DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (31 January 2021) – After 10 days of challenges, hard work and dedication, the Sean Creech Motorsport (SCM) team brought its No. 33 SCM Exelixis Ligier PS320 home in second place in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s LMP3 class in the Rolex 24 at Daytona on Sunday.
Ask anyone who has seen success at the Rolex 24 what it takes to survive the grueling endurance classic and the word they’ll most often use is “perseverance.” And that was key to the form SCM found through the Daytona event, combining their collective decades of experience to capture a podium result in their first race.
Drivers João Barbosa, Lance Willsey, Wayne Boyd and Yann Clairay, along with the entire team, endured their share of challenges through last weekend’s Roar Before the 24 test event, working through teething issues with their new LMP3 PS320.
The class is new to the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship for 2021 and was unproven over 24 hours. With the No. 33 SCM Ligier coming home on the podium with no issues whatsoever, and leading 53 laps of the race, was a testament to team principal Sean Creech, engineer Kevin Doran (both of whom have years of experience in the race), full-season drivers Barbosa (in his 19th Rolex 24), Willsey (in his 11th), Boyd and Clairay (in their first Rolex 24), the mechanics and crew.
Willsey qualified the Ligier in fourth position during last weekend’s Motul Pole Award 100 and took Saturday’s green flag. The race began at a feverish pace, with multiple incidents in the first hour before drivers began to settle into a rhythm. Willsey wisely bided his time in the early going and kept the car out of trouble in the first hour of the race and held his position.
At the first pit stop, Boyd jumped behind the wheel and immediately began setting lap times among the LMP3 class leaders. He set his eyes on the front of the field, but several lengthy cautions impeded his progress early in the stint. But once the green flag flew, Boyd made short work of the cars ahead, taking the class lead just after the two-hour mark as darkness began to fall. He was passed briefly on a restart but quickly retook the top spot, handing the car back to Willsey, who remained in first position.
Willsey avoided disaster early in his stint, when he was hit in the right rear in Turn Five by a GT car, miraculously with no damage (the GT car garnered a drive-through penalty for incident responsibility), though the car dropped to second place. Clairay kept the car in second position through his double stint, while Willsey got back to the top spot during stops. After Willsey’s single stint, he handed off to Barbosa for the four-time winner’s first race laps in the car just under eight hours into the race.
Circling in P2, Barbosa found he had a comfortable car under him as he clicked off the laps to build towards a race finish.
Willsey then took another turn behind the wheel until the team called him into pit lane for a pit stop that included the mandatory LMP3 class eight-minute pit stop to change brakes.
team had settled into second position at sunrise, though four laps down to the class leader. But Barbosa, through his triple stint, earned one of those valuable laps back (while setting the car’s quick lap time of the race at 1:44.052 on Lap 516) before Boyd took the wheel with just under seven hours remaining.
Boyd took on a triple stint which proved to be as relatively uneventful as his previous outings. Working the changing conditions as ambient and track temperatures grew rapidly, he brought the car to within two laps of the leader, until he came to pit lane for the switch to Clairay to handle before one final driver swap to hand over to Barbosa for the final run.
Well-accustomed to the pressure of the moment, Barbosa brought the car home in second position to launch the 2021 season.
Willsey has a two-fold mission in 2021: drive the Ligier with SCM and – as a doctor and COVID survivor – educate fans on mitigation efforts as well. To be able to combine his passions of medicine and racing makes the effort worthwhile.
“The start was ok but everyone was so aggressive from the green flag,” said Willsey. “I have been here before, so I backed off and let a couple guys go knowing that position at the start of the race didn’t really matter. I couldn’t be happier with the team, the crew and my co-drivers for this event. There aren’t many people I would want to spend 10 days with, but these are the ones I want to spend that amount of time working with. We had some early adversity, but the team rebounded phenomenally and that has paid off in our Rolex 24 race. No one goes racing to finish P2, but it’s a great accomplishment for the team. You have to feel good about the outcome.”
Barbosa noted that the time he spent on the timing stand, listening to team strategists and the drivers, helped him understand exactly where the game stood once he got in the car.
“It might have been a little too long!” said Barbosa of his late night first stint. “I’m not used to starting so late in the day, and in a race that started so late in the day anyway. But the team had a good plan and I enjoyed following what was going on, and I was ready to go when it was time. I like the pressure, so wherever the team thinks is best for me to go in order to achieve the result, I’m happy to do that. I didn’t have the speed to fight on track, which was a shame: we were quick, but not quick enough to challenge for the lead. The team did a good job and we had some fast guys driving, so while it’s hard to finish so close to the front and not get the win, I’m super proud of the work the team has put in to get the program together, from Sean and Lance to the entire crew. It’s a great group of guys – to race for 24 hours with no problems at all speaks to their preparation. I think we’re going to have a good year.”
Clairay and Boyd were both thrilled that the LMP3 car performed so well, but disappointed to not finish one position higher.
“I worked hard to get ready for this race, but honestly, I wasn’t sure if the car could finish a 24-hour race,” said Clairay. “It’s the first time an LMP3 has done this race but in the end, we had absolutely no problem and that’s just fantastic. The team did a great job – we had some issues in the Roar but they kept pushing and working hard and the car was perfect. It’s not a win, but second is not so bad! For my first 24 hour race in the USA, I’m happy. Thanks to Sean and Lance!”
“We went into the race with idea to err on the side of caution,” said Boyd. “If you have contact, you lose two or more laps and you’ll struggle to get that back. It was amazing to see how many drivers didn’t or got caught up in other incident. We were in the lead during the night, so I think we made the right decision. But I can’t praise the team high enough It’s really the first time the new LMP3 car has properly done a 24-hour race so the preparation was perfect. We didn’t have one single issue and there’s not even a mark on the car. And that says a lot. Sean, Kevin and the team have done a great job. You always want the win but at the same time, second is a fantastic result here, and for me, in my first Rolex 24. So much can go wrong so I’m happy, but it’s bittersweet because of what could have been.”
And for Creech and Doran, with so many years of experience in this race, to capture a podium in the team’s first effort makes all the hard work worth it – even if there is a bit of disappointment involved.
“There are people who run this race and never finish the race, let alone end up on the podium,” said Creech. “To be able to do both of those with a new car is a great experience. This crew worked hard as well as engineering to help us get there. We may have had some issues but what we do is keep working at it until the issue is sorted. It was a tough race but we are happy to cross the finish line today.”
“I have done over 30 of these races and the key is to keep your emotions at a middle ground no matter what is happening in the moment,” said Doran. “It keeps you focused in the moment and making the right decision on the stand. While second isn’t what we had in mind there are so many people who come here and don’t ever see the podium. The Sean Creech Motorsports crew did a great job as well as the drivers who executed well every single minute of the last 24 hours.”