Sebring 2014

Sebring; where except for twelve hours a year, time really does stand still.

Sebring is an anachronism. It was an old airport when it was new racetrack that needed paving and after 62 years it is now an old racetrack that still needs paving. Yet there remains a mystique about the 12 Hour Race. Winning it is a major accomplishment. It has heritage well worth preserving and seemingly able to draw entrants prepared to overlook its physical shortcomings. But the infrastructure is greatly improved over its early days. I was there in the sixties and compared to today’s facility, it looked like Stonehenge. All I could recognize from the old days was the three-foot-high cement wall. I attended a Formula 5000 race there in the company of old racers who had been coming to Sebring for decades. They introduced me to an old bar nearby that hadn’t had glass or even frames in its windows for eons. The beer was cold, and cheap, and was only served in cans. When you finished one you were invited to throw it out the window onto a mountain of its empty brothers, all baking in the sun. That, and the fact that all the racers came here at the end of the day, was the attraction. Sebring itself was just a slab of concrete in a dozy featureless town in the middle of nowhere. I drove through the town two years ago and it had morphed into a dozy town with national franchises along the main street and decent buildings and toilets at the track. In a TV promo shown during the race, Frenchman Sebastian Bourdais, whose English is always entertaining, said of the track itself: “it is like a place that has escaped time.” Indeed. Indeed.

About the race: As Dorsey Schroeder said in the wrap up, “It was a good race right down to the end, but there were surprises all along the way.” The winning Ganassi Ford driven by Scott Pruett, Marino Franchitti, and Memo Rojas was the same Riley-built Prototype car whose new Ford Ecoboost Engine failed at Daytona last month. Among others, they beat the Corvette prototype that won Daytona driven by the aforementioned Bourdais. In GTLM (Le Mans) the Long, Christiansen, Bergmeister Porsche 911 RSR beat a much improved Viper team, a BMW, and a Ferrari in that order. 

Further details are here on IMSA's Unofficial Race Report (PDF)

Most significant accomplishment was the implementation, based on Daytona results, of spec changes that allowed the classes to be competitive. That said, we now have one, viable, top level race series for prototypes and recognizable sports cars in America. At long last.

From a spectator’s point of view, the race management itself needed tightening up. They made two bad calls. One resulted in a penalty to the wrong team and another wasn’t called on a Porsche that ended up winning its class. The responses to track incidents were slow and questionable in quality. The inept response to a burning Viper less than an hour into the race was like watching Larry, Curly, and Moe with water pistols. And like them, not everybody found it entertaining. Most egregious was taking over 40 minutes to clear the track of a stalled Corvette with just over an hour remaining in the race. What could have been a great 45-50 minute sprint turned into a great 21 minute sprint. In our view, aside from robbing viewers of the most important part of the race, it possibly changed the outcome. Over 25% of the race was run under caution!

Fox 1 broadcast the first three hours live. After that IMSA.com streamed the remainder. Fox showed an abbreviated version on Sunday morning. Streaming it on my computer, with the constant repetition was a bit like watching Ground Hog Day. And at times the sound would go out. But it was worth it. Both the announcing teams were excellent. Our MMR Community Communications team of Tommy Kendall and Justin Bell were brilliant and always very broadly focused. At one point in the proceedings they mentioned fishing, dating, and night vision driving in LA in a BMW all in a 90-second span. Amazing and Amusing. I love these guys.

We strongly recommend you purchase: The 12 Hours of Sebring 1965 by Harry Hurst.