Former Floridian Randy Pobst’s local weather pattern knowledge helped make the pivotal decision to pit early for rain tires, as he came back through the field to win the SCCA Pro Racing SPEED World Challenge GT Championship season opener, part of the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring Presented by Fresh From Florida at Sebring International Raceway. Andy Pilgrim, of Boca Raton, Fla., and Michael Galati, of Olmsted, Ohio, completed the top three.
Dark clouds rolled in as the cars prepared to roll off the grid and by the formation lap preceding the standing start, heavy drizzle began to fall around the 3.7-mile circuit. After seeing cars having difficulty negotiating the track, SCCA Pro Racing officials elected to run an additional pace lap and begin the race with a rolling, single-file start. Pobst immediately moved his No. 1 K-PAX Racing Porsche 911 GT3 past polesitter Brandon Davis” No. 10 ACS/Sun Microsystems Ford Mustang Cobra as the cars kicked up spray and searched for grip on the opening lap.
“On the start, when I got by Brandon, he had big wheel-spin on the start-finish line paint striped,” Pobst said. “He got sideways and I lifted and then got back in again it once I got by him.”
Defending race winner Eric Curran, of E. Hampton, Mass., brought out the first of three lengthy full-course cautions when he went straight off at Turn One, making heavy impact with the tire wall in the No. 30 Whelen Engineering Chevrolet Corvette. Pobst took advantage of the caution to pit from the lead. Pilgrim and Davis followed in the ensuing laps, handing the lead to Galati’s No. 23 K-PAX Racing Porsche 911 GT3.
“We started with the rain early on and it was quite livable, but then somebody crashed which didn’t surprise me one bit,” Pobst continued. “So then, we’re riding along under yellow, watching the skies, the windshield, and the road. I looked at the weather and decided to go with the wet tires. I felt that the rain tires, were a kind of intermediate tires, that would be okay in the dry too. So we changed the tires and went to the back, and to our great fortune it started raining harder and harder. As I watched that water build up I knew that everybody on dries was in trouble. When we changed, it still wasn’t a sure thing. We took a gamble. It could have quit raining right there, but it didn’t.”
On the ensuing restart, Tomy Drissi spun into the Turn One inside wall in his No. 15 Horton Hears a Who Chevrolet Corvette, and left considerable debris around the course necessitating the second full-course yellow. By the time the lap nine restart transpired, Pobst was up to fourth behind Jason Daskalos’ No. 05 Daskalos Development & Investments Dodge Viper, the No. 11 ACS/Sun Microsystems Ford Mustang Cobra of Mike Davis and Tommy Archer’s No. 13 Woodhouse Performance Dodge Viper. When the cars came by on lap 10 to receive the third full course yellow, Pobst was back in front.
The field restarted on lap 11 and Pobst sped away from the field to win the time-shortened 12-lap, 44.4-mile race by 4.014 seconds, averaging just 51.594 mph. The race came down to strategy, with the cars taking rain tires first finishing up front and the cars choosing to stay on dries falling behind at the end or off the course.
“I could drive right by anybody on dries,” Pobst said. “On the front straight I was extremely careful. Full throttle? Forget about it. But coming out of Turn Three on the way to the Hairpin, I knew the traction was good on the outside. I must have passed 10 cars on dries.
“The Porsche also has a rear-engine and the weight of the wheels helps put power down and makes it want to understeer under power. That made the Porsche the choice in these conditions and I went from last to fifth on that lap and kept hanging on from there.”
Driving the No. 8 Remington Shaving Cadillac CTS-V, Pilgrim came home second, but was not happy with the conditions.
“It was raining and the guys on the team were saying ‘it’s going to be ten minutes, just a ten minute shower, it’s going to dry out,’ but then I said ‘I’m coming in now. It doesn’t matter if it stops raining now, it’s still going to be disgusting the rest of the race.’ So I made the call to come in at that point and it was a good call,” Pilgrim said.
“I was tenth [on the last restart] and in one lap I got to third. I did not pass seven people, they just spun off and hit each other in front of me. I think I passed three, but four spun out.
“It was no fun at all, absolutely treacherous. You would get to a point where you aquaplaned, then you tell yourself ‘I think if I catch enough pavement before the corner, I’m going to be able to slow down,’ and that’s what I did.
“It has to be very difficult for the officials and we appreciate that,” Pilgrim added. “I’m happy I’m here with a top three finish for Team Remington Cadillac. I’m just going to go to Long Beach and hope it doesn’t rain.”
Galati turned the race’s fastest lap at a tentative 3:04.924 (72.029 mph)—nearly one minute slower than the cars practiced—and was happy to make it to the finish.
“I called in on the radio that I wanted to pit and my team said ‘no they’re going to throw a red flag again like Road Atlanta,’ so I stayed out,” Galati said. “It was treacherous out there. I don’t want to sound like a cry baby, but it was really tricky conditions. You couldn’t see anything the spray was so bad. I’m happy that we’re here with car in one piece.”
Brandon Davis recovered from a late-race brush with the wall on a restart to record a fourth-place finish in his Mustang, followed by Jeff Courtney’s No. 99 Kenda/MPI Coin TJM Wealth Management Dodge Viper.
Tony Gaples, of Libertyville, Ill., finished sixth in his No. 34 Kleinschmidt Inc/Blackdog Racing Chevrolet Corvette, earning the Sunoco Hard Charger award after starting 25th.
Mike Davis, Daskalos, James Sofronas (Porsche 911 GT3) and Paul Brown (Porsche 911 GT3) completed the top 10.
Gunter Schaldach, of Aspen, Colo., earned the Racing Electronics Holeshot Award for advancing nine positions on lap one in his No. 9 Valaya Racing Dodge Viper. Schaldach was in line for a good finish, but crashed in Turn One on lap 11.
None of the drivers involved in incidents were injured.
Today’s race will be broadcast on SPEED Friday, March 21 at 1 p.m. (EDT). The series next visits the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach for the Long Beach SPEED GT Presented by ACS, April 20.