Saturday, March 19, 2011

My guest piece for

Sebring, FL -- 

In what could only be described as an unexpected turn of events, the French Team Oreca Matmut scored a stunning and hard fought victory in Saturday's 59th running of the 12 Hours of Sebring. On-track incidents throughout the day and into the evening kept the competition both fierce and ever-changing, yielding a 44.5 second split between the winning privateer #10 Oreca Peugeot LMP1 and third place factory team, #8 Team Peugeot TOTAL, with Highcroft Racing's petrol-powered #01 HPD ARX-01e splitting the difference and finishing second.

The win for Team Oreca and team principle Hughes de Chaunac was impressive for more than just the team's privateer status, as it was competing with a 2010 model Peugeot 908 HDi FAP. It was the first win for de Chaunac and Oreca since 2000, when the Chrysler-backed Team Oreca Vipers swept the podium in GTS class.

Following the overall victory, de Chaunac was ebullient: "It's a historic result for us... We finished just in front of the manufacturers. We avoided any mistakes. It was a perfect job from the team and these three drivers." Winning driver Loic Duval was no less enthusiastic, adding "I think we didn't expect to be in this position. We were building and building and at the end the car was perfect." Duval traded the 12 hour driving time with Nicolas Lapierre and Olivier Panis.

The race-winning #10 Team ORECA Matmut Peugeot with Panis at the wheel

With noted LMP1 powerhouse teams Audi Sport Team Joest and Team Peugeot TOTAL set back by a variety of mishaps, Highcroft Racing - new to P1 but defending ALMS PC champions - were able to capitalize and use to their advantage both new rule changes designed to further balance competition between diesel and petrol-powered cars, as well as their drivers' noted skills and exceptional teamwork for a solid second-place finish.

In LMP2, Ryan Hunter-Reay managed a class victory, along with team owner/driver Scott Tucker, in the #55 Level 5 Motorsports Lola Honda, garnering his first series win. "We didn't have the speed in the straights," said teammate Luis Diaz, "but the engineers gave us a great car in the corners and the Honda was very reliable as always." Hunter-Reay added "for me, growing up in Florida, winning Sebring is a dream come true. This place is very special to me."

Meanwhile, an intense battle in GT saw first and second place taken by BMW Motorsport M3 GTs. Class winner Joey Hand in the #56 and runner-up Dirk Werner in the #55 fought off a late charge by Tommy Milner in the #3 Corvette Racing C6-ZR1. Hand gave praise to his BMW team RLL, stating "the team worked really well together in the off-season and built two new race cars. They make everything better, that's what they did. We got a couple new guys on the team and they did a great job."

The #56 BMW M3 GT, at speed.

In LMPC, the trio of Jens Petersen, Michael Guasch, and Dane Cameron celebrated their breakthrough victory, with Cameron piloting the #036 Oreca FLM09 to 9th position overall. "We had the fastest car in the field going into the race... the team prepared such a solid car for us and we just went about our day," said Cameron.

GTC was won in convincing fashion by Black Swan Racing's Damien Faulkner, who took the checkers in a class-spec Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car. For Faulkner, winning his first season start was cause for elation. "I am so happy to be here at the 12 Hours of Sebring," he mused, "I have a four race program this season, and to kick it off with Black Swan and a victory is fantastic!"

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