TORA returned with its second classic endurance race of the year as part of the new ASCC calendar and provided just as much excitement as the real thing. Onlookers enjoyed a repeat of the lead battle from the Daytona 24 hour race just two months previously assuring that this Sebring 12h race would down as one to remember.
With the F4H squad stealing HCR’s crown at Daytona the question on everyone’s lips was, could they repeat the feat at the very different Sebring circuit?
Early testing proved the Oreca in HCR hands to be very quick and questions were raised in the paddock, however no additional BoP changes were administered.
Qualifying in the Prototype class made for familiar viewing with the top six at Sebring ultimately the same top six from Daytona albeit in a slightly different order.
The front row didn’t change even despite earlier concerns; F4H’s ‘Red Sonja’ Ford Riley took pole courtesy of F4H Venom and CAR Harmonic with the HCR Scuderia Oreca alongside after almost identical lap times again by HCR’s Motorhead and Hamish.
XRS continued their run of form in the Corvette DP, edging out the second HCR entry on the second row for third and fourth respectively.
In GT, even a superb lap by CAR Amarth in the eSports+CARS BMW was not good enough for them to take pole. His session best time was a whole second faster than teammate TX3 Tactical, the Brit struggling to match the time thus bringing down the combined time.
F4H Motorsport, also in a BMW, driven by F4H ForceOne and F4H Xyloto took pole in. ForceOne set a marker only a couple of tenths behind Amarth, but with Xyloto’s time some half a second faster than Tactical pole was the net result.
Series debutants The Usual Suspects (TUS) qualified second in a great outing for them with the aforementioned eSports+CARS starting third.
The XRS Porsche that had struggled during Daytona received a much needed boost with fourth on the grid. The Daytona class winners, Wippermann Racing, qualified an uncharacteristic seventh potentially requiring some significant luck and a clear road for the German squad to move up the pecking order.
In pristine blue sky with a baking hot track, the race began. F4H Diablo, opening for the pole sitting Ford, got a lightning start using the Ford’s superior launch. XRS Kaiser Wolf on the inside also got a run on HCR Motorhead but at turn 1, Motorhead simply drove around the outside and tried to put pressure on Diablo out front. It was a clean start for the Prototypes but the GTs were a bit messier, with CAR Amarth getting damage and forced to pit early.
Out front, we immediately saw a clearly defined difference between the leading DP and chasing Oreca. The DP proved vastly superior on acceleration and top speed and the Oreca enjoying a lot more grip both mechanically and aerodynamically. This made it difficult for the Oreca drivers in the race, traffic would hurt them more than the cars potential pace could gain back on the DP.
HCR Motorhead pitted early to avoid traffic and get the undercut and it proved successful. However, he lost the lead due to traffic and the Ford DP’s strengths. He could not get close enough at the end of the straights and his best chance to make a move was strangely enough into turn two after carrying much more momentum through the first corner.
However, an early incident for F4H Diablo while trying to pass the lower order Black Bone Ford GTLM at turn 14 forced the American off track and into the wall.
Motorhead avoided the incident and took advantage of the stricken Ford’s maladies Diablo limped the car to the pits and repairs were completed in record time though his lead to the third place Spanish XRS DP had been slashed. In a stroke of luck however, the Corvette was in a tight battle with Mr Driv3 in the Griptek Riley and this provided enough of a distraction to allow Diablo to retain second, only losing it temporarily with out of synch pitstops.
Later on in the race and despite the earlier off-track excursion F4H’s top DP was able to make significant gains and retake the lead. In contrast, F4H’s Black Sheep Corvette struggled early on losing a lap in the first two hours before their hired gun, HCR Solar then had further major issues which put them out of contention entirely.
HCR’s second Oreca, the Lotus Motorsport entry – third at Daytona -held steadfast in fifth place for the majority of the race.
It was a quiet afternoon too for the FIA team who rarely challenged the top five but hopes are high the team will progress well later in the year as they prepare for Road Atlanta.
The rough and bumpy nature of the Sebring track made the race very tough on cars and drivers alike with any lost time punished and laps down hard to recover.
Even traffic proved very tough at times for the top class. A couple of incidents occurred going into the night, as Griptek’s Iceman made contact with FIA LMC Alflo into turn one. Shortly after that, XRS Forza Jose hit HCR Noodle’s Lotus Motorsport Oreca in turn four. Both offenders would receive penalties for avoidable contact.
Mush as with Daytona and indeed the real Sebring race it became a clear this was a two horse race for the win as the Red Sonja Ford and HCR Scuderia pulled away from the field in their dogfight for the win.
However in a cruel twist of fate right at the death HCR Hamish encountered a problem which left the Oreca hobbled and providing F4H with an unchallenged run to the flag eventually winning by over a lap. The American team has taken two wins from two in the Endurance Cup and dethroned HCR twice in the process and only needing fourth at Petit Le Mans to seal the championship.
HCR will need to win and F4H come fifth or worse to grab it.
The battle for the final podium place was settled as XRS in the Corvette DP established a healthy margin over the Griptek Riley who would take another disappointingly close fourth to match their Daytona result, and HCR Lotus Motorsport’s Oreca were fifth as they couldn’t capitalise on any track position even after the penalties.
Meanwhile in GT, F4H Motorsport had looked good early on but after the first two hours, it was Wippermann Racing who took the early initiative and were in front launching through the field from seventh with eSports+CARS also making up lost ground from the poor by their standards qualifying.
Going into the late afternoon, F4H Motorsport suffered a major issue which took them out of contention. Despite efforts to rectify the gremlins the issue arose again during the night which made them one of the only retirements.
This meant that the battle for the win in GT – much as with with the prototypes – was drawing out to be a two horse race between Wippermann Racing Ferrari and the eSports+CARS.
TUS Racing held their own in a very respectable third on their race debut. The team chose to stay out of trouble as they got to grips with the ASCC Endurance Cup resulting in a fairly quiet race as the leading pair eked out a larger gap to third.
Indeed the pace when CAR Amarth and NVirus999 were aboard their respective cars was electrifying.
It was not a good day for any of the Spanish speaking entries in GT, with both the XRS Porsche and the Puerto Rican PROD Porsche suffering a range of issues and ultimately falling down the order.
It was a very close finale with CAR Amarth desperately trying to get past NVirus999in the closing stages but he couldn’t do enough and Wippermann Racing took another win with eSports+CARS a close second and TUS secured a convincing third on their debut. As debuts go, this was right up there with Team Jeremy Kyle way back in 2013 on this same hallowed track.
An impressive fourth went to the NSA TUFF TOYS Ford GTLM, proving that the Ford is very good around these parts – a perhaps ominous sign for those competing in the ASCC Sprint Series.
Completing the top five and ahead of a pair of Corvettes was Wippermann Racing’s second Ferrari.
It’s a long wait until the final ASCC Endurance Cup round at Road Atlanta in September however the two hour format returns in short order at COTA at the close of March. It’s a much anticipated race. Can F4H and esports+CARS rise to the top in Texas?