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David Malsher-Lopez

Pfaff “gambled” to win after “rollercoaster” Sebring 12 Hours

After the latest Porsche 992-based iteration of the 911 GT3 R was left way off the pace following the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona, IMSA corrected its Balance of Performance for Sebring, and the Weissach machines were back in the hunt for GTD Pro and GTD victory.

But although the Pfaff car, driven by Klaus Bachler, Laurens Vanthoor and Patrick Pilet, led 97 laps of the 303 completed in GTD Pro over the 12 Hours, its win was by no means straightforward. Not only was the team bouncing back from a crash by Bachler in qualifying, it also appeared to be no faster than the Corvette C8.R, the Ferrari 296 of Risi Competizione, the WeatherTech Racing Mercedes AMG GT3 and barely faster than the #14 Lexus RC F.

It took a gamble from Pfaff’s strategists to ensure the plaid Porsche was up front in the final hour, and was able to claim the team’s 12th IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Series victory. Echoing GTD class winner Paul Miller Racing’s prediction of multiple cautions in the closing stages, the team left Pilet on track to stretch one tank of fuel for 1h51m and he still had enough to sprint to the checkered flag following the final restart.

“We had so much disappointment after Daytona,” reflected Pilet, who with Vanthoor and Bachler finished fifth in class at the Rolex 24, “but it was not our fault. We had a perfect race and we’re right here with a perfect attitude, good atmosphere, good mood.

“We managed to win [Sebring] by being clearly not the fastest, and just because a complete group of people believe in us, believe in hard work and give 100 percent.

Podium GTD Pro: Race winner #9 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R: Klaus Bachler, Patrick Pilet, Laurens Vanthoor, second place #14 Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3: Jack Hawksworth, Ben Barnicoat, Kyle Kirkwood, third place #79 WeatherTech Racing Mercedes AMG GT3: Daniel Juncadella, Jules Gounon, Maro Engel (Photo by: Michael L. Levitt / Motorsport Images)

“At the end, for sure it was a gamble – we needed a yellow to be sure to finish. It was a risk only this team can take. It wasn’t even a risk, I feel so safe and so much support from the team on the pit stand. It was a group of friends working altogether and it paid off. I’m super happy.”

Vanthoor, who also raced a Porsche Penske Motorsports 963 in the WEC race on Friday, said: “It’s a bit surreal because I showed up this morning at 6:30 after being involved in the Porsche LMDh WEC program. The guys briefed me, gave us a good car and when it got dark, the car came alive and we were quick.

“We had a great strategy and we won against what we expected. But it shows the strength of the team, which they’ve showed a lot of times in the past and will continue to show.”

Bachler added: “I’m out of words, honestly. After qualifying where I made a minor mistake, lost the car and hit the barriers, it was really hard for the whole team and especially myself. It was the worst thing you can have in qualifying, but the team did an amazing job and repaired the car.

“I’m so happy that we could race today. We just bet on a strategy that worked out fully for us and the team is just so good in all these kinds of things – strategy, pit stops. We made zero mistakes. We bet, we were lucky, but in the end, we won the race. After yesterday, it is really a rollercoaster and I’m super happy and proud to be part of this team.”

It was Pfaff’s second 12 Hours of Sebring triumph, the first coming in 2021 when it went on to clinch the GTD championship.

In 2022, the team graduated to GTD Pro with Matt Campbell and Matthieu Jaminet and clinched the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona among its five wins on the way to title honors in IMSA’s new class. But with Campbell and Jaminet part of Porsche Penske prototype IMSA line-up in the GTP class, GTD Pro honors have been passed to Vanthoor, Pilet and Bachler.

#9 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R: Klaus Bachler, Patrick Pilet, Laurens Vanthoor (Photo by: Michael L. Levitt / Motorsport Images)
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