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The Mobil 1 Twelve hours of Sebring finishes in the shadow of a full moon

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On Saturday, March 15, more than 60 of the world's finest racing machines took to the winding road and runway course at the the Sebring International Raceway for the 62nd Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, powered by Fresh from Florida. The event, which finished under the bright gaze of a full worm moon, as filled with a near record 11 full course cautions, and suffered a higher percentage of retirements than the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

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The event began quietly enough, with the No. 5 machine of Action Express zooming to an early lead. It had the feeling of some earlier races at the storied track, where the leader basically pulled way from the field early on and never looks back. Unfortunately for Action Express, this was not to be the case.

Roughly a half hour into the race, a dramatic fire that took out the #33 Riley Motorsports SRT Viper GT3-R, which was burned almost totally to the ground. It was described by seasoned observers as one of the most intense fires that they had even witnessed on a racetrack, but the driver was able to emerge unscathed.

As the race wore on, racecar attrition was apparent. At about the halfway point of the event, Ferrari driver Massimo Mallucci, made infamous by the horrendous accident during the Rolex 24 where his rolling chicane was taken out by the GAINSCO Bob Stallings machine, effectively ending their season and sending driver Memo Gidley to the ICU, was involved in what started out as a single car incident. However, Mallucci made what can only be described as a bonehead move and pulled out into traffic directly in front of a pack of oncoming cars, leading to one of the largest wrecks of the day.

Later in the afternoon, a two car pileup in turn 17 led to a 10 minute red flag, followed by a lengthy caution, as two of the competitors apparently tried to place their racing machines on the same piece of track at the exact same time. Of course, this led to chaos!

By the eight hour mark, six cars had retired from the competition, with the total climbing to 13 by the end of racing. Although each class bore the effects of a sprint race pace and aggressive tactics, the Prototype Challenge (PC) class fell victim more than the others as four of the 10 cars in that class were no longer running by the 11th hour of the race.

In the end, the #01 Chip Ganassi Racing Riley DP was first across the line as the clock ran out, making the win of the 62nd Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring the latest achievement for the Ganassi team which has won the Daytona 500, Indy 500 and the 2013 Rolex 24 At Daytona. Scottish driver Marino Franchitti brought the #01 home, sharing the victory with co-drivers Memo Rojas of Mexico and California’s Scott Pruett.

“This is a team effort,” said Pruett who had not driven Sebring in 25 years. “What Memo did, and what Marino did, and what the team did for 12 hours with everyone working together because the car was quite a handful for quite a while. We were struggling just to hold on to it. We kept digging and the Ganassi organization was great. What is so special for me is the last time I won here in class was with Ford in 1986. So it is nice to come back here and win overall with Ford in 2014. This is the race I had never won overall and I never thought I would have the opportunity to do so. When ALMS and Grand-Am came together it gave me the opportunity to give it a try. The future looks really good for sports car racing in this country and it is a pretty special series we have right now. To be a part of it and to be back in Victory Lane is just great.”

South Florida based Extreme Speed Motorsports (ESM) set a new team record at the 62nd Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh from Florida as both of the Tequila Patrón-sponsored teams and drivers finished in the top-five at Sebring.

Scott Sharp, Ryan Dalziel and David Brabham, co-drivers of the No. 1 Tequila Patrón Honda Performance Development ARX-03b (HPD), finished second, while Ed Brown, Johannes van Overbeek and Simon Pagenaud, co-drivers of the No. 2 Tequila Patrón Honda Performance Development ARX-03b (HPD), finished fifth.

"“We finished second and fifth and we are happy about that," stated team owner.driver Scott Sharp. "The entire ESM Patrón team did a fantastic job. The No. 2 car had a great day and unfortunately had a little bit of contact and they would have been right there shooting it out for the win. David and Ryan raced the No. 1 car to the front and did an incredible job."

For P2 class standouts Muscle Milk Pickett Racing, things don't always go as planned, and unfortunately the team failed to see the checkered flag, despite an impressive race leading performance early on. The outcome at this year's 62nd Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring continued the string of bad luck that the team has faced at Sebring International Raceway where they've been unable to make it to the checkered flag three times in the last four seasons.

"To start with the positive, we were very competitive in one part of the race and led some laps," stated veteran driver Lucas Luhr. "On the negative side, we had some issues and that's very disappointing. We just have to keep on working and try to make it better. The boys did an awesome job on the pit stops, so big thanks to them. I know they've had some hard weeks and long hours working and even today, they were not ready to give up, they tried to fix it but it was not meant to be today. All we can do now is keep on working and try to make it better. We made a big, big step from Daytona to here so we need another big one for Long Beach."

The Muscle Milk team didn't get the result they wanted this weekend, but they've made a lot of progress since the opening race in January, closed the gap to the Daytona Prototypes and proved that they are here to battle at the front.

In the PC class, the #54 Core Autosport Oreca FLM09 took the win with an all-American driving team, having won the 2014 Rolex 24 At Daytona just six weeks ago.

“It’s really unbelievable,” said Jon Bennett who was in the driver’s seat for the final stint of the race. “At the end of the day I represent a lot of hard work that has gone into our effort on the LMP2 side and also our new partner Porsche Motorsport North America. As for the results of the last two events... there aren’t any words.”

It was a sentiment echoed by co-driver Colin Braun: “To win Daytona and then come here and win Sebring it’s a tough thing to beat. It really comes down to the team and the preparation. It’s such a great job these guys do and then it’s up to us to execute things. We had to work for it this time, that’s for sure.”

Starting from pole, the #912 Porsche North America Porsche 911 RSR, driven by American Patrick Long, Denmark’s Michael Christensen and Germany’s Jorg Bergmeister, took the win of the GTLM class.

“The team made all the difference today,” said Long who was at the wheel for the win. “My thanks to my co-drivers Michael and Jorg. We were fighting five cars on the lead lap so I did a double stint. We felt once the sun went down we would have our chance to step it up with the cooler temperatures, and that definitely worked in our favor.”

The GTD class win was taken by the #44 Magnus Racing Porsche 911 GT with co-drivers John Potter, Andy Lally and Germany’s Marco Seefried.

“We had quite an up and down day,” explained Lally who brought the car home for the win. “A couple of little issues, but they were handled quickly by the Magnus Racing crew so we were able to rebound and get back on the lead lap to fight for position. John and Marco did an awesome job bringing us up through the field which put us in a good spot with about an hour and a half to go. Near the end, with about 45 minutes to go, the team saw a potential for yellow and let me know which resulted in us getting pretty close to the front. I got a good restart and that let me drive my line while Townsend [Townsend Bell in the #555 AIM Autosport Ferrari 458 Italia] was fighting traffic. This Magnus Porsche was awesome and I can’t thank my team enough.”

The series will be back in action next month at the Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 12, 2014.

Stay tuned to this column for more coverage of the second endurance race on the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship calendar, as well as post race reviews, interviews, and more!

Be sure to subscribe to the West Palm Beach Motorsports Examiner, and keep track of your favorite racers, no matter how many (or how few) wheels they may or may not race on. If you're a motorsports fan, and know of an event, team, or person you'd like to see profiled, please let me know. Also, be sure to follow me on twitter, and read my articles about local getaways,HOAs,elections, and restaurants.

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