SEBRING INTERNATIONAL RACEWAY - Despite Extreme Speed Motorsports Tequila Patron looking like a lock to win the Mobil 1 62nd 12 Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh from Florida, Marino Franchitti paced Chip Ganassi Racing to a late surge to capture the overall championship and Prototype Class Saturday at the Sebring International Raceway.
Driving the No. 01 Ford EcoBoost Riley DP, Franchitti combined his talents with Memo Rojas, and Scott Pruett to give Ford its first overall win at Sebring since 1969. It was the first American-made car to win since 1996, and seventh overall.
Even more remarkable, it was Gannassi's first win at Sebring in the Prototype Class - coming on its first try, no less.
"I'm a lucky guy," Ganassi said. "We've got great drivers and great manufacturers."
Working with limited knowledge of Sebring's notoriously brutal track, Ganassi's team worked as a unit to come out on top.
"The car was a real handful, but we found a sweet spot at the end," Franchitti said. "To bring Chip the win at Sebring is pretty special.
Rojas was elated as well.
"We're so excited to give Chip this victory," he said. "We had zero knowledge of this track coming and we working so hard, all of us. Our hats are off to Ganassi."
Meanwhile, Pruett, a familiar face at Sebring the 1980s, earned his first 12 Hours win since 1986, when he drove a Ford to victory in the GTO class. Pruett finished fourth overall that year.
"To come back and get a win is so awesome," Pruett said. "We struggled at first, but we worked through it. Hopefully it's the start of many [wins]."
Driving the No. 1 Honda HPD ARX-03b, ESM's Ryan Dalziel, Scott Sharp, and David Brabham finished second overall and second in the Prototype Class. The trio was 4.682 seconds behind CGR.
Next was Action Express Racing, which was the overall winner at the 24 Hours of Daytona. Sebastien Bourdais had driven the No. 5 Chevrolet Corvette DP to pole in Friday's qualifying session, but unexpected hurdles relegated him and teammates Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi to third.
In a surprise top five finish, OAK Racing took the fourth spot with the No. 42 car. Olivier Pla, Alexander Brundle, and Gustavo Yacaman powered their Morgan Nissan into the top three midway through the race, but failed to hold on.
Extreme Speed Motorsports popped up again on the overall leaderboard. Simon Pagenaud, Johannes van Overbeek, and Ed Brown, the latter a Florida native, powered the No. 2 HPD ARX-03b to a fifth place finish.
In the Prototype Challenge Class, Colin Braun and CORE Autosport took home first place in the No. 54 Chevrolet ORECA FLM09. Braun, James Gue, and Jon Bennett completed the Florida sweep for the PC Class, as the trio won the 24 Hours of Daytona.
Second in the PC Class was Bruno Junqueria and RSR Racing in the No. 09 Chevy ORECA FLM09. Co-drivers were Duncan Ende and David Heiemeier.
Third place in the PC Class belonged to Starworks Motorsports. Driving the No. 8 ORECA FLM09 was Sam Bird, Martin Fuentes, David Cheng, and Renger van der Zande.
The GTLM Class belonged to Porsche North America. Patrick Long, Michael Christensen, and Jorg Bergmeister guided the No. 912 Porsche 911 RSR into pole position during qualifying and cruised into first during the 12 Hours.
In second in GTLM was Jonathan Bomarito, Kuno Wittmer, and Robert Bell of SRT Motorsports. The trio captained the No. 93 SRT Viper GTS-R.
Joey Hand, Andy Priaulx, and Sebring 12 Hours veteran Bill Auberlen finished third for BMW Team RLL in the No. 55 BMW Z4 GTE.
The slowest class, Grand Touring Daytona, which is the closest make of car associated with the mainstream productions, was anchored by Magnus Racing. John Potter, Andy Lall, and Marco Seefriend combined their talents to maneuver No. 44 Porsche 911 GT America to first place.
AIM Autosport finished second in GTD. It was guided by Bill Weedler, Townsend Bell, Maurizio Mediani, and Jeff Segal, driving the No. 555 Ferrari 458 Italia.
Rounding out the top three in GTD was Team Seattle/Alex Job Racing. Patrick Long, Michael Christensen, and Alex Riberas piloted the No. 23 car, also a Porsche 911 GT America.
While Saturday's race had a thrilling finish, it wasn't without its hiccups. There were eight caution flags, accounting for more than five hours of caution laps.
The reviled red flag, which stops the race, was even brought out. It was just the fourth time in the history of the 12 Hours.
The other three occurrences were in 1993, 1995, and 1997. The first two were due to flooding from heavy rains while the third was on account of a brutal wreck from driver Bill Adams.