Kyffin Simpson is still a bit stunned from last weekend’s victory in the 12 Hours of Sebring.
The driver of the No. 21 HMD Motorsports car in INDY NXT by Firestone, Simpson took advantage of the weekend off and participated in the endurance classic for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship at Sebring International Raceway.
Driving for Tower Motorsports, Simpson shared the No. 8 Oreca LMP2 ride with John Farano and Scott McLaughlin, driver of the No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES. It wasn’t a smooth drive to the win, however, as the team was abruptly set back when Simpson ran wide through Turn 1, spun and went into the Turn 2 tire barrier roughly two-thirds distance into the race.
The damage was primarily on the bodywork, which the team made quick work repairing before sending Simpson back out, where he lined up third and drove up to second in class before handing off to McLaughlin for the final stint that led to victory.
“It was one of those incidents where it was just a little bit too much, and it was just very frustrating,” said Simpson, who is running all of the Michelin Endurance Cup events with Tower Motorsports in 2023. “Luckily, the car was OK after just some bodywork changes and stayed on the lead lap, stayed in third place, as well, which was crazy. It was just a little bit shocking to me honestly, that the car wasn't more damaged than it was.”
Simpson’s confidence took a hit more than anything else, but he was able to regain it moments after the crash.
“It hurt for a couple of laps, especially because I had to do a wave-around lap trying to catch back up to the back of the pack,” he said. “I went through Turn 1 on that lap and the rear wing had fallen off at that point, so it had very no rear grip going through there, and it felt extremely sketchy. But once I got a couple more laps through there, after they put the rear wing back on and fixed everything up, my confidence came back, and I just made sure to keep it consistent after that and not go over the limit.”
While Simpson was able to rebound from the incident, he then watched McLaughlin fend off rivals on two late restarts en route to the win. The team finished top of the LMP2 class and third overall.
“Yeah, just leading up to it, I was just trying to trust in God and trust that God would bring us home to the win, and he did,” Simpson said. “After that, it was just thanking God for getting us through the entire race and keeping us on the lead lap even when we had the incident. It was just a pretty crazy race, so to be able to come home with the win was very special.”
It was a strong showing after an ECU issue plagued the team’s chance for a strong result in the Rolex 24 At Daytona in late January, when Farano and Simpson were joined by McLaughlin’s NTT INDYCAR SERIES teammate Josef Newgarden.
Simpson, who is also a development driver for Chip Ganassi Racing, has taken lessons from working alongside McLaughlin and Newgarden.
“They go into a lot of detail when they're giving feedback, and sometimes I've noticed it can be a little bit of an engineer-specific thing,” Simpson said. “So, maybe that's just not something I've come into contact with in my career so far.”
The result at Sebring was a positive jolt for Simpson after finishing 10th in an attrition-filled INDY NXT season opener March 5 on the Streets of St. Petersburg. Although the next round for INDY NXT by Firestone isn’t until April 30 at Barber Motorsports Park, he will continue to get seat time driving another LMP2 entry for Algarve Pro Racing in the European Le Mans Series, which will start its season with the 4 Hours of Barcelona on April 23 at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.
Simpson hopes to carry the momentum of Sebring glory, which is his second victory in his last three IMSA starts, having taken a GTD class win in Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta last year with Gradient Racing.
“Yeah, it's been pretty incredible,” Simpson said. “With the team we have at Tower Motorsports this year, I think we can do very well in the rest of the endurance championship, and I wish them the best of luck in all of the sprint races, as well.
“I also can't wait to get back in the INDY NXT car and get back at Barber to try to win that race because that's one of my favorite tracks. I'm going to be trying to carry this momentum on to all the NXT races and all of my ELMS races, as well, over in Europe. So, I can't wait for the rest of the season.”