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Mazda wins Twelve Hours of Sebring; Acura Team Penske takes DPi championship

Mazda took the win at 12 Hours of Sebring, but it was Acura Team Penske that claimed the DPi championship in the final IMSA race of the season.

Mazda Motorsports was the winner of the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring Saturday while Acura Team Penske scored a podium finish and a DPi championship in its final IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race Saturday.

Harry Tincknell, co-driving the No. 55 with Jonathan Bomarito and Ryan Hunter-Reay, brought home the checkered flag in the season finale ahead as the No. 77 of Oliver Jarvis (co-driving with Tristan Nunez and Olivier Pla) suffered a tire puncture while leading with just less than 30 minutes remaining.

“We’re feeling for those guys obviously on the 77; they had a dominating lead, but it’s motor racing, and we all ran hard all race long,” Bomarito told NBC Sports’ Kelli Stavast. “Two Mazdas on the podium, 12 Hours of Sebring winner, it’s unbelievable. This is huge, one of the most physical (tracks), hard on equipment and drivers. To get Mazda the victory in an endurance race, hats off to all the guys.”

RESULTS, POINTS: Where everyone finished and final 2020 standings

IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship

#55 Mazda Team Joest Mazda DPi, DPi: Jonathan Bomarito, Harry Tincknell, podium, champagne, orange juice

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It was an emotional victory for Mazda, which scored its first Sebring victory before scaling back to one car in 2021 (Tincknell will return full time, but Bomarito is expected to be used in endurance races only).

“We’ve had three great years together,” Tincknell told Stavast. “We’ve had our ups and downs this year and the last few years but what a way to cap off this chapter of Mazda Motorsports.”

IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship

#55 Mazda Team Joest Mazda DPi, DPi: Harry Tincknell, Ryan Hunter-Reay, winners, podium

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Said Hunter-Reay, the 2012 IndyCar champion and 2014 Indy 500 winner who drives for Andretti Autosport: “This is the overall win I’ve been looking for and to do it with these boys, such great teammates and did such an awesome job. We had two Mazdas up front, and we put together a great race. This team did a great job, it’s just awesome to finish off 2020 like this.”

Jarvis finished third behind the No. 6 Acura Team Penske of Dane Cameron, Juan Pablo Montoya and Simon Pagenaud.

Its sister car, the No. 7 Acura of Ricky Taylor, Helio Castroneves and Alexander Rossi, finished last in the DPi class but still one point ahead of Wayne Taylor Racing’s No. 10 to clinch the 2020 title.

Penske, which is putting its sports car program on hiatus as Acura moves to Meyer Shank Racing and WTR next season, exited by winning the past two championships in IMSA’s premier class.

It was the first championship with Penske for Castroneves as the three-time Indianapolis 500 winner closed a 21-season career with the team before returning to IndyCar next year with MSR.

“For me, being able to finish the championship with an amazing organization, an amazing group of people and true friends that last forever,” Castroneves, who joined Penske as an IndyCar driver in 2000, told NBC Sports’ Marty Snider in a tearful interview. “It’s a new beginning for me. But this I’ll never, ever forget. Can’t thank enough everyone, and Roger (Penske) of course. What an incredible journey.

“I get emotional. It’s so many years, putting this thing together and ending like this is absolutely incredible. It’s a blessing. This is why I fell in love with this sport. It’s amazing. I’m speechless just thinking of so many ups and downs. As RP always says, you lose more than you win.”

Castroneves also praised his teammate, Taylor, as “an incredible man and a hell of a driver” after he finished the race.

“It was everything,” Taylor told Snider about winning the championship for Castroneves. “After what he’s done for Team Penske, to me, he is Team Pesnke. It was a privilege of a lifetime to get to drive for Acura Team Penske and to have the best three years of my carer.

“To contribute to (Castroneves’) amazing career of not having a championship yet and to win it with him was one of the highlights of my life. We’ll be friends for life.”

Other class winners were:

--The No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR-19 and No. 912 of the Porsche GT team swept the top two spots in GTLM, closing Porsche Motorsport’s run in the IMSA division.

It was the third consecutive Twelve Hours of Sebring victory for No. 911 drivers Fred Makowiecki and Nick Tandy, who did a long burnout to mark the final race for the car and team.

“It’s been such an emotional time, especially this weekend, knowing this is the last time we come together as a group,” Tandy said. “I said before the race it’ll make it a lot better if we can celebrate a decent result. I was hoping we were going to win and a three-peat was always on.

“But to do a 1-2 and for the whole team, everybody Porsche, everyone who has put seven years of their lives as much as we have into this program. It’s just a perfect finish, really.”

Porsche drivers also closed the season with three consecutive GTLM victories.

“To finish like that for the team, we put so much energy, so much time, and it’s really a family,” Makowiecki said. “It means so much. This is positive for everybody. We work so hard, so a big pleasure to win three times and in the last race with my buddy (Tandy).”

IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship

Podium: Winning team: Porsche GT Team Winning drivers: Nick Tandy, Fred Makowiecki, Earl Bamber Second place team: Porsche GT Team Second place drivers: Laurens Vanthoor, Earl Bamber, Neel Jani Third place team: BMW Team RLL Third pace drivers: John Edwards, Jesse Krohn, Augusto Farfus

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--The No. 16 Porsche 911 GT3R of Wright Motorsports in GTD but still came up two points shy of the No. 86 Acura NSX GT3 of Meyer Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian for the GTD championship.

“We were biting our nails the whole races; a lot of ups and downs,” MSR driver Matt McMurry said. “We just did consistent laps and made it to the front. The team did an awesome job, and crew performed perfectly.”

It’s the final race for the GTD championship entry as Meyer Shank Racing moves into DPi with Acura. “It means everything” to win the championship, No. 86 driver Mario Farnbacher said after the third-place finish at Sebring. “It hurts a bit that the program ends, but a new chapter will open next year. Great to finish with a championship and podium.”

Wright Motorsports ended its first season on a winning note despite drivers Patrick Long, Ryan Hardwick and Jan Heylen having to overcome a broken left rear shock absorber three hours into a race on perhaps the bumpiest track in auto racing.

“It really bounces you and was hard to put traction down, but we kept our heads in it,” Long said. “The team put us in position at the end.”

Said Hardwick. “This is a monumental day for us. We came with one goal: To win the race. We gave it our all. It was a tough curveball with the shock, and it really was a difficult car to drive. These two (co-drivers) were monsters, man. They probably drove some lap times that most people couldn’t do. Our crew didn’t miss a beat with pit stops, and it was truly a team effort.”

--The No. 52 ORECA of PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports won in LMP2.

All three DPi championship contenders encountered trouble from nearly start to finish of the 12-hour race.

Needing a victory to secure a long-shot title, Pipo Derani overshot a corner and locked up the brakes while trying to pass Montoya’s No. 6 Penske for the lead with two and a half hours remaining. Montoya ran into Derani off the turn while retaking the lead.

A minute later, Derani made a dive-bomb move into a corner and rooted Montoya out of the lead. The Action Express driver, who was trying to win his fourth Twelve Hours of Sebring, then gave up the lead to Olivier Pla and served a drive-through penalty for the contact with Montoya.

When Derani returned to the track, his steering failed, and the team lost a few laps repairing the right-front damage in the pits.

The contact with Montoya marked the third Team Penske driver that Derani has been involved in a shunt with over the past three race weekends.

“I’m surprised, we still got 3 hours to go,” Montoya, who went winless this season and has announced his future plans, told Stavast. “We knew we needed to save a lot of fuel, and we were doing that. They didn’t need to save as much. We knew they were going to be coming. He was just a little impatient.

“He’s done it a couple of times, and put themselves in a bad situation, but it ruined our race. We were leading the race, had a shot at the win, and this is 2020 for us.”

He collided with Taylor while battling for the lead in the Petit Le Mans with 10 minutes remaining (which led to a headed postrace confrontation). Two weeks ago, Derani and Castroneves smashed into each other during practice at WeatherTech Laguna Seca Raceway.

Saturday’s race got off to an inauspicious start for Penske’s final race with Acura. A mechanical disaster struck for its No. 7 barely 40 minutes into the race when pole-sitter Taylor lost power after his first pit stop.

The team discovered a broken left intercooler and needed 25 minutes for repairs, sending Taylor back on track 11 laps down.

For the next four hours, the championship catbird seat was occupied by Wayne Taylor Racing’s No. 10 Cadillac, which entered the Sebring season finale trailing Penske by two points.

But in the fifth hour of the race, the No. 10 lost five laps replacing a radiator after Scott Dixon was punted by the No. 77 Mazda being driven by Jarvis.

Dixon also picked up a drive-through penalty for passing under caution (the second penalty of the race for the No. 10 after Renger van der Zande was penalized for an improper lane change on the start).

“That was two stints of hell for me,” Dixon, who had won in his previous two endurance races with the team this season in the Rolex 24 at Daytona and Petit Le Mans, told NBC Sports’ Marty Snider. “Getting connected in turn 10 did a ton of damage to the car. We were having a smooth day until that happened.

“I think there was no way (Jarvis) was going to make the corner. I kind of saw him coming and tried to give him enough (room) without braking myself. I don’t think it was our fault.”

After the incidents, Acura Team Penske’s No. 7 duo of Taylor and Castroneves (who were joined by endurance driver Alexander Rossi from IndyCar this weekend) was a point ahead of the WTR tandem of Ryan Briscoe and van der Zande (who had six-time IndyCar champion Dixon as an endurance teammate).

That turned out to be the winning margin as the No. 7 finished seven laps down in eighth for Penske in closing out on top after a three-year run with Acura.