Stephen Simpson, by his own admission, had just played a major part with his team in successfully finishing one of motor racings big endurance challenges, the 12 Hours of Sebring. Simpson’s role as the pro driver, was to run hard for 5 of the 12 hours with his first stint being just under 3 hours, that’s 1.5 GP distances, way too many yellow caution periods made it a bit easier on the body but during his time he was first chasing down IndyCar winner Alex Tagliani until he exited with a major car shredding accident and then former Williams F1 driver Bruno Junquiera. He strung together three fastest laps in a row during this pursuit and on average was lapping GT cars with his LMPC car at a rate of 6 per lap and never put a wheel wrong, day and night. Putting this into perspective, IndyCar champs Scott Dixon and Ryan Hunter Ray both had spins as did Giancarlo Fisichella’s team mate but Simpson drove a faultless race for all of his 5 hours behind the wheel. For Simpson’s JDC Miller Motorsport Team it was their debut at the challenging Sebring circuit, as it was Simpson’s and they brought the car home in one piece when 28 of the 68 entries did not.
So how come he was bitterly disappointed at the end? Well, they lost one place with less than 20 minutes of the 12 Hours remaining and that place was on the podium!
Simpson had moved the team up from 7th to 3rd in the early stages, a position they held for around 6 of the 12 hours but about 20 minutes before the end, a drive through penalty allowed GP2 star and Mercedes F1 test driver Sam Bird to pass and snatch the final spot on the podium. The JDC Miller Motorsport car was a bit wounded towards the end and whilst its V8 engine never missed a beat it had lost its edge and team mate Chris Miller was a sitting duck for Bird.
Ordinarily the team would have been euphoric to have brought the car home in 4th in their rookie Sebring year but when a debutante podium was so tantalizingly close it is easy to see how the racers mentality kicks in and demands more.
Simpson said of the last hour and a half, “We had maxed out my time in the car (each driver cannot do more than 4 hours in a 6 hour period), so Chris had to do a double stint at the end. It was the most nerve racking race I have ever done and at the time I wasn’t even driving!” Simpson continued, “Looking back it was a great race and a fantastic effort by the JDC Miller Motorsport team. The guys did an outstanding job all weekend. To be contending for a podium finish in this, one of the biggest and most challenging sports car races in North America in the team’s first ever sports car race was outstanding and shows the potential of the team”
It was a big week for Simpson who had not been behind the wheel of serious machinery for 5 years and whilst he did some ITC races last year in a Porsche and won them all it could not compare to the Sebring 12 Hours. This was the 62nd running of the event and whilst it set a new record for the number of caution periods, it ran to a thrilling climax in all of the classes and it is amazing to see cars still running nose to tail after 270 laps and akin to watching a 5 day cricket test being won by a run on the last ball of the last over.
The race attracts many top drivers and major manufacturers and is televised live by FOX across the USA. Simpson will be in St Petersburg, Florida in one week’s time for the season opening race of the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series where he has two of his young prodigy’s competing in the Indy Lights races.