Eight-time World Rally champion Sébastien Ogier completed the first sportscar race of his career with a 12th place finish, 15th overall, in the 1000 miles of Sebring, the opening round of the World Endurance Championship.
Alongside team-mates Lilou Wadoux and Charles Milesi in the all-French Richard Mille Racing Team, Ogier brought the Oreca LMP2 home at the end of the seven-hour race which was red flagged three times.
The first stoppage came as a result of an accident for the race-leading Toyota of Jose Maria López in the fourth hour while the second came amid the threat of a severe thunderstorm at the top of the final hour.
With just over 30 minutes remaining, the race initially restarted behind the safety car before being halted for the third and final time soon after.
The car qualified 14th on the grid for the race, four places behind 2013 WRC2 champion – and last year’s European Le Mans Series champion – Robert Kubica in a Team WRT Oreca.
Milesi started the race and held an impressive eighth place during a hectic opening stint on the notoriously bumpy, former airfield circuit before switching over to Wadoux at the start of the second hour.
Ogier then took over after three hours, but his stint was halted due to López’s high-speed crash.
Before Ogier handed back over to Wadoux, the former full-time WRC driver explained to reporters that he had struggled to get the most out of his Oreca car in race trim.
“Not so easy, honestly,” Ogier said. “I have to say that I struggled a bit and didn’t really manage to find the rhythm with the car, a lot of brake and balance issues.
“I didn’t have the clean run I wanted to have but that’s the way it is and that’s some kind of learning. I need to try to understand more about how the car is working because I never found the rhythm obviously [because of López’s crash in the fourth hour].”
Ogier took over from Wadoux for the final hour and had hoped to take the clear to the finish without drama before the second red flag was brought out by race director Eduoardo Freitas.
Florida State law requires all outdoor events to cease if lightning is detected within 10 miles, thus forcing the decision out of the hands of WEC organizers.
The race, won by Alpine’s Matthieu Vaxivière, Nicolas Lappière and André Negrão, initially restarted behind the safety car but was halted again with half an hour to go.
Ogier’s next race will be the 6 Hours of Spa Francorchamps on May 7. The next round of his partial WRC campaign wtih Toyota is yet to be announced, but it’s understood that Rally Portugal remains an option, two weeks after Spa.