The third round of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship was a 2hr40min event at the venue which will hold its classic 12 Hour race unusually late in the season – November 14, the season finale – due to the knock-on effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
Unlike at the previous round at Daytona which was dominated by the Mazda RT-24Ps, the Cadillacs appeared stronger around the 17-turn 3.74-mile Sebring course, and the #31 Whelen Engineering car was unstoppable. Derani took pole and easily beat fellow front-row starter Juan Pablo Montoya in the Acura into the first corner.
Thereafter, pitstops aside, the AXR entry which also won the 2019 Sebring 12 Hours never looked under severe threat, as the similar car of Wayne Taylor Racing was apparently unable to match the leader’s pace.
“I think this place likes me," commented Derani. "This is my fourth win in five attempts at Sebring. Obviously, it was not the 12 Hours this time around. But I love this place. We had a dominant car the whole way.
“It's fantastic when you can roll off the truck with a setup that's as good as we had today. We were fastest in FP2, we took pole position and we won the race. A big thank you to the entire Whelen Engineering Cadillac team. They did a phenomenal job to put us in this position today."
The result was particularly significant for former Formula 1 driver Nasr, who won the 2018 IMSA Prototype championship with Eric Curran, and finished second last year, his first season with Derani as co-driver.
Nasr had to miss the Daytona 240 race two weeks ago when he was struck down by the COVID-19 pandemic, so this was his first race since the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona in January.
"When I got in the car, I was a little unlucky with the traffic," Nasr said of his first stint. "The car that was running second [at the time] was the #10 car [WTR Cadillac] and they made up a little bit of time on us. But on my final stint, I was able to hit my marks. The pace was awesome. I was able to pull a little gap every lap and bring the car home.
"I want to thank Cadillac. They finished 1-2-3, so they should be pleased. It was just awesome to get back in the car. I love this series. It feels so good right now. I want to thank everybody from Action Express Racing for giving us a fantastic car all weekend."
Behind the Renger van der Zande/Ryan Briscoe-piloted WTR machine, it seemed likely that the Mazdas would finish third and fourth but having made their last stop earlier and then battling between themselves, they started running out of fuel on the final lap.
That allowed Sebastien Bourdais in the JDC-Miller car to pass them both and complete the Cadillac 1-2-3 and score the Mustang Sampling car’s third consecutive third-place finish.
This was especially impressive as Bourdais had started at the back of the eight-car Prototype class having missed pit-in at the end of the reconnaissance lap and received a penalty.
"We had the plan going into the event that I would start, do one stint and then come back and finish," Bourdais said. "Both Joao [Barbosa, co-driver] and Christian [Fittipaldi, former driver, now manager] felt it was the right thing to do.
“Then with where the yellows fell we didn't want to end up with a short stop. It ended up being a good thing us. The Mazda cars ran out of fuel – not good for them, but good for us.
“The team was telling me to push them hard because they thought they could not make it. It didn't seem like it was going to happen but I got the #55 halfway around the track on the last lap and the #77 on the last turn. It made for a dramatic finish!”
#5 Mustang Sampling Racing / JDC-Miller MotorSports Cadillac DPi-V.R: Sebastien Bourdais, Joao Barbosa.
Jake Galstad / Motorsport Images