The 2020 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship ended in dramatic fashion Saturday evening at Sebring International Raceway. After securing a handful of podiums leading up to the finale event, Wright Motorsports put in an incredible performance over the course of the Twelve Hours of Sebring to clinch their first win of the 2020 season with Ryan Hardwick, Patrick Long, and Jan Heylen in the No. 16 1st Phorm Porsche 911 GT3 R. While the team lost the bid for the GTD class championship by a mere two points, the capture of the team’s first endurance win at one of the most challenging races on the calendar produced a celebration worthy of any title.
“I can’t emphasize how proud I am of everyone on this team,” said Team Owner John Wright. “All season long, everyone executed perfectly. We gave it everything we had and finished with a very well deserved win. While we didn’t get the championship title, we’re thrilled to celebrate victory at a race as tough as the Twelve Hours of Sebring. It was action-packed from start to finish, and to come out on top as the winners feels great. The team really earned this one.”
Heading into the final race of the 2020 season, Wright Motorsports needed to finish a minimum of four places ahead of the No. 86 Meyer Shank Racing Acura in order to clinch the GTD class title. The No. 14 Lexus of AIM Vasser Sullivan also still had its nose in the fight, needing to finish well ahead of both the No. 16 Porsche and No. 86 Acura.
After clinching his first career IMSA pole position on Friday morning, Jan Heylen led the GTD class to green on Saturday morning, beginning what would be a strong opening stint for the No. 16 Porsche. The weather conditions and the car’s handling lined up perfectly, allowing Heylen to skillfully keep the lead position and extend a 20-second lap over the rest of the field before completing his first turn behind the wheel.
Wright Motorsports completed their first driver change just before the one hour mark, giving the No. 16 Porsche a fresh set of Michelin Tires, a full tank of fuel, and a new driver, with Ryan Hardwick taking over for the second stint. A full-course caution was declared for debris on the track, eliminating the lead the Porsche had over the field. Cars and tires cooled back down during the caution as the field gathered back together to prepare for the restart. After a brief period, the race went back to green, and the balance and the grip gradually changed during the second stint. The Porsche became looser as the GTD battle intensified, and the No. 16 Porsche shuffled back to 11th. With suggestions from the pit box, Hardwick made some quick changes to the car, which successfully helped dial back in the balance, but it was clear a performance issue with the car remained. Despite the unknown factor, Hardwick stayed close to the No. 57 Acura of Joey Hand for the remainder of his stint before pitting for tires and fuel.
He rejoined with no pressure behind, he consistently set a quick pace, settling into 11th before another debris caution came out. Hardwick pitted under caution for a splash of fuel, overtaking two cars in pit lane who had to make longer stops for fuel. Drama came in high fashion shortly after when the No. 4 Corvette experienced engine troubles, dropping fluid all over the back straight of the road course. Both Lexus machines spun off course, making heavy impact with the wall, effectively eliminating the championship hopes of the No. 12. The No. 16 Porsche was one of the four cars that spun, but Hardwick did a masterful save to quickly continue.
The race went back to green after a lengthy caution, and Hardwick came in for fuel and tires, moving the Porsche to the rear of the field. He rejoined to match the pace of the class leaders, taking back ninth place and chasing down the No. 30 Audi that raced 43 seconds ahead. He climbed back up to sixth position, and pitted under caution for the team to do a standard brake change to the front set. Completed in less than two minutes, the Porsche rejoined in 10th, and the field went back to green.
After racing for roughly three and a half straight hours, Ryan Hardwick concluded his successful run and handed the No. 16 Porsche over to Patrick Long to turn his first laps of the race. He joined the field in tenth, 27 seconds behind the No. 30 Audi, and immediately reported to the team there was a potential problem with the left rear shock. As the team worked to determine the next steps and consider the race strategy, Long methodically moved up the charts, getting in a tight battle with the No. 30 before a full course caution paused the race activity. After inspection of the car during a stop, it was determined the car was safe to continue and stay in the fight. The team pitted the car under caution for a full-service stop. Continuing the trend of the season, the expedient work by the crew in pit lane brought the Porsche out in second, impressively gaining four spots during the stop.
As soon as the tires achieved their ideal temperatures, Heylen charged towards Corey Lewis in the race leading No. 48 Lamborghini. After a 12-minute battle, the Porsche took back the class lead and immediately pulled away from the competition. As the sun started to dip, Patrick Long took back over, racing hard during the golden hour from the first position. He enjoyed a relatively quiet sunset stint in the lead, keep the position to the next driver stop, where Heylen resumed his duties. After the pit sequence cycled through, the No. 16 Porsche settled into second position behind the No 74 Mercedes of Lawson Aschenbach. A four-second gap separated the two as they raced into the early evening hours, with Heylen also maintaining a 23-second gap over the No. 30 Audi. Most importantly, the only remaining competitor in the championship fight, the No. 86 Acura, loomed in fourth position, still close enough to secure the title.
In the final three hours, Long and Heylen revolved through the Porsche with each stint, keeping the car in the top four through a series of cautions periods and intense green-flag racing. With performance issues still prevalent in the left rear shock, the drivers managed the difficulty of drivability to still get the necessary pace out of the car to be in a three-way battle for the lead with two and a half hours remaining. The No. 86 of Matt McMurry raced tight with the No. 63 Ferrari of Alessandro Balzan. Balzan took the lead, allowing Long to directly battle with the No. 86, and take the position and quickly create a five-second gap over the Acura.
Heylen jumped in for his final stint of the race, maintaining second place before giving the car back to Long for the last hour. Long rejoined in third, behind the leading No. 63 Ferrari and No. 74 Mercedes of Aschenbach. A full course caution again paused the racing with 25 minutes remaining on the clock, dramatically increasing the tension all throughout pit lane. The field went back to green for a 23-minute dash to the checker that saw a dramatic shake-up to the GTD podium. Contact between GTLM and GTD cars resulted in the class leader spinning, and the No. 74 receiving a drive-through penalty, catapulting the No. 16 to the lead position with ten minutes to go. Everyone in pit lane held their breath as the time remaining on the race clock counted down. After an intense twelve hours, Patrick Long brought the No. 16 1st Phorm Porsche 911 GT3 R to the finish line, celebrating the first endurance win for Wright Motorsports. The win was also monumental for Ryan Hardwick and Jan Heylen, marking their first professional wins in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
While the Ohio-based team has yet to formally announce its 2021 plans, they will no doubt carry this momentum into the upcoming season, which begins January 30th with the Rolex 24 at Daytona.
Ryan Hardwick. We came into this race with one goal. We knew we had to win. It was the only shot we had. It didn’t look like it was going to happen there for a while. We were dealing with a left-rear shock that wasn’t working properly for most of the race and it was really, really tough to drive for all of us. Jan and Pat did amazing! They are the ones that brought it home. Our team was unbelievable. We never made a mistake in the pits, we did our job, we accomplished our goal and what we came here for. We fell just a little bit short in the end on the championship but we are really proud of this win. This is a big step for our program, 1st Phorm and Wright Motorsports. This was a really big historic day for us.
Patrick Long. In the last few hours I saw a few scenarios with the championship implications and that the race might be up for grabs. It was difficult to battle with our issue [broken left-rear shock absorber] because the car would start bouncing pretty hard. But we bided our time, put ourselves in a position to capitalize and we executed. I am so proud of what this small organization has been able to achieve this year. ‘Thank you’ to Andy Frisella and 1st Phorm and to the whole Mountain Motorsports team for putting us on the grid and giving us a chance to fight these big organizations. This is a big momentum booster as we move into our sophomore year together next season.
Jan Heylen.This is just unbelievable. To be here with this team and Patrick and Ryan is just unbelievable. I don’t’ think anyone knew this whole race we were driving around with a broken damper. I have no words. I couldn’t be happier. This is one of the big ones. Pat did an amazing job. That last stint was unbelievable. Super happy!
Source. Wright Motorsports
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