The sister car, crewed by all-American trio Bryan Herta, David Donohue and Bill Auberlen fared better, despite not exactly handling well on the notorious Sebring surface, and almost made it to the flag in a top three place. However, the team's usual bad luck returned with a vengeance when, with just 30mins to run, Herta was forced into the pits with little in the way of brakes. With no time to effect a repair and get back out on track, Herta was forced to cool his heels until the chequer approached, before being sent back out to claim an unrepresentative eighth place.
''I am really disappointed because the boys had worked so hard to make this happen,'' Herta sighed, ''The car was fantastic all day and the Michelin tyres were actually quite amazing - through double stints the car stayed really strong. It would have been great for the crowd to have an all-American crew on the podium, but we will have to come back and get them next year.''
This left third place in the hands of two venerable R&S entrants, albeit separated by some seven laps at the end as the Jim Matthews car ran reliably to the flag. The two younger members of the crew proved their speed, as Smith had done at Daytona, but were stymied by tyre problems that prevented long periods of running at pace. The Dyson car ran equally reliably to fourth, but lacked the same speed as the newer MkIIIc ahead of it.
The demise of Panoz should have been the opportunity Cadillac was waiting for to elevate itself to the front of sportscar racing but, instead, the revamped Northstar LMP-02s flattered to deceive. Emmanuel Collard's early second place had faded to distant memory by the time the chequered flag fell, with problems besetting both entries. The Frenchman, teamed with JJ Lehto and Eric Bernard for the race, failed to last the distance but covered enough ground to be classified 27th overall. The sister car - crewed by stalwart Wayne Taylor, Max Papis and Christophe Tinseau was running, albeit four places and twenty laps shy of its stablemate.
“The extreme heat caused problems for our new cars,” admitted Cadillac LMP programme manager Jeff Kettman, “Because of the heat, the starter ring gear got too hot and started to expand. As a result of that, the starter mechanism couldn't travel far enough to engage and turn the motor over. When we cooled the unit with CO2 and ice, it restarted properly. Eventually a wire lead started to melt, necessitating the long repairs. Then the same problem repeated with each stop on both cars.”
With the #1 Audi recovering to fifth at the end, and the tiny British Ascari team registering a meritable sixth, the way was clear for the LMP675 class to notch up top ten finishes. As they had in practice and qualifying, the MG-Lolas proved to be the class of the smaller prototype field, with Intersport's example, piloted by Jon Field, Duncan Dayton and Henri Durand chasing the all British Ascari crew home.
''The motor got stronger as the race went on and, as the temperature cooled, it was untouchable,'' Dayton enthused, ''Thanks to MG, the car was awesome!''
It could easily have been the other way around, as Sebring virgin Justin Wilson caught and passed the Banana Joe's MG in the final half-hour, but the Ascari crew could also have been better placed had it not been for officialdom and incidents costing it at least six laps. That would have been good enough to overhaul the #1 Audi and claim fifth for Wilson, Ben Collins and Christian Vann.
The second MG, run by KnightHawk Racing, failed to break the top ten - which was completed by the ailing Panoz and two GTS runners - after a night of drama. Team boss Mel Hawkins had taken the brave decision to drop himself in favour of rising US star Andy Lally, and it was the youngster, along with mercurial Irishman Jonny Kane, who caused ripples early on. Kane had the MG challenging for front row honours in qualifying, and dicing equally with Panoz, Cadillac and privateer Audi in the first couple of hours, before gearbox and suspension problems blunted its effort.
As expected, Corvette won the GTS battle, with the Ron Fellows/Johnny O'Connell/Oliver Gavin car giving the Brit back-to-back victories in the event. Despite the presence of Saleen, it appeared that the two C5-Rs were headed for another 1-2 finish, only for Andy Pilgrim in the sister car to crash out of contention after the throttle stuck open.