Server Migrations, don’t ya just love ’em? Still without the amazing Wouter of www.ultimatecarpage.com fame (go there and lose an hour or three) I would be sitting here in the dark. However the juju that is the internet has consumed the last post. As it was rather good I offer it again for your amusement. And welcome to Greg Brown, Porschephile and much respected author, in his first piece for DDC. It is a pity that he had to write this polemic but trashing something as important as the Sebring 12 Hours cannot be allowed to pass without comment. Make your own mind up……….
Alex Job has seen it all in his long and successful career as a driver and, for the last 25 years, as a championship winning team owner. But even his broad experience with the vagaries of racing couldn’t have prepared him for the chaos and absurdity that marked the 12 Hours of Sebring in 2014. But first, the good news, which amply demonstrated the difference a year can make.
In 2013, Porsche’s aging 997-based 911 GT3 RSR couldn’t get close enough to sniff Sebring’s winner’s circle after being left in the debris of its far more potent rivals from BMW, Corvette, Ferrari and Viper. This year, however, the factory-run CORE Autosport 991 911 RSR of Patrick Long, Michael Christensen, and Jörg Bergmeister exhibiting a competitive pace, as well as excellent pit strategy, and taking advantage of fortuitous yellow flags, not only saw the circle, but saw it from the inside as the winner in the prestigious GTLM division of the classic enduro.
Moreover, Porsche also scored its first ever victory in the Tudor Championship’s very competitive GTD class through the efforts of Utah-based Magnus Racing’s GT America, piloted by team owner John Potter, veteran Andy Lally, and Porsche factory test driver Marco Seefried, the trio overcoming an early collision and later transmission problems, to capture the team’s first Sebring win.
Unfortunately, these two victories were marred by a race noteworthy for long delays with over five of the 12 hours being run under the yellow flag, (three of those coming within the first half of the event). Virtually all of these interruptions were due to either unforced driving mistakes , or incomprehensible decision making by race officials. While surviving the various crashes throughout the day might well have been considered victory in itself, reaching that checkered flag first remained the object of the exercise, which why it was a shame that the success of both (albeit deserving) Porsche winners came in part because some unintended help from the apparently clueless Stewards in Race Control.
The potential of Job’s two new 911 GT Americas: the WeatherTech’s #22 entry and its sister, the Team Seattle’s #23 car, gave him reason to be optimistic about a podium finish. After all, Alex Job Racing has won no less than 70 races and five championships since 1995, including, two Rolex 24 class triumphs and, perhaps most impressively, two Le Mans GT class victories. This year he was going for win number ten at Sebring, with most unwilling to bet against him accomplishing that goal.
Unfortunately,eight hours into the race, his WeatherTech entry, having overcome an early tire puncture to run with the leaders up front, was dealt a huge blow with a penalty it clearly did not deserve. Driver Cooper MacNeil was incorrectly given an 80 second stop and go penalty for “avoidable contact” with GT-D Ferrari 458 Italia. This penalty was given despite the fact that the Porsche in question was one of the factory 991 RSRs, something clearly evidenced in the video tape of the incident by the highly visible Michelin tire sticker on its roof. In spite of that, and inspite of the fact that all the GT-D entries ran on mandated Continental rubber, the five officials who reviewed the tape before handing out the penalty made their incomprehensible decision. But which of the two CORE RSRs was it? The answer ironically was both though only the #911 car was ever cited.
Job, who immediately appealed the penalty, was told simply: “Bring your car in for the 80 seconds,, or we’ll stop timing and scoring it.” Faced with such ignorant intransigence, Job had no choice but to call in MacNeil, virtually ending any chances for a win.
Nor was Job’s mood improved by what happened after the race. “I went to the tower to see the video. As they showed it, I and they could clearly see the # 22 was obviously way ahead of the incident and that it was one of the white RSRs which made contact with the Ferrari. You could almost visualize the ‘oops’ coming from their lips. Having reviewed the video, they told me they would discuss the situation and do whatever they could. At the very least, I think they needed to calculate the lost time, the 80-second hold plus the time through the pits. I believe we were running second, so that’s a lot of lost track position.”
But what was done, and the penalty stuck, leaving the WeatherTech car a very disappointing fourth in the results. It was some consolation to Job that his other GT America did extremely well in the tough GTD class to finish third, but it had to be a bittersweet result for the man who’s been competing at Sebring for 25 years and was set up for another win. As for the impact on the finish in the GTLM category, where Porsche’s margin of victory was less than five seconds, had Long, Christensen and Bergmeister been hauled down pit lane to serve an enforced 80-second stop, it would have been the Viper folks celebrating, and not the Porsche camp.
Following the race, IMSA’s vice president of competition and technical regulations Scot Elkins admitted, “The series tonight actually made a couple of incorrect calls during the event. The nature of racing is, that it makes it very difficult for us to take those back. There’s nothing we can do in terms of taking time away and doing anything to the results. We’re sorry, and we made a mistake. We have some things in place to fix it for the next time.”
You better hope so, Scot. After the snafus at Daytona and the insanity of Sebring, some teams are wondering if their future lies with IMSA, or perhaps the Sports Car Club of America’s World Challenge, for which the GT America Porsches are also eligible. The bottom line is simple: if you’re a big time racing organization, then act like one.
Greg Brown, March 2014