The opening round of the 2022 World Endurance Championship featured various thrills, spills and dramas as we picked five of our top moments.
After an extensive wait, and a great deal of patience, Super-Sebring finally returned to the sportscar calendar and rewarded us with a thrilling opener.
More on the first leg – the 1000 Miles of Sebring – it reminded us of the characteristics which define it as one of the best motor racing venues.
The unique, demanding bumps of the former US Army Air Force base kept the visuals alive with endurance prototypes and GTEs taking their share around the 17 corners.
The 1000 Miles of Sebring included numerous great moments to encore its return on the calendar, so Last Lap picks five ‘top moments’ from the event.
1. United Autosports and the #22’s immediate charge to P2
One of the stars at the race start was Filipe Albuquerque in the #22 who immediately climbed three places in the first couple of corners.
By simply opting for the outside line, the former LMP2 Drivers’ Champion found the space to brake late and then do the same to get in front of the Glickenhaus.
It suggested how eager and confident the Portuguese driver was at the wheel.
Considering the tyres would have been moderately up to temperature and would have needed a couple of laps to reach optimum running, Albuquerque’s doing was all the more impressive.
Only until the back-straight on the opening lap was their P2 spot short-lived as the Glickenhaus utilised its straight-line speed to make a move at the #22 into Turn 17, also known as Sunset Bend.
By the third lap, the #2 was situated in fifth overall as they were unable to match the pace of the Hypercars, yet held the LMP2 lead and the team sandwiched the #83 AF Corse with their pair of Oreca 07 Gibsons.
Later on, the #22 put on a show fending its place from the #83 AF Corse of Nicklas Nielsen who qualified exceptionally well for his first LMP2 race.
2. Corvette and Porsche fighting for the lead
Whilst this covers several moments over the race rather than one, it was fantastic to see Corvette challenging the #92 Porsche for the win on home territory.
At the race start, Porsche held their 1-2 closely so the Corvette was unable to take on the pair just yet. AF Corse’s GTE-Pro cars struggled in qualifying and in the race to match any of the other three cars.
Initially, the #64 C8.R of Nick Tandy got himself into P2 and was tasked with chasing Michael Christensen, only to keep his position from the other Porsche behind.
The trio of works GTEs were navigating in a calculated manner through the rear of the Am field.
It was from the end of the first hour, and onwards, when we’d see the two marques fighting for the GTE-Pro lead.
Fast forward to four hours later, having fought still at the class lead, Corvette Racing held a strong gap to the Porsches who had 15 seconds added to an earlier pit-stop when they established too large a gap to the prototypes at the race start.
By the end, after continuous battling and the intervention of red flags, the #92 won by just over three seconds.
3. Rookie Colombo up against JOTA
This race welcomed several WEC debuts across Hypercar, LMP2 and GTE-Am. One name who showcased impressive driving was Lorenzo Colombo of the #9 Prema Orlen Team.
It was particularly a moment during the sixth hour when the youngster showed what he was capable of doing against Roberto Gonzalez, and later against Antonio Felix Da Costa.
Gonzalez and Colombo were fighting for fifth and sixth positions in LMP2, on similarly-aged hard slick tyres.
It was nose-to-tail action which kicked it off, Colombo keeping himself within a second of the #38 JOTA.
On Lap 143, as both approached Sunset Bend, Colombo made use of his draft down the back-straight to brake late and use the inside line into Turn 17, earning himself fifth place.
Prema executed a strong debut into sportscar racing, with the support of Iron Lynx.
At the end of the red-flagged race, they finished third in LMP2 – thus landing their first ever WEC podium finish.
4. Lopez’ dramatic accident as the first for a Hypercar
It pains us to shine light on what was the leading incident story from the 1000 Miles of Sebring.
The first significant crash in the Hypercar era had Jose Maria Lopez tangle with the #88 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche.
Then, with front-right damage, he lost the full steering input as to then charge into the Turn 14 tyre barrier at almost 200 km/h and turn the #7 GR010 Hybrid upside down.
Sebring is a brutal and demanding track, and the endurance races held at the venue bring in the hurdles of fatigue and endurance into the mix.
— WEC (@FIAWEC) March 18, 2022
Whether it was a pure driver error, or if the car failed in some form after the GTE-Am contact, Lopez’ safety was a paramount relief to all of us.
This was not a ‘top moment’ in the fascinating sense, but rather to note as it almost caused a major difficulty for its sister car’s fuel and tyre strategies, given that it caused a long-awaited red flag to recover the LMH and repair the barrier.
Alpine justifiably dominated the race with such confident pace, with a car suited to Sebring.
The Toyota, however, was not with only moments – excluding the two main straights – where it could deploy its 190 km/h plus KERS boost.
5. The sight of a lightning storm on the way
Indeed, this moment does not focus on a particular fight during the race, but nevertheless the arrival of a lightning storm ended the race early.
At first, it was a fear of the near hour-long disruption which would void us of a fascinating fight to the finish.
Combined with Lopez’ crash, and this red flag stoppage, Alpine’s large margin to P2 was interrupted to promise a fight to the finish in Hypercar, yet mother-nature thought otherwise.
Due to Florida statute, the immanency of a storm ensured circuit camera operators and spectators were retreated to safer grounds.
It was disappointing to not quite reach the full 1000-mile distance, but the arrival of a storm would have made driving impossible by the law, in addition to the chaos the heavy wet conditions would have caused.
On a lighter note, it did make for a picturesque skyline view as it appeared.
End of times for lap times.
— WEC (@FIAWEC) March 19, 2022