On Saturday 16 March, SMP Racing drivers Mikhail Aleshin, Vitaly Petrov and their co-driver Brandon Hartley took the third place of the podium during the 8 hour race, the sixth round of the FIA World Endurance Championship in Sebring, Florida.
The Russian car No.11 of the highest LMP1 class became the best among non-hybrid cars of this championship.
Starting the race from the P5, the squad did not manage to hold on to the position getting a puncture in the rear wheel, which forced Vitaly Petrov to drive into the pits. But despite the unplanned pit stop and being far from the leaders of the race, the trio Aleshin-Petrov-Hartley of the Russian team, lap by lap were winning back the precious seconds and catching up. As the result, the Russian car crossed the finish line third, losing only to the Toyota hybrid cars.
The 1000 miles of Sebring race continued a series of successful performances of SMP Racing squads on the Russian BR1 prototypes. The SMP Racing team has stood on the podium three times out of six rounds of the FIA World Endurance Championship: in China, in the UK, and now in the USA.
“Despite the difficulties at the beginning of the race, we were confident in our abilities, in the work of the team, in the reliability of our car,” Mikhail Aleshin shared. “Lap by lap we made our way from the bottom of the table, eventually reaching the podium and sharing it with the squads of the hybrid Toyota. It was the whole SMP Racing team effort and all those who were supporting us. It is also significant that despite the complexity of the track, its bumpy surface, our car was perfectly prepared and withstood this eight-hour race without any problems, which allows us to look at the upcoming rounds with even greater optimism, including the 24-hour marathon Le Mans.”
“Sebring is a very difficult track, narrow and with a lot of bumps,” Vitaly Petrov commented. “Therefore, I am especially glad that we managed to show a good result here. At the beginning of the race I punctured the tire, perhaps because of the curb, but got to the pit lane, where we spent some time to replace the wheels. The race is long, everything could happen. But we successfully coped with all the difficulties and won a deserved podium."
“It was a fantastic race,” Brandon Hartley said. “At the very beginning we had a small puncture, but we were able to return to the race and eventually climb to the podium. The track in Sebring is very difficult, there are not so many places for overtaking, and at the end of the race it started to rain. However, the whole SMP Racing team did an excellent job, perfectly spent all the pit stops, and we made no mistakes. Excellent experience for my first performance for the Russian SMP Racing team.”
The SMP Racing car No.17 shared by Egor Orudzhev, Sergey Sirotkin and Stéphane Sarrazin started the race from P4. The drivers managed to overtake rivals and get closer to the Toyota, the leader of the race. However, on lap 43, Egor Orudzhev, tried to avoid a collision with the slowing down rival's car right ahead of him in one of the corners that made him flew off the track. As a result, the squad was forced to end the fight without getting to the finish line.
Egor Orudzhev: “I did not expect that car to slow down so much and in the middle of the turn I was right behind it. I tried to change the trajectory, and in one moment my car lost downforce and the back of the car blew away. When it was possible to catch the car, there was not enough radius to turn. In general, the pace in the race was quite good. From the very beginning, I realized that our speed would be better than Rebellion's, so I managed to overtake their car quickly and then I drove at my pace, watching the fuel consumption. But unfortunately, it didn’t work out the best way.”
Partner squads from the Italian team AF Corse confidently competed an 8-hour race in the LMGTE Pro class on Ferrari cars. The car No. 51 driven by Alessandro Pier Guidi, James Calado and Daniel Serra finished fourth in the class, while the car No. 71 shared by David Rigon, Sam Bird and Miguel Molina finished the race in sixth place.
The seventh round of the World Endurance Championship will be held on May 4 at the Belgian Spa-Francorchamps circuit.