20th March 2017
Mike Conway endured another testing weekend in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship as he and his Whelen Engineering Team recovered valiantly to earn a third-place finish at the Twelve Hours of Sebring.
Mike once again teamed up with the Action Express Racing Team in the #31 Whelen Engineering Team – sharing driving duties with Dane Cameron and Eric Curran in the Cadillac DPi - VR. The team travelled to Sebring, Florida, on the back of an eventful Rolex 24 hours where the team experienced a turbulent weekend and managed to recover their race to finish sixth in their class. This weekend, the team hoped to convert the raw pace they had displayed at Daytona into a race result.
Starting the week off well, Mike and the #31 Whelen Engineering team showcased their pace as they finished 3rd in the first two practice sessions of the weekend and delivered an even stronger outing in FP3; topping the timesheets before finishing 4th in the final practice session of the weekend. Heading into Friday’s qualifying, driving duties were handed to Dane Cameron for the 15-minute session. An extremely tight qualifying saw Dane Cameron finish +0.136 off the pole sitting Rebellion Oreca and secure 3rd on the grid for Saturday’s 12-hour race.
When the green flag dropped on Saturday, Dane Cameron got a clean start and maintained his third place through the nerve-racking opening laps. By the time thirty-four minutes had passed, Cameron had taken the lead after passing the sister Action Express prototype and the #13 Rebellion Oreca – following a pass-thru penalty. The Whelen Engineering Cadillac continued to lead through the first two hours of the race following pit stops and a driver change to Eric Curran.
It was at the 2:25 mark when the race took a dramatic turn. Entering the final corner of the lap, Curran approached the #22 Nissan Dpi and tucked down the inside when the #22 turned in on Curran in an attempt to go down the pits. Obviously not aware of the faster moving #31, the Nissan and Cadillac touched, sending both cars into a spin. The Nissan pulled away fine and shot down the pits, whereas Curran had stalled and was stuck in the middle of the track. A few heart in mouth minutes followed as the #31 Cadillac was left stranded on the racing line, with cars flying passed - just avoiding Curran! As yellow flags were frantically waved, the stranded #31 Cadillac was eventually towed back to the pits and went behind the wall to repair damages, eventually resulting in a loss of four laps and dropping down the order to sixth.
As Mike took over driving duties for the first time in the race, it was up to him to ignite the team’s recovery. An excellent stint saw Mike bring the #31 Cadillac back up to 4th place, posting the fastest lap of the race in doing so – a 1:49.629. This would remain the fastest lap of the 12 hours by nearly 4 tenths!
With the sheer pace of the #31 Cadillac clear to see, the team begun hunting down third place and could see the final spot on the podium was well within their reach. At the 8:20 mark, Curran eventually ran down and passed the #85 Oreca – taking third place.
Crossing the finish line in third place, the #31 Whelen Enigneering Cadillac managed to only finish a lap behind the winning #10 Cadillac - after being as many as four laps behind earlier in the race! The #31 Whelen Engineering team completed a Cadillac 1-2-3 and gave Mike Conway his first podium of 2017.
Mike reflected on a resilient display again from the #31 Cadillac in Sebring.
"We fought back after the earlier contact and regained some laps on the lead cars, but in the end it was not enough for the win. A great job by the Whelen Engineering team and Cadillac today to pick up our first podium of the season. I look forward to rejoining the team in October at Petit Le Mans and I wish the guys all the luck."
Mike now departs the team to rejoin Toyota and concentrate on his 2017 FIA World Endurance Championship duties, with the ‘Prologue’ commencing in less than two weeks time in Monza, Italy.