Pole and pace but a third straight runner up result
JUPITER, Fla. (29 January 2023) – Sean Creech Motorsport (SCM) rode a roller coaster of circumstances in the 61st Rolex 24 At Daytona, coming from second position to two laps ahead of the entire LMP3 field mid-race, but an electrical issue cost the team the chance to take home the coveted Rolex for the race victory.
In the end, the team showed perseverance and dedication, recovering from a 28-minute trip to the garage to repair a electrical issue in the rear of the car to bring its No. 33 SCM Exelixis/Focal One/Jerich International Ligier JS P320 home in second position. While a visit to the Daytona podium is always welcomed, it was a bit bittersweet as the result marked the third-straight second place finish in the endurance classic for the Florida-based team.
Drivers Lance Willsey, João Barbosa, Nico Pino and Nolan Siegel put impressive numbers through the Rolex 24: the team led the most laps (282 of 737 laps) and set the quickest LMP3 time of the race, when Siegel posted a lap of 1:43.265 in his charge back into the race after the electrical issue.
Pino had placed the No. 33 Ligier on pole last Sunday during the Roar Before the Rolex 24 prologue, with a fast lap of 1:43.197. The team’s level of tenacity saw its first test last Thursday, when an engine malfunction near the end of the second practice session necessitated a complete engine change. But the team rose to the occasion, making a lightning-fast engine change that saw them almost make it out in time for night practice. Since they had not, the team had only the 60-minute Friday morning practice session to make sure all systems were go for the Rolex 24.
Polesitter Pino took the green flag on Saturday and immediately knew he had a car that could win the race. He held off a persistent charge from the No. 74 Ligier – the car the team had finished second to in 2021 and 2022. Pino kept the No. 33 in the top spot through his stint as the field settled in for the long haul. After a solid double stint from Willsey, Barbosa went straight to the front of the field at the four-hour mark before handing back to Willsey. Siegel subsequently took the helm for a double stint, trading the lead back and forth.
As the clock ticked over to Sunday, the drivers continued to pace the No. 33 at the front of the field while managing clutch issues that caused a few tense moments in pit lane. Pino, then Barbosa, then Siegel battled hard through the early hours of the morning and held that top spot – only relinquishing the lead during the mandatory four-minute pit stop for new brakes.
Barbosa headed back on track in the 5 o’clock hour in second position – and proceeded to lay down a master class in chasing down the competition, and then leaving them behind. By the time the sun rose near the end of his double stint, the four-time Rolex winner had not only taken the lead, but had put second-place an incredible two laps down.
Siegel returned to the helm and held that lead until just before 9:00 a.m, when the car ceased shifting. Diagnosing on pit lane then heading to the garage, the crew discovered an electrical in the exhaust system that had damaged the gearbox. Once again affecting repairs with impressive speed, the crew had the car back on track a mere 28 minutes later in third position, keeping up the fight to the finish to score second at the flag.
For team principal Sean Creech, a lifelong Florida resident with a 30-year sports car career, the lost opportunity was especially hard to take – though he was first and foremost proud of the effort from the entire team.
“It’s tough to lose a race like this especially when you know you had the car to win,” said Creech. “It means so much to win Daytona and we’ve had a front row seat to the watch presentation for three years in a row. But the entire team put forth an outstanding effort, both on Thursday and throughout the entire race, so my main emotion is pride. We’ll regroup quickly and head to Sebring – where we won last year.”
All four drivers expressed the same level of disappointment – but also the same level of gratitude for the team’s hard work and dedication through some extremely difficult circumstances.
“It just goes to show how good these guys are, that never quit mentality,” said Barbosa. “The car was working really well, the team was doing a really good job, nobody was making mistakes and everything felt really good – until we had problem. But that’s the way that it is. Racing is hard but they did a tremendous job and they should be very proud. There is nothing they could do about what happened, it’s just one of those things. We finished second for the third time but this is a tough one, since we had the pace and led most of the race. We were pretty dominant but unfortunately it didn’t work out. It’s a tough one to swallow.”
“A decade ago, I would’ve been thrilled with a second place finish but at this point, I will admit that it’s pretty hard to take,” said Willsey. “Every driver performed flawlessly. For me, it’s a testament to the car that the team put under me. I knew the pace I needed to have for us to be there in the end and I knew first and foremost that I needed to not put a mark on the car despite there being 61 other cars on track, and a lot of chaos. For João, Nico and Nolan, it’s pretty clear what those guys did – and also what the team did to support them behind the scenes, to give us a car that we could take to the front and stay there. A freak thing put us behind the wall and any shot of a victory ended there but the point is, just like we had to do a hot motor change three nights ago, the team rose to the occasion, got the car back on track, came out P3, finished P2.”
“This was one of the races that you try to find an explanation as to what happened or why we didn’t win and there is no way,” said Pino. “We did everything we could and were perfectly efficient. There were times we were extremely fast. It was my first time on pole here in the 24 and also my first time on the podium so it’s a special one. Of course, it’s bittersweet being P2, knowing that we had the pace to win. All the guys did all you could ask for. The next time, it will come.”
“We led a lot of the race and everything was going really smoothly until we had a gearbox issue,” said Siegel. “I think we deserved a win today and for sure had the car and the driver lineup to do it, so it’s definitely a disappointment to not come away with a win. For sure, there is a lot of pressure when you get in the car in the lead and have to keep it there, but it’s a lot of fun when you’re in contention for the lead. It’s a bummer, what happened, but I think everyone should be proud of the job they did. It’s a great group of people and it was a pleasure to get to know them all and drive for them. I’ve learned a lot from them all this weekend. It’s been great getting to know them and I hope we get another chance to do this in the future.”
Next up for Sean Creech Motorsport will be the second of two home state events, the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring March 11-18.
Team leader Sean Creech has competed in a multitude of sports car series from 1990 until the present day, including Group C, IMSA GTP, WSC, Grand-Am, SRO World Challenge, and IMSA. SCM will contest the full WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in 2023 with João Barbosa and Lance Willsey. http://seancreechmotorsport.com/
Founded in 1994, Exelixis, Inc. is a commercially successful, oncology-focused biotechnology company that strives to accelerate the discovery, development and commercialization of new medicines for difficult-to-treat cancers. https://www.exelixis.com/
About Focal One
One in eight men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during their lifetime in the United States. The Focal One® HIFU Prostate treatment offers patients a non-invasive outpatient procedure to target prostate tissue while avoiding the common side effects such as loss of urinary continence and sexual function. The Focal One treatment uses high-performance, high-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU) to precisely target and ablate the prostate, allowing patients to quickly return to normal activities. http://www.focalone.com/
About Jerich International
Jerich International is a family-owned global group of companies that offers large-scale trade and industry customers a holistic logistics approach to freight forwarding through global supply chain management. The company makes use of tailor made concepts, extensive know how and immeasurable experience to set industry-leading practices in logistics. https://www.jerich.com/
SCM thanks partners Exelixis, Focal One and Jerich International for their continued support.