The #8 Toyota TS050 of Fernando Alonso, Sébastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima were victorious at the inaugural 1000 Miles of Sebring to extend their lead in the championship. In GTE Pro, victory went to Porsche – but the #91 911 RSR, not the pole-sitting #92 machine.
The FIA WEC’s return to Sebring International Raceway was all about “respecting the bumps”, and the inaugural 1000 Miles of Sebring provided the gruelling test everyone was expecting. As if the circuit itself didn’t provide enough of a challenge, the heavens opened with just 25 minutes of the eight-hour race remaining. An incident involving the #28 TDS Racing LMP2 car meant that the race disappointingly concluded behind the safety car.
Starting from first on the grid, Alonso/Buemi/Nakajima quickly established a lead over José María López, Kamui Kobayashi and Mike Conway in the #7 machine. Benefitting from a better balance in the car, the #8 was able to establish a gap at the head of the field that would eventually extend to a full lap. Consistently fast throughout the race, all Alonso, Buemi and Nakajima had to do was to minimise risk in traffic and bring the victory home.
Third position went to the #11 SMP Racing BR1 of Vitaly Petrov, Brendon Hartley and Mikhail Aleshin after an eventful race for the privateer LMP1 cars. It was an impressive recovery drive from the #11, after Vitaly Petrov suffered rear-end damage due to a puncture in the early stages.
The #17 SMP Racing car of Egor Orudzhev, Sergey Sirotkin and Stéphane Sarrazin was involved in the first major incident of the race after Orudzhev ran wide at turn one and careered into the barriers. The Russian emerged unharmed, but the race was over for the #17 machine.
Last-minute drama in GTE Pro
GTE Pro offered up an incredible race-long battle between a whole host of contenders. The first to rise to the head of the field was the #82 BMW Team MTEK M8 in the hands of Augusto Farfus and then Bruno Spengler. The #67 Ford of Priaulx/Tincknell/Bomarito also took up the fight with only a matter of seconds separating the top 6 as the hours ticked by.
Aston Martin, too, progressed well as the race went on, moving up through the GTE Pro field after a disappointing qualifying. Another contender for victory was the #91 Porsche 911 RSR of Gianmaria Bruni and Richard Lietz, but in truth any one of six or eight cars could have taken victory as the race reached its conclusion.
With just minutes of the race remaining, the #81 BMW M8 GTE of Nicky Catsburg, Martin Tomczyk and Alexander Sims was leading ahead of the #91 car, but owed a final “splash-and-dash” pit stop due to being out of sync on strategy. However, the heavens opened and the deluge forced every car in to pit for wet tyres.
Buoyed by the chance of being able to combine their final quick stop with the now-obligatory stop for rain tyres, the #81 BMW crew could have been looking at their maiden win for the M8 GTE. However, some quick pit work from Porsche GT Team saw the #91 leapfrog the #81 machine and take the win as the race finished under safety car conditions.
Domination and disappointment at Jackie Chan DC Racing
There were mixed emotions in the Jackie Chan DC Racing pit after a race of polar opposite fortunes for its pair of Oreca 07s. The championship-leading #38 car hit some significant trouble with the race just a handful of laps old. The gearbox-related issue was eventually resolved, but only after multiple pit stops, firstly to replace the steering wheel and then to carry out some more significant work in the garage. Ultimately the problems cost the #38 machine around 30 laps, and a sixth-place finish has put a significant dent in that crew’s title ambitions.
The win went to the sister #37 car of new driver team Will Stevens, David Heinemeier-Hansson and Jordan King in what was a commanding performance for the team. The #37 consistently held the hard-chasing #36 Signatech Alpine car at bay over the eight hours. Third place went to the #31 DragonSpeed Oreca of Maldonado/Gonzalez/Davidson.
Drama befell the #28 TDS Racing Oreca in the final moments of the race, as Loïc Duval lost traction and hit the barriers hard in the rain. This brought out the safety car and saw the TDS machine retire agonisingly from fourth position.
Dempsey-Proton Racing on form in GTE Am
GTE Am was just as close a battle as the Pro equivalent, with the #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing 911 RSR engaging in race-long battles with the #54 Spirit of Race Ferrari F488 GTE and the #56 Team Project 1 911 RSR.
The Project 1 machine had been leading the race as the sun set on Sebring International Raceway, however an ill-judged move from Giancarlo Fisichella in the #54 Spirit of Race car pitched Jörg Bergmeister into the tyre wall at turn one in the third hour.
Fortunately there was no significant damage to the #56 machine – bar flat-spotted tyres – and it was able to continue and ultimately finish third behind the #77 and #54 cars. Fisichella earned a stop/go penalty for the avoidable contact, but the Spirit of Race crew still managed to finish second.
Images © 2021 Marius Hecker/AdrenalMedia.com (FIA WEC press material)