Sebring 12h: Aitken leads Cadillac 1-2 after four hours

With Sebastien Bourdais taking the lead just after the second hour began, he held the No. 31 Cadillac V-Series.R of Pipo Derani within 0.7-1.5s of a gap.

Vasser Sullivan’s Jack Hawksworth pitted from the GTD Pro lead five minutes into the second hour with an issue, which was compounded by a drive-through penalty after making contact with a crew member while trying to leave the pitbox. At this time, Alexander Sims, driving Pratt Miller Motorsports’ No. 3 Corvette Z06 GT3.R, assumed the class lead.

At roughly 35 minutes into the second hour, AF Corse’s No. 88 ORECA LMP2 07 of Luis Perez Companc had a major off at the exit of Turn 1 and dropped his right-side wheels over the curbing and into the dirt. From there, the off caused him to cut back across the track, side-slapping the inside wall with the right front and right rear of the car. He was able to continue on, slowly, before getting to back to the pits for repairs.

Moments later, Madison Snow, driving Paul Miller Racing’s No. 1 BMW M4 GT3, was able to finally catch – and pass – Alexander Sims to take the lead in GTD Pro.

Bourdais pitted with 13 minutes remaining in the second hour, handing over to six-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon.

“Pipo was kind of holding us in a tempo that was fairly comfortable,” Bourdais said of his stint.

“I felt I had a little bit more grip to use in the stint and when I had the chance to get by I did and felt it was pretty good. The 01 Cadillac is pretty strong and Cadillac in general, so hopefully it holds true the whole time.

“We’re in a bit of a wait-and-see phase of the track, but you still want to be in position. We’ll have to double stint a couple sets of tires, which we’ve already done. Early going, but so far so good.”

Derani came in the following lap and handed over to Aitken. The pressure was on as Aitken appeared to fend off Dixon, but it was only temporarily as they speared side-by-side through Turns 5-11 before making slight contact as Dixon managed to put the Chip Ganassi Racing-prepared Cadillac back into the lead.

The race’s second caution came out with roughly seven minutes left in the second hour after the No. 8 LMP2 machine for Tower Motorsports, driven by Michael Dinan, attempted to get around traffic and dropped the left-side wheels into the dirt approaching Turn 13, which resulted in him losing control and slamming into the tire barriers.

The race resumed eight minutes into the start of hour three, with Dixon leading Aitken and Brendon Hartley, who took over Wayne Taylor Racing’s No. 10 Acura ARX-06.

The race began to settle into a groove as Dixon stretched his lead out over Aitken. Meanwhile, Matthew Brabham had AO Racing’s machine out front in LMP2 over Era Motorsport’s Ryan Dalziel. The No. 57 Mercedes-AMG GT3 for Winward Racing, with Russell Ward behind the wheel, led GTD, while Ford Multimatic Motorsports’ Christopher Mies was out front in GTD Pro.

A third full course caution came out with 13 minutes of the hour remaining after another off in Turn 7 by AF Corse’s No. 88, which ended with Lilou Wadoux, who took over from Companc, getting out of the LMP2 entry.

Through the next series of pitstops, Aitken was able to vault Dixon but the two came out behind the No. 7 Penske Porsche 963 of Dane Cameron.

On the restart – which came eight minutes after the conclusion of the third hour – Cameron took a wide line entering Turn 1, which left the door open for Aitken to push alongside. However, Cameron was able to fend off the move and settle into the lead.

#7 Team Penske Motorsport Porsche 963: Dane Cameron, Felipe Nasr, Matt Campbell

#7 Team Penske Motorsport Porsche 963: Dane Cameron, Felipe Nasr, Matt Campbell

Photo by: Jake Galstad / Motorsport Images

Roughly 13 minutes later, though, Aitken surged by Cameron with an inside pass through Turn 17. Then, as the GTP class came up on traffic a few minutes later, it allowed Dixon the chance to pull a similar move to claim second and push Cameron down to third.

The No. 18 Era Motorsport machine, with Dwight Merriman taking over from Dalziel, went off course and stalled multiple times in Turn 7, losing valuable time before continuing.

The race began to once again find a rhythm as Aitken established a stout lead of 4.3s over Dixon. TDS Racing’s Mikkel Jensen had a stout 28s lead over DragonSpeed’s Rasmus Lindh in LMP2.

The tightest battle on track is in GTD Pro, with Neil Verhagen (Paul Miller Racing) and Antonio Garcia (Corvette Racing by Pratt Miller Motorsports) running less than half a second apart.

Indy Dontje, who took over for Ward in Winward Racing’s Mercedes, holds a 3s advantage in GTD over Aaron Telitz in the No. 12 Vasser Sullivan Lexus.

With 15 minutes remaining until the four-hour mark, Cameron dove to pit lane for service, which propelled Richard Westbrook, driving the No. 85 Porsche 963 for JDC-Miller MotorSports, to third.

Tom Dillmann was able to move up to second in LMP2 and only 5s behind Jensen following pitstops, with Lindh falling to third.

A fourth full course yellow was brought out at the close of the hour after multiple incidents in separate parts of the track. The No. 33 Sean Creech Motorsports LMP2 entry driven by Lance Willsey locked up in Turn 16 and stalled offline. At the same time, Lone Star Racing’s Mercedes-AMG GT3 with Salih Yoluc behind the wheel was left stranded by the tire barriers in Turn 13.

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