Podium of Thoughts on 2021 12 Hours of Sebring
1. The Punching Bag Enacts It's Revenge: How many times can a race car get whacked and still win a race? Apparently a lot, if you are the Mustang Sampling / JDC-Miller MotorSports Cadillac DPi.
They weren't just whacked. They were out and out abused. Some may consider it vehicular assault. Yet, their car somehow, someway, stayed together, was able to make up the laps lost repairing damage, and found themselves taking the checkered flag.
The French Connection of Tristan Vautier, Loic Duval, and Sebastien Bourdais never got flustered, even when the car was ... yet again ... damaged for the last stint.
"Honestly, I have no idea how it all worked out," Bourdais, who drove the last stint, said, in perhaps the understatement of the race.
Sure, they had to rely on a bit of luck, but that's the nature of endurance racing. Speaking of luck, or rather luckless, the Cadillac Chip Ganassi Racing can't buy a break this year.
They were in for a sure win at the 24 Hours at Daytona until a tire failure in the final hour. They were in for a sure win at Sebring until a late call to pit, too late, prevented Scott Dixon from making the proper entry.
He sideswapped the GTLM BMW M8 GTE which dove underneath the Cadillac when it slowed suddenly to make the entry into the pits. This caused significant damage, once again throwing a sure win away in the final hour.
2. Crashfest Mayhem: Say what you want about full course yellows in endurance racing. Many believe they spoil the whole point of endurance racing, and merely turn the long distance events into a series of sprint races.
We won't get into that debate for now. But, FCYs sure can create some wild and crazy sports car racing. The end of Sebring, especially in GTLM, was the definition of wild and crazy.
The final sprint set up a three-way battle for GTLM honors between the No. 3 Corvette C8.R, the No. 25 BMW M8 GTE, and the No. 79 Porsche 911 RSR-19, in that order when the final green flag waved.
Connor De Phillippi dove his BMW inside Antonio Garcia's Corvette, hit him, spun him around, and hit him again, as it appeared De Phillippi never lifted. Mathieu Jaminet barely threaded his Porsche through the chaos, having to take to the grass to do so, and into the lead.
The Corvette had to pit with damage, falling off the podium. The BMW was penalized, and thus forced to finish second. The Porsche went on to an unlikely win with co-drivers Cooper MacNeil and Matt Campbell. Eveyone believed this independent GTLM effort would be completely out of their elements, and yet here they were winning Sebring.
The entire race in all classes, especially the second half, was a crashfest by sports car endurance racing standards. Or for that matter, any racing standards.
Just look at third place in GTLM which went to the other BMW. This car went up in flames during a pit stop. And still managed a podium finish. Again, talk about wild and crazy.
3. Who Are The Best Drivers?: This is always an open -- and fun -- debate amongst racing fans. Are the best drivers in F1, NASCAR, Indy, sports cars, WRC, name your favorite series?
There is no right and wrong answer ... other than the answer is clearly the WRC... it does, however, get irritating when all you hear is how the NASCAR drivers are the best. The only reason you hear that is because it's the most popular series in America. But, it doesn't make it so.
True, NASCAR drivers clock a ton of miles in race conditions. That shouldn't be minimalized. Time behind the wheel is important. Also, it is not easy, not at all, handling overweight, under-tired cars like they do. That shouldn't be minimalized either.
But, it doesn't mean the talent needed for NASCAR translates over to other racing disciplines. Remember when Jeff Gordon was dominating the series? People were actually saying he could be America's best F1 hope. Yes, F1.
However, when he did take part in a sports car race -- the 24 Hours at Daytona -- he was completely outpaced by all his teammates. In fact, he only did one stint at the start of the race, and then never got back in the car. Sure, it won. But certainly not because Jeff Gordon was on the team.
Now we have Jimmie Johnson. Another massively successful NASCAR star, making a transistion not just to sports car racing, but also to Indy car. First, huge kudos to him. The fact he is willing to take that leap this late in his racing career deserves a massive amount of respect.
Johnson himself is not saying he is going to knock it out of the park. So, this is not a criticism of him. He is approaching this with no ego whatsoever and a full understanding of what it will take to be successful.
It's some of the NASCAR fans and commentators who are expecting sudden success. And so far, that has not been the case at all. He has clearly been the slowest driver on his team, which granted is made up of some superstars. And his mistakes at Sebring over the weekend -- a spin in qualifying, a crash into the wall later in qualifying, and a spin resulting in him getting hit in the race -- added to his burden.
We'd love to see Johnson be successful mainly because his approach is one of just being a racer and doing this because he simply loves racing. And, him being in IMSA adds another entry to the endurance events.
But let's chill out on the idea that just because he is a NASCAR star that makes him immediately the best at any other racing discipline.
Lobotomy of the Race Award: To whomever on the Ally Cadillac Racing team wasn't paying attention to Simon Pagenaud's time in the car.
IMSA rules state a driver can not spend more than four hours in a car during any six hour period. Pagenaud spent four hours ... and 50 seconds ... in the car during a six hour window. Fifty seconds. It's all kept track on computers these days, so there is no reason anybody should keep their driver in too long. Not even 50 seconds too long.
For that reason, the #48 Cadillac DPi of Jimmie Johnson, Kamui Kobayashi, and Simon Pagenaud were disqualified. It was great fun watching Kobayashi aggressively move through the field during the final laps. But we all knew it was going to be for naught.
All because someone on that team was lobotomized.
Special Mention: IMSA's safety regulations. There were a lot of huge crashes at Sebring this year. Huge ones. Two GTD cars plowing into the wall at full speed. An LMP2 car flipping along a tire wall. And those were just two of the worst ones.
All the drivers, thankfully, walked away from all these crashes. A huge testament to the safety regulations built into these cars, and in some ways the track itself.
Though, in some ways, the track itself might be blamed for some of these crashes. That is, the surface of the track, with the bumps possibly causing some cars to break and thus lose control at full speed. Or even just trying to hold onto these cars while they are bouncing around like a rodeo bull.
Of course, we don't want the unique characteristic of Sebring to be altered. So, the onus is on making sure the runoffs, the barriers, and of course the cars, are constantly made safer and safer.
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