McLaughlin survived a final five-minute dash after a late full-course yellow that closed the gap back to the #11 TDS Racing Oreca-07 driven Mikkel Jensen, who the Kiwi had pulled a three second advantage on after the previous caution period with 30 minutes remaining in the race.
Post-race, co-driver John Farano – who shared the #8 Tower Motorsports Oreca with Kyffin Simpson and the McLaughlin – that the Penske IndyCar driver had accomplished the result by stretching the life of his Michelin runner in the final stint.
“You know, he did it at the end on double-stint tyres. I think our competitors had stickers on, and he just pulled it off – he was absolutely splendid,” Farano told John Hindhaugh on the IMSA live feed.
“We just didn't give up all day – made a couple of mistakes. The crew was unbelievable, especially after we went into the tyre wall. We came in with the car, they got it back on track with a nose change, a rear change, four new tyres, full fuel, in just over a minute – just incredible, still came back out in third place [in class].”
The incident earlier came before the eight-hour mark, when Simpson put the nose of the car into the wall at Turn 1, while running third in class, where the Tower Motorsports entry had been for the majority of the race.
At the halfway point, McLaughlin had the #8 into second in class, 18s behind Ben Keating in the #04 CrowdStrike APR Oreca-07.
After the late shunt, Simpson recovered back to second in class, 25s behind the #04, which had Nolan Sigel at the wheel, before McLaughlin climbed back on board for the final stint as the sun began to set.
The drama in the LMP1 class benefitted McLaughlin's rise to an overall podium, after a tense battle between the Cadillac and Acura entries saw the Porsche Penske Motorsport duo come into contention following clever strategy.
The pole-sitting Pipo Derani started the race in the Action Express Motorsports #31 Cadillac, holding the lead for the first hour, with front-row starter Sebastien Bourdais relegated to third off the start by the Acura of Ricky Taylor.
Taylor attacked the leading Cadillac, to no avail, with the first full-course yellow after the #33 of Sean Creech Motorsport entry was spun, perilously facing the oncoming field yet somehow managing to escape with only a damaged headlight.
The second hour of the race saw the majority of the time spent under caution, after the #4 CrowdStrike Ligier JS P32 spun with George Kurtz at the wheel, the yellows extended when the #17 LMP3 Duqueine D08 of Anthony Mantella stopped and had to be recovered.
Derani's time up front in the #31 Cadillac ended after both Acuras passed him at the restart, with the #31 Cadillac then suffering damage as Robert Mau spun in directly in front of it, causing significant nose damage as well as a puncture. That incident, too, bought out the yellow flags.
Scott Dixon in the #01 Chip Ganassi Cadillac would take the overall race lead from Ricky Taylor – who was in the midst of a lengthy stint at the wheel of the #10 Acura ARX-06 – before building up a 25s advantage over the field.
Helio Castroneves then put the #60 Meyer Shank Racing Acura into second position, with Albuquerque taking over in the #10 Acura, now third.
The intensity of the battle between the Acuras and Cadillacs continued as positions swapped, Albuquerque putting the #10 back in front at the eight-hour mark ahead of the Dutchman Renger van der Zande in the #01 Cadillac with the #31 of Derani third.
The #01 Cadillac was again leading with Bourdais at the wheel when it caught fire and was trucked back to the pits, failing to make it back onto the circuit.
An intense final hour saw Jack Aitken at the wheel of the #31, as the two Porsche entries came into play following a full-course yellow with 30 minutes left to run.
On the restart, the #6 Porsche of Mathieu Jaminet had been in an intense battle with Albuquerque's Acura and Porsche Penske team-mate Felipe Nasr in #7 shared with Australian Matt Campbell, when Jaminet was held up by lapped traffic.
Albuquerque switched back across the track in the #10 Acura, then went off track onto the grass to crash into Mathieu Jaminet, the ensuing melee also ending the races of Nasr and several lapped contenders – causing another full-course yellow.
It was here that McLaughlin managed to climb into overall podium contention, after he'd made the most of the green flag running to lead the LMP2 class by three seconds.
With the resumption of racing with five minutes to go, McLaughlin yet again set about extending his advantage, winning the LMP2 class and third overall.
Jack Aitken – who'd managed to escape the Turn 1 incident that took out both Porsches – took the chequered flag to give the #31 Cadillac he shared with fellow Brit Alexander Sims and pole-sitter Pipo Derani the win, with the BMW M Hybrid V8 of Connor de Phillippi, Nick Yelloly and Sheldon Van Der Linde in second place.
In LMP3, Australian Josh Burdon claimed class victory with Felipe Fraga and Gar Robinson in the #74 Riley Ligier JS P320.
The next IMSA event is Round 3 of the 2023 IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar Championship Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 14-15.
Proud of this one! Sebring 12 Hour – LMP2 winners!!
— Scott McLaughlin (@smclaughlin93) March 19, 2023