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IMSA Sebring 12 Hours

Aitken: "Smart" driving helped AXR Cadillac win amid Sebring chaos

Jack Aitken says "smart" driving was partly to thank for Action Express Racing's Sebring 12 Hours victory after a late incident involving the top three cars allowed the Cadillac squad to take an unlikely win.

#31 Action Express Racing Cadillac Racing Cadillac V- Series.R: Pipo Derani, Alexander Sims, Jack Aitken

The #31 Cadillac V-Series.R shared by Aitken, Alexander Sims and Pipo Derani was the prime beneficiary when both Penske Porsche 963s and the Wayne Taylor Racing Acura ARX-06 were eliminated in a three-way crash inside the final 20 minutes of the race.

Aitken was at the wheel of the Whelen Engineering-sponsored #31 machine at the time of the crash, and subsequently held off a challenge from the only other surviving GTP car, the #25 BMW M Hybrid V8, to seal Cadillac's first victory of the IMSA SportsCar Championship's new era.

Reflecting on the incredible sequence of events that allowed he and his team-mates to take the win, Aitken admitted he had given up on beating his rivals on outright pace, instead prioritising making it to the chequered flag unscathed.

"I saw the crash and was watching out for debris and other cars because there were cars pretty much everywhere and just trying to survive," recalled Aitken, who was making only his second IMSA start following his debut with AXR in the Daytona 24 Hours in January.

"It was after I got through that I was waiting for the caution and I thought, 'That was quite a lot of GTP cars. Maybe we're alright here.'

"It was very, very tough racing. We were trying to hold our position as good as we could. The other guys were fighting extremely hard. At some point, you have to realize when it's time to give up and that's part of the reason we made it to the end.

"We all drove pretty smart as well as racing as hard as we could when we had the pace. I was waiting a little bit for an accident to happen at some point."

 

For Derani, the win marked his fourth at Sebring to add to his previous triumphs in 2016, 2018 and 2019, and came after he suffered a coming-together with the Performance Tech Motorsports LMP3 car at Turn 13 around two hours into the race.

“I’ve had so many unlucky races since the last win here so I’ll take a little bit of luck,” the Brazilian said. “I feel bad for the guys who crashed. But you have to be lucky a little bit in motorsports.

"We had a fantastic race. We started on pole, had a flawless race after the incident in the beginning, so we recovered well and just fantastic to get number four."

Derani's full-time AXR team-mate Sims added: "It was just a bit surreal, honestly, to watch all that unfold. In your mind, you're resigning yourself to finishing fourth. And so yeah, the emotions go through a bit of roller-coaster to realize that we're in the seat to win the race.

"There's some level of sorrow for the three ahead that did crash out, to be honest, because we've all been in that situation and we know how that feels. Conversely, it benefits you sometimes and we've got to take it and enjoy the moment.”

Frustration and encouragement for Ganassi Cadillac drivers

The other Cadillac in the field, the #01 Chip Ganassi Racing car of Sebastien Bourdais, Scott Dixon and Renger van der Zande, was classified seventh in the GTP class after dropping out of the race with around three hours to go.

Bourdais, Dixon and van der Zande led a field-high 120 of 322 laps before suffering what Cadillac called a "fuel distribution system issue" that had not reared its head during pre-event testing.

 

The disappointment of losing a strong chance of a victory was tempered by the performance of the V-Series.R at Sebring, which Bourdais described as a major step forward from the car's debut at Daytona.

"It’s obviously pretty disappointing for everybody," said the French driver. "The guys did a great job. The car was quick. Cadillac seems to have something that works pretty well at Sebring, so that’s really encouraging.

"I think we made some great progress from Daytona in performance, so that’s encouraging for the rest of the season after finishing on the podium but needing more pace at Daytona."

Dixon added: "The car was really fast and I felt like everybody on the team did a tremendous job. We had some ups and downs, but ultimately, we were top-three most of the race and led a good majority of it.

"Just bummed that it ended the way it did, and we didn't win the race. It's one that's eluded me, and it would have been great to take this one. But we had great speed, great teamwork and everybody did a hell of a job."

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