The Twelve Hours of Sebring has the perfect recipe for a great time: start with some of the best racing teams in the world, add a pinch of warm Florida weather, blend in a festive crowd on annual spring break, then marinate for twelve hours and let the good times roll.
The 66th running of America’s oldest sports car race didn’t give Corvette Racing its fourth consecutive victory despite a flawless run to sixth place by the number 4 Corvette C7.R and a tenacious, never-quit effort by the whole crew of the number 3 Corvette to finish eighth.
Corvette Racing’s Twentieth Consecutive Twelve Hours of Sebring
It may be hard to believe, but Corvette Racing in 2018 is entering its twentieth year in international sports car racing competition. Corvette Racing made its debut in the American Le Mans Series in 1999 with Ron Fellows, Chris Kneifel, and John Paul Jr. piloting one C5.R, and Andy Pilgrim, Scott Sharp, and John Heinricy in the other. In more than 19 years of competition, Corvette Racing has racked up 98 victories, more than any other team in International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) history, with 11 of those wins coming at Sebring International Raceway. Winning at Sebring is no easy task according to Corvette Racing’s Program Manager Doug Fehan: “Sebring is never an easy place to find victory. It has a little bit of everything – long straights, really fast corners, a crushingly slow hairpin, hard braking zones, bumps and even potholes, sometimes.”
This year, Corvette Racing was also gunning for its fourth consecutive victory at Sebring. Jan Magnussen, Antonio Garcia, and Ryan Briscoe won in 2015; Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner, and Marcel Fassler took home the prize in 2016; and Magnussen and Garcia teamed up with Mike Rockenfeller to win last year. Corvette Racing also had a four-win streak between 2006 and 2009, in addition to a three-win streak between 2002 and 2004. In its twenty-year history at Sebring, the cars have covered more than 11,000 laps of the 3.74-mile, 17-turn circuit, which adds up to over 40,000 bumpy miles. The bumps are firmly etched in the mind of Corvette driver Oliver Gavin who said about Sebring’s turn 17, “It’s a wide ride and that really sums up the Sebring circuit. You feel like you are on a bucking bronco the whole time and are trying at times to hang on a bit.”
2018 Sebring Not Kind to Corvette Racing
After almost twenty years of experience at the highest level of racing in the world and their legendary intense preparation for each and every race, Sebring 2018 deprived Corvette Racing of their fourth consecutive win. Corvette’s guiding principles for achieving racing success, especially in endurance races, are: don’t damage the car; keep the car on the track; never give up; and stay out of trouble with other cars. It was this last principle that rose up to smite Antonio Garcia in the number 3 Corvette on the very first lap. In the usual traffic scrum in the first lap, when all 43 cars are vying to be in the same spot at the same time, contact with another car gave Antonio a punctured rear tire before he got very far past the starting line. To his credit, Garcia managed to return to the pits without allowing the tire to cause any body damage. Back in the race after losing two laps, Antonio was ready to get back into the battle for the win—or so he thought.
A short time later gremlins attacked the number 3 Corvette’s electrical system and steering mechanism forcing Antonio into the garage for the crew to diagnose and repair the issues. Unlike other sports where competitors can call a “time out” if something goes wrong, no one stops and waits if something happens in endurance racing. At Sebring, for every two minutes or so the Corvette sat in the garage, the competition was putting the Corvette another lap down. By the time the number 3 Corvette was healthy, it rejoined the fray in eighth place which, despite the intense efforts of Jan Magnussen, Antonio Garcia and Mike Rockenfeller who never gave up, is where it finished. After the race, Jan put the day in perspective: “We drove to the end to take whatever we can take. It is just about salvaging one or two more points if we can.”
Meanwhile, the drivers and crew of the number 4 Corvette had a trouble-free race moving up from their ninth-place start to lead the race at the four-hour mark. Although they remained among the leaders for the rest of the race, the pace of the competition was more than their flawless race strategy could overcome and they had to be satisfied with a sixth place finish, one lap behind the winning Porsche 911 RST of Nick Tandy and Frederic Makowiecki. For complete Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts results, please see the IMSA website.
Sebring Known for its Spectator Hospitality
Racing is not the only activity for spectators at Sebring. Traditionally, visitors to Sebring come for its party atmosphere, in addition to some of the best racing in the world. Says track president and general manager Wayne Estes, “The third week in March is just as important to people here as their favorite holiday or birthday.” In fact, back in 1974 in the midst of the gas crisis when the traditional March 12-hour race was cancelled, an estimated 2,000 to 5,000 fans showed up just to party.
Along with carnival rides on the Midway and vintage car displays, the Spring Brake Party Zone hosts a range of parties, including the annual bikini contest with a new restaurant-by-day, nightclub-by-night concept. If your favorite team is out of contention, you might run into one of the movie stars/racers here at Sebring. Among the Hollywood stars who’ve raced at Sebring are Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, Gene Hackman, and Patrick Dempsey. Even if you don’t see anyone famous, just looking at the costumes worn by fellow spectators can be a treat—it’s like Mardi Gras in March.
Our video, courtesy of the good folks at IMSA, will give you a taste of the sights and sounds of the 2015 Sebring experience. And, if you’re a Corvette Racing fan, the video will show you a time when fate was kinder to Corvettes, giving the number 3 Corvette the win when the two leading Porsches suffered mechanical issues very late in the race. Sometimes the racing gods do smile on Corvettes.
All Photos: Corvette Racing
Sebring International Raceway – https://sebringraceway.com/track-info/sebring-urban-legends