Simpson battles from early setback to finish 11th at Sebring

HPD programme driver Kyffin Simpson recovered from an unfortunate crash in the opening hours of the 70th Annual Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented By Advance Auto Parts, missing out on 10th in the GTD Daytona class by just 1s at the chequered flag with Gradient Racing teammates Mario Farnbacher and Till Bechtolsheimer.

Building on an impressive IMSA racing debut at the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona, Kyffin completed over 3 hours of driving in the gruelling 12-hour event – part of the ‘Super Sebring weekend in partnership with the World Endurance Championship – once again demonstrating front-running pace alongside IMSA veterans and professional sportscar drivers.

Kyffin’s teammate Till opted to qualify the #66 InvestCayman Acura NSX GT3 Evo22 on Friday, making the most of a shortened session with a single flying lap to place 9th in class, before lining up on at 10:10am Saturday for the green flag in front of a packed race day crowd.

After a clean getaway, Bechtolsheimer settled into a consistent rhythm to climb to 8th in class by the 2-hour marker. A quick driver change later, Kyffin was at the wheel just after midday and set about chasing down the top GTD Daytona class runners in his first new tire stint.

Simpson set car #66’s fastest lap of the race on his way to 3rd in class, but his impressive run would be cut short halfway through the fourth hour of the race at Sebring’s infamous Turn 17. The bumps through Turn 17 have tested the greatest drivers in the world for decades, and unfortunately Kyffin Simpson was their victim on Saturday.

A slightly wider than usual line was just enough to put the teenager into a spin on corner exit, backing into the barriers hard just ahead of pit entry. Thankfully the damage was not terminal but in Kyffin’s attempt to drive back to pit lane, further damage was incurred from a puncture that stopped the car on track.

It took a total of 18 race laps – or around 35 minutes – for the car to be hauled back to Gradient Racing’s truck, rapidly repaired by the team, and returned to the track by veteran racer ‘Super Mario’ Farnbacher to chase down a Top-10 finish. A phenomenal effort considering the damage may well have retired the car from the race.

A new target in sight, the remainder of the race saw Kyffin back in action for another double then single stint, as the Caymanian and his teammates climbed from a low of 16th to 11th in class, right behind the #16 Porsche in 10th with an hour to go. The battle was thrilling to watch as darkness enveloped Sebring in the dying minutes of the race – Mario at the wheel once again, never more than 1s behind the car ahead.

It wasn’t meant to be. A few unlucky moments with traffic prevented Mario from launching a move down the inside before the chequered flag, crossing the line 11th in the GTD Daytona class, 16 laps down on the leading teams. A herculean effort considering the rollercoaster start to the race and the extent of damage inflicted in Kyffin’s unfortunate incident.

Looking back on his 12 hours of Sebring debut, Kyffin said:

“What a race! It felt longer than Daytona at times. We were unfortunate not to grab 10th at the end. Mario was flying, even with half the rear missing, and I think everyone at Gradient can be proud of the pace we showed today. We’ve taken a big step forward in understanding our car.”

“I’m sorry for the incident in my first run. Looking back at the footage, I went a little wide on the exit and I was a passenger after that really. The team did an amazing job getting the car fixed and race-worthy – big thanks to Andris and HPD!”

“I learned a lot this weekend. Hopefully we can have a clean run next time out at Watkins.”

With two of four events now complete, Gradient Racing line up 10th overall in the IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup standings. The ‘IMEC’ is scored at several points throughout the race, rewarding consistent frontrunners rather than the absolute result in isolation.

Car #66 returns to the track in 8 weeks’ time for the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen at Watkins Glen International Raceway, New York, 23-26 June 2022. You can follow and support Kyffin’s progress on social media via FacebookInstagram and Twitter.

Kyffin is supported by InvestCayman, Visit Cayman Islands, Simpson Race Products, GoPro action cameras, Spy sunglasses, DART, BODDENS, Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa, and Kokoro Performance driver coaching services.

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