Two words could sum up the final moments of the 12 Hours of Sebring, but we’ll pick a name instead: Pipo. Derani. All eyes were on Extreme Speed Motorsports’ young star driver as he charged through to the lead and gave ESM a combined 36 Hours of Florida win for 2016—all with only 12 minutes left in the race.
This year’s 12 Hours of Sebring race was punctuated by long delays in racing, both from a weather-related red flag that lasted about two hours and 15 minutes as well as numerous full-course caution flags. Tricky conditions caused by sporadic and sometimes heavy rain showers made many drivers hydroplane and spin out, particularly if they were caught out on the wrong tire. Thus, this year’s race was downright brutal on both the cars and the drivers.
Extreme Speed Motorsports was coming off of a win at the 24 Hours of Daytona, where Derani had another amazing drive at the end of the race. Once again at Sebring, ESM opted to put Derani in for the last stint.
In addition to being a solid closer, Derani is apparently the restart king. Derani isn’t entirely new to motorsports, having driven in the European Le Mans Series and the World Endurance Championship before. He’s new to the North American Endurance Championship, though—of which Sebring and Daytona are a part. Those of us who are wondered where this dude came from (besides the obvious guess of “outer space”), well, now you know.
The final restart of the day was for a heartbreaking reason. First, a mechanical failure on Dorsey Schroeder’s No. 50 Highway to Help car brought out the yellow flag with only 23 minutes to go.
During the yellow flag, Andy Meyrick went off the track in the DeltaWing. The DeltaWing had a fantastic, trouble-free run at Sebring for a change until a steering issue with just under 20 minutes to go meant that they wouldn’t finish. It was devastating to watch. The DeltaWing always seems to run into bad luck, and here they were, out at the very end after having worked their way back onto the lead lap.
With 12 minutes to go, the restart was on. Every car left in the field was bunched up and eager to defend their position—or use the opportunity to improve upon it. For Derani, it was the latter. He quickly left behind Nicolas Lapierre’s No. 81 DragonSpeed car to take aim at the two leading Action Express cars, No. 31 and No. 5.
What happened next was a masterful display of good, clean racing passes. First, he got around the No. 5 car for second place, and on the next lap, he got around No. 31. That’s third to first place in just two laps.
Tire strategy was credited in part for landing Derani and ESM the win. On the last pit stop, they gave the No. 2 car a little extra fuel to go hard at the end and fresh tires. Once Derani’s tires got up to temperature, the ESM car became a rocketship.
Getting out in front wasn’t enough, though. Derani used his fresh tires to rocket ahead 2.926 seconds in front of the No. 31 car to seal the deal.
As for the other classes, Prototype Challenge may have become the subject of a very bad idea for a drinking game with the number of PC-class cars that went spinning off track today. That being said, there were two cars ahead of the rest of the field that were absolutely worth watching: the No. 54 and No. 52.
At the end, Colin Braun and Tom Kimber-Smith were duking it out in the No. 54 and No. 52 cars respectively, and they were at each others’ throats until the very end. Braun and Kimber-Smith swapped the PC lead like I swap coffee mugs (have you seen my sink? it’s gross), but ultimately, Braun took the No. 54 CORE Autosport car to the win at the end with 1.282 seconds ahead of the No. 52.
Renger van der Zande brought the No. 8 Starworks PC car home to third place a full three laps behind the leading duo. Sebring this year was especially brutal on the PC class, though, with these cars usually being among the first ones to lose grip when rain started to fall.
GTLM was the source of much celebration after the race, with Tommy Milner driving the No. 4 Corvette to a class win. The team’s No. 3 sister car was taken out of contention in a clash with the No. 911 Porsche this afternoon, giving the team an extra reason to celebrate when No. 3 won the race. Following the No. 3 Corvette through to the end was the No. 25 BMW Team RLL M6 in second place, and the No. 912 Porsche 911 in third.
Richard Westbrook would have followed them in fourth place in the No. 67 Ford GT, but he went off at Turn 1 during the last green-flag moments of the race, forcing Ford’s newest plaything to end with a 5th place finish instead.
In GTD, it was similarly close after the last restart. The No. 96 Turner BMW M6 led the pack, followed by the No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488, the No. 23 Team Seattle/Alex Job Racing Porsche 911 and the No. 44 Magnus Racing Audi R8.
In GTD, Alessandro Balzan in the No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 made short work of passing Jens Klingmann in the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M6 shortly after the restart, claiming the first ever race win for a 488 GT3.
That’s a good way to follow up the first ever 488 GT3 pole position in the world. Amazingly, this is the No. 63 car’s debut race, and also the 60th anniversary of Ferrari’s first win at Sebring. Fellow No. 63 driver Christina Nielsen was especially elated, as she finished second here last year and nearly won the GTD championship last year. Needless to say, winning Sebring is a good start for 2016.
Behind the pair up front was Mario Farnbacher in the No. 23 Team Seattle/Alex Job Racing Porsche 911, and Andy Lally in the No. 44 Magnus Racing Audi R8. Lally was able to get around Farnbacher in the last moments of the race to take the third and final spot on the GTD podium for Magnus, the team who won the 24 Hours of Daytona in spectacular nail-biting fashion this year. Lally finished a mere 0.580 seconds behind Klingmann.
While Mother Nature and a butt-ton of yellow flags may have robbed us of a full twelve hours of racing, the moments of green flag time were plenty amusing in their own right. There’s nothing quite like the sheer delightful anarchy of racing in the rain.