WTR-Andretti Acura Takes Thrilling Overall Sebring Win!
March 16, 2024

The 72nd running of the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Cadillac was decided by an intense battle for the lead with less than five minutes remaining in the classic endurance racing contest.

Louis Deletraz in the No. 40 Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti Acura ARX-06 stalked Sebastien Bourdais in the No. 01 Cadillac Racing Cadillac V-Series.R throughout the last of 12 hours of hard-fought racing before finally forcing his way past to claim the overall and Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class victory in Round 2 of the 2024 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

The 26-year-old Swiss driver faked a pass to the outside of Sebring International Raceway’s hairpin corner before making a late dive to the inside. Bourdais attempted a crossover move exiting up the next straight, but Deletraz was able to edge ahead through the next sequence of corners, with the Acura and Cadillac making light contact. He held the lead in the car he shared with Jordan Taylor and Colton Herta over the final four laps of the 3.74-mile, 17-turn circuit to prevail by 0.891 seconds over Bourdais, Renger van der Zande and Scott Dixon.

Rolex 24 At Daytona winners Felipe Nasr, Dane Cameron and Matt Campbell rounded out the podium after finishing 8.898 seconds back in third place in the No. 7 Porsche Penske Motorsport Porsche 963. The No. 7 and No. 40 teams left Sebring tied for the lead of the GTP standings with 706 points each.

While Taylor is a multiple IMSA champion with 34 career victories (including three at Sebring), Saturday’s triumph was just the second for Deletraz, who is considered a rising star in the sports car world. It was also the third IMSA win for the No. 40 team’s endurance driver, IndyCar standout Herta.

Herta and Taylor were both swift to heap praise upon Deletraz, who put intense pressure on Bourdais and the Cadillac while never putting a wheel wrong.

“Incredible – that was all Louis there in the end,” said Herta.

“Louis won for us,” added Taylor. “I think we were third on the last restart and he drove the wheels off that Acura. Fantastic win, and it was clean.”

A crestfallen Bourdais thought it could have been cleaner. “They just came out like a rocket with new tires at the end,” he said. “I’m a little disappointed that it turned into a bumper car contest. I didn’t try to make any contact, but he sure banged us left, right and center.”

Deletraz is in his first full season in the WeatherTech Championship after making a strong impression in the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC). WTRAndretti team principal Wayne Taylor gave Deletraz his initial chance in IMSA as the team’s endurance driver in 2023.

“The car was really strong in the end, and I knew we were in a position to win,” said Deletraz. “I felt a lot of pressure being in the car to finish the race. I didn’t want to take risks initially, but in the end, I had to send it. Seb was tough but fair, so thanks to him. If he didn’t respect me, we would have both ended up in the wall.

“In the end I saw the gap and just went for it, and I think I’ll remember this one for a long, long time.”

GT Daytona (GTD)

If turnabout is fair play, the Grand Touring Daytona (GTD) class - which will also be in action at Long Beach - had its share of fair play on Saturday.

Little more than 24 hours after forfeiting the pole position owing to a technical infraction, the No. 57 Winward Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 came from nearly last on the grid to take its second class win in as many outings this season, having also copped GTD honors in the Rolex 24 At Daytona.

Did somebody say “turnabout?” Coming home less than a second behind the winner was none other than the No. 47 Cetilar Racing Ferrari 296 GT3 that started on pole after Philip Ellis’ quick qualifying lap in the Winward entry was disallowed.

Unfazed by the penalty, co-drivers Ellis, Russell Ward and Indy Dontje steadily advanced through the field, moving into 10th spot in the opening laps and then to fourth place before the two-hour mark. A fortuitous pit stop just before a full-course yellow enabled the Winward Mercedes to leapfrog the cars ahead and take the lead after a little more than two hours of racing. 

“The whole week has been going really well, it was just unfortunate in qualifying that we got disqualified,” said Dontje. “In the end, we knew that knew we had a good car, so actually from the second stint onwards we were like ‘Yeah, let’s get this.’”

“We’re used to it, ‘cause the last three years we’ve had to start from last at some point,” laughed Ward. “We knew we had the car for it, and we just wanted to keep our heads clean, especially after starting the season with such great form at Daytona. And our goal was just to get the maximum amount of points out of this race. The crew performed flawless, the drivers made a few mistakes, and we came out on top.”

It’s not as if their competitors gave the Winward team a free pass to the Victory Lane. A virtual who’s who of GTD led the race at one time or another, including the No. 12 Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3, the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M4 GT3 and the No. 70 Inception Racing McLaren 720S GT3 EVO. 

As the sun dipped below the horizon, the Cetilar Ferrari came alive, steadily advancing up to and through the top 10. As the final hour loomed, Ellis emerged with the lead in the Winward Mercedes over the Elliott Skeer’s No. 120 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R and Antonio Fuoco in the Cetilar Ferrari, only to have to deal with a series of full-course cautions and subsequent restarts.

With 40 minutes remaining, Fuoco demoted Skeer to third and moved within striking distance of the lead. While Fuoco never gave Ellis a moment’s rest, the Mercedes had the legs on the Ferrari, spurting to slim but relatively secure leads to take the win by 0.646 seconds with Skeer and the No. 120 Porsche a further two seconds behind in third.

The next round of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship is the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, where the GTP and Grand Touring Daytona (GTD) classes will be in action April 19-20.