Tequila Patron ESM Nabs First Victory at Sebring For Nissan Since 1994
The lineup of Derani, van Overbeek, and Lappiere manage their second overall win at the 12 Hours.
Consistency put Tequila Patron ESM in prime position at Sebring this Saturday while a focused late-race run helped Pipo Derani and co. claim victory at the 12-hour endurance event. After seeing the expected favorites fall out over the course of the race, the No. 22 Nissan Onroak DPi charged for first and stayed there by avoiding major collisions early on and then retaining the pace into the night. Eventually, it was the experienced crew that overtook last year's winners and a crowded Prototype field for the overall win.
Spirit of Daytona Racing started on pole and swapped lead roles with Acura Team Penske and Whelen Engineering in the early stages. Tristan Vautier, driver of the SDR No. 90 Cadillac DPi-V.R, was involved in early havoc but held steady as a surprise contender throughout before a headlight outage that eventually led to a race-ending wreck. Near the fifth hour, Penske's No. 7 was on top with Helio Castroneves piloting the Acura at the front of the field. However, an engine failure caused Helio's teammate Ricky Taylor to withdraw from the race, narrowing the field for ESM's forthcoming overtake.
"We worked the entire weekend to get a car that was really, really strong at night,” Derani said after his second career victory at Sebring. “We weren’t sure if that was going to be the case because you never know what you get, during the race the weather might change. But we managed that."
“We had a car that was extremely understeer behind another car. It was quick, but on clean air. The car came towards us as the temperature got lower. I was able to overtake (Felipe) Nasr in the end. I could make the maneuver on the slow corner further down the lap. I’m really happy the work came to us over the weekend because it paid off to have a quick car in the end.”
In the second half, Wayne Taylor Racing began a return to form that we saw in 2017 when the team took victory at Sebring on its way to the championship. Renger van der Zande drove the Konica Minolta-backed Cadillac alongside the tandem of Jordan Taylor and Ryan Hunter-Reay and eventually finished second, overcoming its trouble-plagued outing at Daytona in January.
Whelen Engineering rounded out the podium after staying near the front for the majority of the race. Felipe Nasr's strong effort placed the second Cadillac in the top three and trumped the entire field of LMP2-spec racers with the highest-finishing Oreca 07 Gibson being the No. 54 CORE Autosport entry.
United Autosport pitted late in the race for a fuel-only stop that landed Phil Hansen in fifth place come the end of the twelfth hour.
Mazda's No. 55 RT24-P awarded Team Joest its most competitive outing yet with the Japanese automaker, though it didn't end the way the German outfit hoped it would. Harry Tincknell drove the car as day turned to night, where the turbocharged four-cylinder is most effective with cool temps, but stalled on pit lane and subsequently dropped from second to sixth-place.
“To be in fourth position on the restart with 40 minutes to go at Sebring is what you train and live for, so it was amazing to be in contention," said Tincknell. "Mazda Team Joest has done an unbelievable job to turn the car around and I can’t thank them enough to be in the car at the end of the race fighting with the best of the best in Prototype. Even before the start of the season, I thought the Mazda RT24-P could definitely win races this year, and we nearly won this one. We are a bit disappointed at the moment, but there are massive positives to look forward to the rest of the year.“
2018 marks the second Sebring win for Tequila Patron ESM in three years. While its last victory at the South Florida track was achieved with a Honda-powered Ligier JS P2, this year is the first overall win for a Nissan at Sebring since Steve Millen, Johnny O’Connell, and John Morton claimed the feat 24 years ago.