No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac V-Series.R prevails in race of attrition
SEBRING, Fla. (March 18, 2023) — Sitting on the pit wall collecting his thoughts and barely holding back tears, Chris Mitchum personified the unpredictable nature of endurance racing.
Moments earlier, the Action Express Racing director of operations watched the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac V-Series.R survive the literal and figurative bumps in the Sebring International Raceway course to score Cadillac Racing’s inaugural victory in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) era.
It wasn’t easy, somewhat surprising and certainly satisfying.
“Everybody says you never quit, but all the way through the end there was belief,” said Mitchum, who celebrated Action Express Racing’s 29th victory. “We had our issues, we had a good car all weekend and you have to be there at the end and we were. I could not be more proud to get Cadillac’s first GTP win in IMSA.”
Cadillac’s third consecutive win in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring is the longest manufacturer streak since Audi’s 2000-07 run, and the luxury brand has won five of the past seven on the 3.741-mile, 17-turn racetrack starting in the IMSA DPi era, including the past three from the pole.
But starting from the Motul Pole Award didn’t come into play in the final 15 minutes of the grueling race of attrition. Jack Aitken inherited the three GTP competitors ahead of him tangled, causing a full-course yellow. The first-year prototype driver took the green flag with 4 minutes, 37 seconds left and held off the charges of the second-place BMW to take the checkered flag by 2.940 seconds.
“This one was wild, but that’s why you go endurance racing. We worked really hard to be in the position we were at the end,” he said. “It wasn’t an easy race for us. You can’t choose how you win but we deserve that in the long ways.”
It was Cadillac’s 28th prototype win in IMSA since 2017 (most by any manufacturer) and 67th in all series/classes since 2004.
“It takes perseverance. That’s one of the great things about endurance racing. It’s not over till it’s over,” Cadillac Global Vice President Rory Harvey said in Victory Circle. “We made it entertaining for the fans today and it was a fantastic win for the No. 31 car. It was an outstanding performance collectively.”
Pipo Derani, who drove to Cadillac’s third consecutive pole start in a row in the event, earned his fourth victory (2023, 2019, 2018, 2016) in the Twelve Hours of Sebring – joining four others on the all-time list. Tom Kristensen is the leader with six overall wins.
“I’ve had so many unlucky races since the last win here so I’ll take a little bit of luck,” he said. “I feel bad for the guys who crashed. But you have to be lucky a little bit in motorsports. We had a fantastic race. We started on pole, had a flawless race after the incident in the beginning, so we recovered well and just fantastic to get number four. This is for my little girl one at home.”
The Action Express Racing team overcame contact with an LMP3 car that spun directly in front of Derani, who did not have time to take evasive action, at the two-hour mark. Replacement of a damaged nose assembly was performed quickly and Derani and co-drivers Alexander Sims and Aitken made up the lost time throughout the remainder of the first quarter of the race.
Dominating the first half of the race – leading 127 of the 168 laps — it looked as if both Cadillac Racing cars would earn podium spots.
Renger van der Zande recorded the fastest lap of the race (1:48.311) on Lap 165, endurance championship points were collected, and the two cars traded the point through pit stops and consistently blunted challenges from the field.
While leading the race, the No. 01 Cadillac V-Series.R with Sebastien Bourdais behind the wheel made an unscheduled trip down pit lane with 3 hours, 8 minutes left. After examination on pit lane and back in the garage, the Chip Ganassi Racing campaigned racecar was retired.
Cadillac Racing issued a statement: The No. 01 Cadillac V-Series.R experienced a fuel distribution system issue. It is the first time we have seen it in testing — including a successful 24-hour test at Sebring International Raceway in November and two days of testing at the track in February — and race conditions. Cadillac Racing will figure out the root cause and prepare for the next race.
Overall, the Cadillac V-Series.Rs led 183 of the 332 race laps over the 12 hours.
“From my side, it was just a bit surreal, honestly, to watch all that unfold. Until that moment and after the end of the second-to-last safety car restart, it seemed like – as Jack mentioned – we seemed not to have the pace. In your mind, you’re resigning yourself to finishing fourth. And so yeah, the emotions go through a bit of roller-coaster to realize that we’re in the seat to win the race. There’s some level of sorrow for the three ahead that did crash out, to be honest, because we’ve all been in that situation and we know how that feels. Conversely, it benefits you sometimes and we’ve got to take it and enjoy the moment.”
We had really good pace at times and the race of attrition was our friend today. The car was in one piece and in good condition at the end, and it was fantastic for Jack to bring it home and capitalize on the issue at the front at the end of the race.”
The next race is April 15 on the streets of Long Beach, California, where Bourdais and van der Zande will seek to make it two victories in a row. They won from the pole in 2022 in the No. 01 Cadillac DPi-V.R.