Endurance Racing Overload
Story and photos by Steve Erlichman
It’s been quite a few years since I’ve been to Sebring, Florida, the sleepy little town amongst the orange groves of central Florida. It just happens to have had a training base for B17 pilots during WWII built about 5 miles from town. Redundant at the end of the war, Hendricks Field became Sebring Airport. Later it morphed into a bumpy but fast race track with an epic 12 hour race thanks to the efforts of Alec Ulmann. Sebring is also the site of Super Sebring 2023.
The 12 Hour race has run every year since 1952 except for 1974 when the energy crisis forced cancellation. Every major brand has won at Sebring: 18 wins for Porsche, 11 for Ferrari and Audi and 3 for Nissan. Plus Ford, Maserati, Toyota and Peugeot. Sanctioning bodies SCCA, FIA, ALMS and IMSA have kept the classic road course going. The circuit has had 4 different configurations over the years. In today’s 3.74 mile form it still uses the concrete runways for the IMSA pit straight and the back straight now called the Ulmann Straight.
Super Sebring 2023 was a super deal
Three years ago the FIA decided that their annual World Endurance Championship visit to the US would open their season at Sebring with a 1000 mile race. With IMSA holding their traditional 12 hour race the following day, the weekend is now known as Super Sebring. For a $100 4-day race ticket plus a $60 infield parking pass you can see 20 hours of endurance racing plus the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge and two races for the Porsche Carrera Cup North America. From Wednesday to Saturday the track is rarely quiet.
I hadn’t been to Sebring for a race since the 2003 12 Hour, having been there previously in 1997 for the FIA GT race (read about that here). For Super Sebring 2023 I decided a visit family near Fort Lauderdale would be in order in tandem with a couple of days at the track some 150 miles. I brought my brother-in-law along since he hadn’t been to a race since we all met at the FIA GT Race at Homestead Miami Speedway in 1998 (see that article here).
What about the cars?
The Peugeot looks very cool on track and looks small compared with the other HyperCars. They are still suffering some reliability issues. The Ferrari 499P looks completely different with lots of rear wing. Of course it looks and sounds great and Ferrari earned pole position for its debut race in the WEC. Ferrari ultimately took third place behind the two Toyotas.
I really fell for the Vanwall. It’s painted a green metallic that recalls the Chiltern Green that Aston-Martin used in the 50s. The car’s bright green nose to make it really stand out. It sounded great too. One of the Vanwall drivers was Indy 500 winner and F1 World Champion Jacques Villeneuve. He was attempting to emulate the Triple Crown achievement of Graham Hill by winning the Indy 500, the F1 World Championship and the LeMans 24 Hours. The Vanwall still needs to find some speed but it ran reliably. The 963s did not have the reliability issues in either the WEC race or the 12 Hour that plagued them at Daytona. Just some awful luck.
In GTEAm, the Iron Lynx team has switched to Porsche 911 RSR-19s for their WEC effort this year ahead of Hypercar effort in 2024 with a Lamborghini LMDh Hypercar. In IMSA they run Lamborghini GTD Huracans which debuted at Daytona. The all-female Iron Dames’ pink 911 was on pole for the WEC race. The Corvette is now running as a Pro-Am car and qualified second. Quick AM driver Ben Keating is driving the entire WEC Championship for Corvette this year.
A total of 38 cars were entered for the WEC race. Only 37 started when one of the Proton Engineering Porsches had a big crash in practice.
Sebring as a Happening
The 12 Hour race is notorious for its party atmosphere as it falls during Spring Break. This year saw the usual packed infield but a somewhat more subdued atmosphere which was more family friendly. We set up at Turn 10 for the WEC race. In the past that area had been the scene of typical “party hardy” Spring Breakers. That did not seem to be the case this year. Which was nice.
A nice young family with four great kids and a very knowledgeable dad from Wisconsin sat next to us. Their company made for an enjoyable race viewing experience and ongoing chat. While the temps were in the 80s, the sun did its best to cook us anyway. Our chairs were comfy, we brought lots of provisions and we thoroughly enjoyed the race.
We couldn’t stay for the 12 Hour, which started 54 cars. I had a mid-day flight, but I did make it back home to Philly in time to see the final hour on TV. What a wild time it was as the top 3 GTP cars took each other out at Turn 2, handing the win to the Whelen AXR Cadillac.
Over 70 photos from Super Sebring 2023 can be seen below featuring Hypercar, GTP, GTLM, GTD, and LMP2 cars
IMSA vs WEC
It was interesting to see the transformation during the event as the track switched from WEC to IMSA and back. Even though they shared the track for the weekend, there was no sharing of infrastructure beyond the corner workers. Sort of. There were corner workers from LeMans for the WEC sessions only, identified by their orange coveralls. They joined the usual SCCA corner workers in their white outfits. We also saw track workers taking down the WeatherTech sign boards from track side before the WEC sessions and putting them back up for the IMSA sessions. All DHL/WEC track signage was gone before the IMSA 12 Hour started on Saturday.
The WEC did not use the IMSA AMR Safety Team with their rapid response Porsche Cayennes either. They used the Sebring Safety Team Chevy pickups instead. The IMSA Safety Car was a Cadillac CT5-V and the WEC Safety car a new Porsche 911 Turbo S.
Of course there also was a dedicated WEC paddock and a pit lane along the back straight instead of the traditional Sebring pit lane. I guess the French want to do things their way.
My last Sebring for a while?
Rumors has it that Super Sebring 2023 may be the final such combined event. The contract for the Sebring WEC round has expired with this year’s race and the FIA has moved their Prologue and season opening WEC race to a new track in Qatar for 2024. The possibility of an IMSA/WEC weekend seems slim with the WEC season kick-off in the Middle East and little time to get the cars to the USA in time for Sebring.
Chances are that the WEC will likely select another circuit in the US for next year. I’m hoping it won’t be the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with its artificial road course. IMSA will already have a race there in October.
With my annual visit to the IMSA Rolex 24 Hours a given, I might pass on the rustic Sebring circuit for a while. However, I can always change my mind……..
For more car-crazed musings, click here.
For the 2023 IMSA schedule, click here.