field will be back together at Laguna Seca on May 10th-12th.

—David Haueter

[Photos courtesy LAT Images]



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