Podium of Thoughts on 2020 12 Hours of Sebring
1. I Went To A Sports Car Race and A Hockey Game Broke Out: Sebring is rough enough on cars. It was even rougher with drivers throwing around hip checks, back checks, and even cross checks. Metaphorically speaking.
There was a lot of anger, frustrationg and poor choices by many drivers during the course of 12 hours. This resulted in a lot of banged up cars, lost opportunities, and in some cases, championships pissed away.
No class was immune, whether within a class or cross classes. It was a slugfest, through and through. And race control weren't able to rein it in.
In the end, Mazda won their longest enduro in the DPi era. After going so long without a win, their first victory was at the Six Hours of the Glen in 2019. After a few sprint wins, they now have the prestigious 12 Hours of Sebring trophy in their showcase.
Sadly, they will reduce themselves to a one-car effort in 2021, which will effectively elminate any hope of a championship and reduce their chances of winning races in half.
2. The Championships Nobody Wanted: It certainly appeared, sometimes through no fault of the teams, that nobody wanted to win some titles.
The number seven Acura DPi suffered a broken turbo early in the race. However, they were able to fix it, get back in the race, and watch joyously as the number 10 Cadillac was heavily damaged by a Mazda. All the while, the number 31 Cadillac's longshot chance was eliminated by a red misted Pipo Derani.
This eventually allowed the Acura drivers, Ricky Taylor and Helio Castroneves, to take the DPi title by a solitary point, despite finishing last, seven laps down. The racing gods taketh. The racing gods giveth it back.
The GTD Lexus cars both got eliminated by being in a horrible place at the most horrible time, crashing out on the oil left by a GTLM Corvette, eliminating Aaron Telitz's chance for a championship. Meanwhile, the Meyer Shank Racing Acura NSX was once again used by the rest of the field as a punching bag.
Despite this, the number 86 car did manage a third place finish, just enough for their drivers, Mario Farnbacher and Matt McMurry, to take the GTD title by two points over Patrick Long and Ryan Hardwick. Who, by the way, won the race (along with Jan Heylen) in their Porsche 911 with a busted left rear shock.
There's a reason the 12 Hours of Sebring is not the season finale. It's way too unpredictable for that role. It's best early in the year when teams have time to overcome the typical problems and failures Sebring produces.
Of course, this year, we're just lucky to have had a season at all, never mind a second opportunity to run Sebring. So, for that, we are certainly grateful. It was exciting having Sebring as the season finale. No doubt. But let's hope we can keep it as a "March Madness" event like it's supposed to be.
3. Farewells: As always, the last race of the season brings some goodbyes in the paddock. On the driver side, the most talked about one was Oliver Gavin leaving the Corvette factory team. His accomplishments are too long to list. His presence will be greatly missed.
On the factory side, the biggest impact is Porsche leaving the GTLM class. A year after Ford ended their run, this leaves the class with just two efforts for four cars -- Corvette and BMW (which has already pulled out of the WEC). There is hope IMSA will be able to persuade Ferrari to enter the class. If not as a full fledged factory effort, at least as a semi-factory independent single car effort.
Don't count on Aston Martin, as they are rumored to be reducing their WEC GTE-Pro effort to cut costs. And though the Porsche 911 RSRs were sold to the German Proton Competition team who apparently will enter one in the 24 Hours of Daytona, that appears to be a one-off effort before they concentrate on the European schedule.
GTLM is teetering on the edge of obsolescence, a repeat of the old GT1 class in ALMS. A shame, because we really like GTLM. And an endurance sports car series needs a full pro factory supported effort in the GT ranks. The current competitors say they are dedicated to the class, but how long will that enthusiasm last if they only have one other team to beat?
Lobotomy of the Race Award: Let's just give it to all those drivers who pulled boneheaded moves throughout the race. You know who you guys are. Like we said earlier, Sebring is hard enough on cars without being driven by lobotomized drivers.
Special Mention: John Doonan. Imagine becoming the president of a racing series which depends on drivers, crew, engineers, and factory support from around the world. Then, just months into your reign, a global pandemic hits.
Doonan did have the parent company, NASCAR, to lean on for experience and watching how the stock car series restarted their season. Still, to guide IMSA through this morass, be able to put together a complete season (just one short of the original schedule), maintain all but one of the key endurance races (while still keeping a six-hour event after losing Watkins Glen), with barely a hiccup, is quite admirable.
All us endurance sports car racing fans owe Doonan a huge thank you.
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