Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts
2018 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship
No. 99 GAINSCO Auto Insurance®/JDC-Miller MotorSports/ORECA/Gibson
March 18, 2018
The No.99 GAINSCO Auto Insurance®/ORECA raced from last to seventh in its Sebring debut on Saturday. The Red Dragon™ is ranked fifth in the series championship after two seventh place finishes in the first two opening rounds of the 2018 season
After qualifying eleventh for the 66th round of the Twelve Hours of Sebring, Stephen Simpson gained two positions on the grid Saturday evening after two faster cars, the Mazda’s, failed post-qualifying technical inspection.
Scheduled to start ninth, the JDC-Miller MotorSports team had just one final session Saturday morning before the race, to test last minute changes prior to the 12-hour challenge. Surprisingly, the team was unable to fire the Red Dragon at the start of the session. Warm-up lasts just 20-minutes, immediately followed by the mandatory pre-race ceremonies. Stuck lifeless under the tent, all hands were on deck with representatives from ORECA, Gibson, Cosworth and JDC-Miller Motorsports diligently trying to diagnose and fix the electrical issue. It took most of the two hours between warm-up and the start of the race to achieve this and it looked as though the Red Dragon may not take the green flag.
GAINSCO Auto Insurance, the primary sponsor of the No. 99 Red Dragon hosted their Miami based employees at the track on race-day. Many of the guests watched nervously as the crew replaced the engine control unit – an attempt to power the Red Dragon. They roared with elation when the car fired up less than ten minutes before the start of the race.
During this time, the rest of the competitors were participating in the mandatory reconnaissance lap and pre-race festivities including grid. Because the Red Dragon was unable to participate in these activities, the No. 99 was forced to start from the pit lane, at the back of the field and serve a drive through penalty. The penalties seemed inconsequential after two hours of wondering if the car would even take the green flag.
Fatigued and understandably rattled from the stress of the situation before the 12-hour endurance race started, the JDC-Miller MotorSports crew rushed to the pit lane and re-grouped for the battle ahead. Stephen Simpson peeled out of the pitlane as the field passed joining the race in the 43rd and final position. He wasted no time charging through the field, picking off the GT and then the GTLM competitors lap after lap. By the end of his first stint, Simpson was already ranked 12th overall.
As the race progressed, each driver completed double stints, first Stephen, then Chris Miller followed by Misha Goikhberg. The team’s strategy included double-stinting the tires so they would be able to take fresh tires at every stop in the final hours of the race. The second stint on aging rubber brought challenges for the Red Dragon and drivers. As the conditions changed through the afternoon, the already bumpy track became greasy and slippery as the temperatures rose, making the No. 99 ORECA more of a beast than a dragon and testing the abilities of its drivers. However, they executed the strategy and as the race transitioned to darkness and cooler temperatures, everything improved. The Twelve Hours of Sebring provided its fair share of surprises and challenges for the No. 99 team, including difficulties closing the door after driver changes, penalties and minor contact on a few occasions. However, the team and drivers persevered to finish the grueling challenge, and that was a massive accomplishment. Their seventh-place result awards important points toward the big picture, the 2018 IMSA WeatherTech Championship.
Stephen Simpson: “It was a tough race. It always is here, it’s the most challenging on the schedule. We picked up some decent points toward the championship today. Some of those that finished ahead of us at Daytona did not finish here. With another seventh place, the Red Dragon should be sitting in the top five. The JDC-Miller boys hung in there today, it wasn’t easy. We started the race on such a frantic note with that electrical issue, but they kept their head down and pulled through in the Knick of time. One of the highlights for me today was seeing all of the happy faces on the GAINSCO employees.”
Misha Goikhberg: “We made a lot of mistakes today and we are going to have to run a cleaner race to get the results we’re looking for. We ended up with a better result than many of the others who’d had a stronger weekend going into the race, but we’ve got to start our weekend with the GAINSCO Auto Insurance car closer to the front and get ahead of it rather than chase it.”
Chris Miller: “It was a nail-biter there at the beginning. We weren’t sure if we were going to take the green flag with 12 hours to go in the race or two. That’s what is special about this crew, they don’t give up. Seventh wasn’t the result we wanted, but with the circumstances out there today, we’ll take it. We had some mistakes that were in our control and some that weren’t. We’ve got to run a cleaner race to be up front and we know what we need to work on to get there. Big thanks to GAINSCO Auto Insurance for bringing their Florida employees out today. It’s great to have such an energetic group cheering us on.”
Photo Credit: LAT Photo