Race Report by Matthew Overton
Photos by M Overton and J Chen
November 5, 2020 – Another clear and warm race day (thanks George!) greeted drivers for the NARS VWSC 1.2 Hrs of Sebring, producing some scintillating racing and more than a fair share of heartbreak.
LMP and GTE pole-sitters Ernest Dela Cruz and Jon Uyan delivered strong qualifying laps and led the field cleanly through the opening lap to set the table for an exciting race.
On race start, Cameron Sansano battled Dela Cruz for the race lead for much of the first stint, however, an off gave the race leader some much-appreciated breathing room, and then a fuel calculation error ended Sansano’s challenge permanently. From there, Dela Cruz ceded the lead only briefly during the final pitstop, taking the chequered flag for the overall race win. Colin Moore, Jason Whited, and Brian Hall battled throughout the race with Whited and Hall getting by Moore just before the final pitstops to take 2nd and 3rd respectively by race end.
An epic duel in LMPC that was brewing in the early laps came to an unexpected end when class-leading Bob Roberson was caught out by a sudden mechanical issue for JT Tami that resulted in the two cars colliding heavily on the Ullman straight, sending them both into the wall. While Tami was able to rejoin the race after repairs, the crash was too much for Roberson’s pit crew to make good for the race and he was obliged to retire. This, and difficulties suffered by Ajay Ren throughout the race, left the door open for Matthew Overton to take another class win, though not without moments of self-imposed drama.
Both GTE classes provided non-stop action that was the highlights of the race.
The PRO drivers maintained a close and fiercely fought battle throughout the first stint including several lead changes with George Angelidis leading the pack only to be overtaken by Jon Uyan just before the first pit stops. Different pit strategies came into play in the second half of the race, with Don Fryman working his one-stopper to catch and pass two-stopper Jon Uyan, leading him to the finish by under 1s. Angelidis was less successful with his one-stop strategy as he faded back in the night air although he built a comfortable cushion to take 3rd over two-stopping Jerry Chen who struggled in the final laps.
A similar story played out for the AM drivers, where the two pit strategies served to break apart the field in the mid-race only to see a tightening fight for the podium from lap 28 until the chequered flag. Tom Nasella and Thomas DiLibero, again on differing pit strategies, fought throughout the race for the overall class win, with DiLibero seizing the lead and holding it late in the race, finishing only 1.5s ahead of Nasella. Both were being reeled in by Paul Ibbotson on a late charge however the race ended a lap or two too quickly for him to make a challenge, although he as gifted 3rd by Ross Smith who was left exposed by the fuel calculations by his pit crew and was obliged to settle for a disappointing 4th in class.
With only one race to go, many of the championship podium positions are still in doubt, meaning the final race at Bahrain is set to deliver some high drama for all the drivers!
So, where do the championship races stand? Pull up a chair and let’s talk about it:
In LMP2, series leader Tami needs to finish 10th or better to clinch the championship. Having claimed second over Moore with his strong performance this week, Whited will need Tami to finish 11th and win the race himself to grab a top spot, all the while needing to keep Moore behind him to retain second, a tough assignment in all regards.
The Sebring results have meant that the LMPC championship is settled regardless of the Bahrain outcome, with Overton clinching first place overall, Roberson second, and Aiken third.
In the GTE PRO championship, the podium race still has plenty of excitement, with Fryman needing to finish 8th or better to clinch the title over Uyan, who would need to win the race as well. For second and third places, given Uyan, Chen and Angelidis are separated by only 11 points, a misstep by any of them at Bahrain will mean the significant risk of finishing off the podium.
Finally, it is all to play for in Bahrain for the GTE AM championship. With his win at Sebring pushing him into the series lead by only 4 points, DiLibero will be facing a determined challenge from a Smith who has seen a solid lead disappear as the result of two disappointing races. Nasella retains a wildcard shot at the series win should anything happen to the two front-runners, with second place a more realistic possibility if he secures a strong race result. A poor race on his part, however, could open the door to a 3rd place in the series for Ibbotson, who is dogging his heels.
With a reschedule of the race to 3 December because of the US Thanksgiving break, the drivers have some additional time to become familiar with the track and deliver the race performances that will not only provide great racing action but also keep, and maybe fulfill, their championship hopes.
See you all there!