Cadillac Racing claims third win in row at Sebring
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.
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.
Overall, the Cadillac V-Series.Rs led 183 of the 332 race laps over the 12 hours.
Cadillac Racing high-resolution IMSA GTP photos available for editorial use
A 2023 Cadillac CT5-V Blackwing was the pace car/safety car for the race. The race weekend marked the kickoff of the 20th anniversary of the Cadillac V-Series performance vehicle lineup, and Cadillac was announced as the Official Luxury Vehicle of Sebring International Raceway.
The CT5-V Blackwing is a Car and Driver 10Best again for 2023: “…the Cadillac CT5-V Blackwing is the greatest sports sedan on sale today, if not of all time.”
On March 17, the No. 2 Cadillac V-Series.R finished fourth in the 1000 Miles of Sebring – its debut race in the Hypercar class of the FIA World Endurance Championship.
An interview with the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadilac V-Series.R race winners:
What does this fourth win at Sebring mean to you?
“I’ve been on the unlucky side a few times since my last win. I’ve been close many times but you have to be lucky in motorsports. The most important thing is that we were there in the end with a car that was still running, especially after an early incident of no fault of our own. We were able to capitalize on all the others’ mistakes. I want to say thank you to the whole group. We came here with a very strong car in qualifying and put it on pole. We had an amazing weekend from FP1 through the end of the race. Jack had to start with old tires at the end, so we didn’t quite have the pace to keep the position but we were there at the end with the mistake that others made; it allowed us to get ahead and take the win. It’s a special one for me. It’s the first win I’ve had since fatherhood. My little girl is at home and three months old. It’s the fourth win at Sebring… one that I’ve been hoping to get for a few years. Like I said, I’ve been on the unlucky side so to get it is fantastic. First win as well for the Cadillac V-Series.R and our new LMDh car. A lot of hard work has been put into this program from the beginning, especially on the reliability side. To finish at Daytona and Sebring now with a win and already have pole position is a fantastic effort form the whole group. A big thank you to Whelen Engineering for providing us with amazing lights, Action Express for the amazing job that they’ve done since the beginning and Cadillac for providing us a very fast racecar.”
What about double-stinting the qualifying tires?
“I think we underestimated the fact that it was quite hot out there. We tried. We knew we couldn’t make it, especially if it was green most of the race, on the amount of tires that we had. We tried to be a little aggressive at the beginning to have more tires at the end. Obviously it wasn’t great at the end of the second stint; the second half of that stint was quite difficult. Very quickly after that, I had contact with a P3 that spun right in front of me. I had to stop for repairs and we removed that set of tires from the car. It was not an easy race in terms of tires. At the end, some had a few new tires to put on their car and some didn’t. It was a balance between using them at moments where the track was a bit warmer and temperatures were hotter or trying to save them for the end. So it’s a bit of you win early or you win later. We had an extra set of tires, but we decided at the end to gain track position on one of the last restarts. Jack continued on his tires and unfortunately we didn’t have the pace to keep the cars behind, but luck played into our side today.”
What was going through your mind when you saw the accident at the end?
“I was trying to do some quick counting at that moment. In those moments so late in the race, you’re pretty much in the moment. I saw the crash and was watching out for debris and other cars because there were cars pretty much everywhere and just trying to survive. It was after I got through that I was waiting for the caution and I thought, ‘That was quite a lot of GTP cars. Maybe we’re alright here.’
Were you worried about the BMW at the end?
“We’ve had a lot of trouble on the restarts previously. We had a great strategy call to get us into the lead. The team were fantastic with that one, and it was quick thinking. I just wasn’t able to fight it and the other guys were really impressive with their speed at the restart. We didn’t quite have the pace, especially on warm-up. I was a little bit concerned, but luckily when the flag dropped we were able to sprint away pretty quickly and could just bring it home safely for the last laps.”
Going three-wide into Turn 1 late before the accident.
“It was very, very tough racing. We were trying to hold our position as good as we could. The other guys were fighting extremely hard. At some point, you have to realize when it’s time to give up and that’s part of the reason we made it to the end today. We all drove pretty smart as well as racing as hard as we could when we had the pace. I was waiting a little bit for an accident to happen at some point.”
Were driving standards OK?
“It was hard racing. I’m not going to sit here and say that because I was waiting for a crash doesn’t mean that people were necessarily over the limit. It was just really, really hard racing. In this new era where we’ve got so many teams and cars that are racing at a very similar level, it’s inevitable that you’re going to get a little bit of bumping and some close calls. I had a good time out there. I don’t think anyone was particularly out of line.”
What was the reaction watching the accident at the end?
“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.”
Have you seen anything like this before?
“That was a surprising end. An excellent effort through the race. 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.”
No. 01 Cadillac V-Series.R
Sebastien Bourdais: “It’s obviously pretty disappointing for everybody. The guys did a great job. A couple of incidents that kind of put us out of sequence and then we paid the price with the double stints on tires. Renger did a heck of a job hanging onto the car because it was well over two stints on the tires and not easy. And a typical safety car reset the field. We had a great restart from last to ninth and we worked out way to the lead with a great pit stop by the guys. The car was quick. Cadillac seems to have something that works pretty well at Sebring, so that’s really encouraging. I think we made some great progress from Daytona in performance, so that’s encouraging for the rest of the season after finishing on the podium but needing more pace at Daytona. It’s great to see the program heading in the right direction and everyone at Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac are working very hard to make progress.”
Scott Dixon: “It was quite the race. The car was really fast and I felt like everybody on the team did a tremendous job. We had some ups and downs, but ultimately, we were top-three most of the race and led a good majority of it. Just bummed that it ended the way it did, and we didn’t win the race. It’s one that’s eluded me, and it would have been great to take this one. But we had great speed, great teamwork and everybody did a hell of a job.”
Renger van der Zande: “Sebring is a special one, and it’s a shame that it didn’t fall in our direction. We had a strong Cadillac car here and while we’ve been testing all over, we’re still trying to improve things across the board. We’re still learning. We go deep to try to optimize performance. It’s just an unfortunate end to the race after showing so much speed.”