Cadillac Conquers 12 Hours Of Sebring

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Felipe Nasr, Pipo Derani and Eric Curran shared the winning car in Saturday's Twelve Hours of Sebring. (Sarah Weeks photo)

SEBRING, Fla. — They were the class of the field for the vast majority of the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts and the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac DPi-V.R team of Felipe Nasr, Pipo Derani and Eric Curran were rewarded with an overall victory in a grueling IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship battle on Saturday.

Morning rains and exceedingly wet track conditions prevented the green flag from flying for the first time until 40 minutes into the 12-hour race. But once it did, the No. 31 was flying too. The team combined to lead a race-high 249 of a possible 348 laps, including all three points-scoring segments toward the IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup.

The No. 31 team had its hands full with the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R co-driven by Renger van der Zande, Matthieu Vaxiviere and Jordan Taylor over final two hours of the race.

Taylor nearly got past immediately after a pit stop with an hour and 20 minutes remaining when Nasr took over the No. 31 from Derani, but on that occasion, Nasr eventually managed to pull away. Taylor wasn’t done yet, though. He closed all the way up on Nasr with 21 minutes left in the race, getting to within 0.2 seconds, but still not quite close enough to make his move.

The fifth and final full-course caution came out with 15 minutes to go, giving Taylor one last shot on the ensuing restart with under 10 minutes remaining, but Nasr built just enough of a lead to seal a 1.030-second victory over the No. 10. It was the closest overall finish in the 67-race history of the Twelve Hours, eclipsing the 2016 margin of victory of 2.82 seconds.

“Jordan was already warmed up, he was in the car, and I got in the car knowing that he was going to be close,” Nasr said. “From the time I jumped in the car, all the procedures getting the belts on the team stopped changing tires and go – and he was right there.

“I couldn’t do a little mistake today. It was all about hitting our marks and I did that from Lap 1 to the checkered flag. There were some pretty tricky moments out there, like I caught traffic a few times and I had a four-second lead, and that last yellow flag as well that came with four laps to go, man, that was really tricky. I could see they picked up their pace, but we got the job done first.”

It was the first Sebring victory for both Nasr and Curran – who together co-drove to both the 2018 WeatherTech Championship and the IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup Prototype titles. It was Derani’s second consecutive Sebring victory and his third in four years, making him the first driver with three overall wins in four years since the legendary Phil Hill won in 1958, 1959 and 1961.

“It means the world,” Derani said. “Today was just one of those days where everything went perfect, but we had a lot to lose in the beginning with the rain at the beginning. Two and a half hours I was in the car and there was lot of stress because there’s a lot to lose. You’re thinking, ‘OK, there’s 11 hours to go. What should you do? Push?’ But in the end, everything worked perfectly thanks to this amazing team.”

Derani and Nasr will continue as full-season co-drivers in the No. 31, while Curran will rejoin the team for the next Michelin Endurance Cup round, the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen on June 30.

The 12 Hours of Sebring got off to a rainy beginning. (Sarah Weeks photo)

“As a sports car driver, you kind of have your list of the races that you want to win on your bucket list, and the Sebring 12-hour is right up there at the top,” Curran said. “I don’t know how many years I’ve been racing the Sebring 12, but back to the ALMS days and obviously finishing second last year and finishing second prior to that, to come so close to a win, but not quite enough. So, it feels really special to now win this thing, finally, in a Whelen Cadillac.”

After winning both the 2018 season-ending Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta and the 2019 season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona, the No. 10 team picked up its third consecutive podium with a runner-up result. They’re now tied with the No. 31 team – which finished second at Daytona – in the DPi championship standings with 67 points apiece after two of 10 races.

“We had a third-place car all day,” Taylor said. “So, to finish second was good. I think we overshot what we were capable of, so leaving here with that, we should be proud of it. It’s a good points day. We’d love to win Sebring, but I don’t think it was worth making a huge risk at the end to lose a bunch of points, so I’m happy with second and we can move on to Long Beach.”