CORE autosport captured its third Prototype Challenge victory at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring fueled by Fresh From Florida. Leading more laps than any other PC car, the team also took home its first Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup win of the 2016 WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season.
Although Colin Braun qualified the No. 54 Flex-Box/Composite Resources ORECA FLM09 on the class pole, CORE started the 12-hour race from the back of the grid after electing to change its starting driver from Braun to Jon Bennett. Making sure Bennett achieved his minimum drive time before the weather deteriorated as forecasted was the team’s first objective to a successful race. With 12 hours of racing ahead and the fastest PC machine on the grid, the team was confident it could make up the positions.
Weather for the race was treacherous as predicted. Bennett started the race under a deceptively sunny sky, but rain arrived just over an hour into the race. Bennett soldiered on through the wet conditions, advancing as high as fourth.
The rain intensified and standing water became an issue around the circuit. When lightning was spotted, race officials immediately issued a red flag. Bennett was seventh at the time.
The red flag lasted 2 hours and 15 minutes. When conditions cleared and racing resumed, Bennett immediately came in for a pit stop and driver change to Braun.
Conditions were still tricky. The rain came and went and sometimes only affected a few corners. Drivers and engineers had to make tough tire decisions at every pit stop. Braun shined in this setting and was soon up to P1. He completed three stints before handing the car off to Mark Wilkins with four hours to go.
Wilkins held strong through two caution-plagued stints and maintained an incredibly tight lead over CORE’s chief rival: the No. 52 of PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports. Wilkins came in for the final hand off to Braun with just under two hours to go. The No. 52 was able to get ahead of Braun thanks to a fuel-only pit stop while the No. 54 took on both fuel and tires.
Braun quickly erased the 21-second lead the No. 52 had pulled out and was back in the lead. He set a new PC race lap record—1:55.545 (116.571 mph)—in the process. Several more full-course cautions eliminated any gap he could build to second place.
The No. 52 had one last go at the PC lead on a restart from yellow with 30 minutes to go, but Braun was back around and into the top spot for good 10 minutes later. He crossed the finish line with a 1.282-second margin of victory.
The win is CORE’s third at the 12 Hours of Sebring. It’s first two came in 2012 and 2014. Bennett and Braun were both part of the 2014-winning lineup.
Sebring is the second of four races that make up the Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup. By leading the PC class longer than any of its competitors, CORE takes home the TPNAEC win for Sebring and earns valuable points for the season-long title.
CORE will shift gears dramatically for Round Three on the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship calendar; it heads to the Grand Prix of Long Beach, a temporary street circuit, for a 100-minute race, April 15 – 16.
“Winning is important and I’m so glad to be here. It is a privilege to be part of this group inside the car and also the extended group outside the car. It was really amazing to watch the team work on this problem today, which was getting to the end of the 12 hours without any problems or missing anything strategically, as well figuring out the curveballs this race throws at you. Sebring is such a historic place and to have won our class tonight is amazing.
“With the way the regulations are, we don’t get to showcase Colin in qualifying, where he belongs. I think it’s nice when Colin can qualify the car and it doesn’t really change our strategy for the race. It’s important to give him that opportunity. Colin of course delivered on Friday with the pole. On these long races, being in that gap between the prototype and GT cars is not such a bad place to be.”
– JON BENNETT
“It was fun racing Tom Kimber-Smith (driver of No. 52) and that whole group. They are such a great team and classy competitors. It was definitely an all-day race. We almost had the field down a lap, but unfortunately we were slowed down by an incident on track. Mark [Wilkins] did a great job before I got in the car, holding Tom off for about an hour-and a-half . That was a really tense part of the race from my seat, but I’m sure even more so from Mark’s seat!
“Then, I got back in the car and was able to gain a little gap before we cycled through some pit stops. At the end, I restarted with Tom right behind me. I’m not really sure what happened on the restart but some GT car basically drove into my door and it spun me out. That caused me to go to the back and then I had about 15 minutes to make it back through the field. I just kept my fingers crossed that we didn’t get too many cautions so that we would have a chance to do it, and we did.”
– COLIN BRAUN
“I had to push and dig a little today. There was a lot of pressure and my goal was to stay out front. Tom [Kimber-Smith] was never more than a couple seconds behind and he really kept me working hard. I knew it was going to be a close race. I did whatever I needed to do to keep the car in the position it was in.
“The CORE autosport guys gave us a fantastic car. Jon did a great job in really adverse weather and Colin did an amazing job to bring it home at the end. It was a nail-biter for a long time and that’s what makes the victory so great. It was just what we needed after a really tough Daytona. Hopefully, this sets the momentum forward for a great rest of the season.
“Jeff Braun (race engineer) delivered a great race car. He and I won this race together in 2010 with Jeff engineering, and he just really knows how to make a car work at Sebring. Everyone’s contributions today were critical. We want races to be tough and to showcase the talent on the team and why CORE has been so successful.”
– MARK WILKINS