Monthly Archives: March 2012

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Sebring 2012 – The Old Gal Wasn’t What She Used To Be

When I was studying military history as a young college student back in the 1960’s, my professor told me that if someone asked why I was doing so, I should immediately change the subject. In retrospect, it was both sage and non sage advice.

 
History, which is truly important (“those who don’t learn the lessons from it are doomed to repeat them over and over again”), gets no respect. Indeed, for the most part it is ignored in a world preoccupied by the present in a near total self indulgent way. And, perhaps even more sadly, when those among us decide to pay attention, they tend to do with such superficiality that they might as well not have bothered in the first place.

 
All this was brought home to me at Sebring this year. Aside from the fact that its duality as both the season opener for the American Le Mans and the new World Endurance Championship caused it to be possibly the most confusing, difficult to follow long distance event of all time, it marked the 60th anniversary  of the first ever 12-Hour in 1952. And, while Sebring has Ken Breslauer as both its press officer and “historian in residence,” the folks at the top all too often pay only lip service to his knowledge and talents.

 
As an example, despite Breslauer’s efforts, Sebring has yet to put a proper museum together to celebrate its legacy, or even to explore a working relationship with the Collier Museum, one of the finest collections of significant race cars anywhere, that is located in nearby Naples, Florida.

 
A second example, was the non presence, at the luncheon celebrating the occasion, of my friend Luigi Chinetti, Jr., who lives barely 100 miles from the track, and who, with his father, a three-time Le Mans winner, played a significant role through their Ferrari North American Racing Team, in Sebring’s past.(Among other things, NART fielded the first Ferrari 250 GTO to race at the 1962 12-Hour, the car winning its class and finishing second overall behind a NART entered prototype.)

 
There are others who weren’t part of the tributes to the now more than six decade existence of Sebring’s famous affair. However, Chinetti would have brought a unique perspective to the happenings this March on the aging circuit, having grown up in and around the race and the sport. For Chinetti, like so many others, the past was a better place to be: a time when humans, rather than computers were the keys to design excellence and design individuality. Yet, just as is the case with other aspects of life, respect for and an understanding of history does not mean we should live in the past, and as I noted learn from its lessons to make the present and the future better.

 
Over time motorsport in general has made tremendous strides in safety and efficiency while not forgetting the inherent excitement any speed contest generates. Love them, or hate them today’s prototypes are the ultimate in ground bound racing technology, and as such are truly unforgettable. It is that factor, which was present in spades at the 12-hour among the prototype categories, as well as in the production GT entries, that will keep the interest of the fans.

 
What history does is to polish the tradition that this new wave of racers are carrying on, and thereby enhance their importance. I may be an old fart, but that 250 GTO which Chinetti and his dad put on the 12-hour grid 40 years ago, now is worth well over 25 million dollars: not bad for an obsolete race car that, along with its almost equally valuable contemporaries that some would so casually dismiss as part of the dustbin of racing’s past.

 

Hopefully as people decide to explore history, I will be relieved of the necessity of having to change the subject when I’m asked why I’m a historian. And, that, as far as I’m concerned can only be a good thing.

Bill Oursler March 2012

Sebring Surprises

Our Special Correspondent has been on his travels once again, this time to Florida. The big birthday celebrations brought forth all manner of automotive goodness and here a select few are given due consideration.

For the 60th Anniversary of this classic race, the organisers were able to bring together a collection of magnificent cars associated with this eminent event.

Cunningham C-4R

Cunningham C-4R

After a toe-in-the-water effort at Le Mans with Cadillacs in 1950, Briggs Cunningham was determined to try to conquer the 24-Hour race with his own all-American cars. The C-2Rs were quite promising in 1951 but were far too heavy to compete with the likes of the Jaguar C-type etc., and so he commissioned a new lighter car, the C-4R. This was designed by Briggs George Weaver, previously associated with Du Pont’s 1929 Le Mans entry and then during the 1940s with the design of the American Indian motorcycles.

Cunningham C-4R

This C-4R is famous as the winner of the 1953 Sebring 12-Hour race in the hands of John Fitch and Phil Walters. The race was the very first round of the newly conceived World Sports Car Championship and thus the car was the first all American car to win an international sports car race.

OSCA MT4 1500

OSCA MT4 1500

Officine Specializzate Costruzioni Automobili – the company set up in December 1947 by the remaining Maserati brothers. They had sold their eponymous business to the Orsi family in 1938 but stayed with the firm until 1947 when the Orsis wanted to concentrate on more profitable road cars. The brothers wanted racing and built, at Bologna, small capacity sports cars. From 1950 onwards these had twin OHC 4-cylinder engines of varying capacities, the outstanding model being the MT4.

Big international recognition came to OSCA with the car’s win in the 1954 Sebring 12-Hour race, driven by Stirling Moss and Bill Lloyd.

OSCA MT4 1500

The strong entry of four Lancia D-24s, three Aston Martin DB3S cars and various private Ferraris all suffered problems, the leading Lancia of Taruffi/Manzon failing with just 54 minutes remaining. This little OSCA was there to pick up the pieces, five laps ahead of the surviving Lancia of Rubirosa/Gino Valenzano. Other OSCAs finished 4th and 5th.

It remains one of the major upsets of international endurance racing.

Maserati 450S

Maserati 450S

The brutish Maserati 450S, with a 400 b.h.p. 4.5-litre V8, had a lengthy gestation, design work on the engine having begun in 1954. A car was first seen during practice for the 1956 Swedish Grand Prix but its race début came in the 1957 Buenos Aires 1,000 km. It was instantly superior to all the opposition and Fangio and Moss led easily until that Maserati Achilles heel, transmission failure, intervened on the 57th lap.

At the Sebring 12-Hour race in 1957 Fangio and Behra had such superiority that they cruised home to a comfortable win. Maserati scored one more win that year with the 450S, at the Swedish Grand Prix, but the car suffered such bad luck in the final championship race at Caracas, Venezuela, that Maserati was unable to clinch the Sports Car crown from Ferrari.

1959 MGA Twin Cam Coupé

MGA Twin Cam Coupé

There came a decree from Longbridge, BMC Headquarters, that, following the accidents at Le Mans and in the Tourist Trophy in 1955, there were to be no further official works race entries. The way around this for Sebring was to employ regional drivers in cars entered and prepared by dealers in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.

In 1959 a full team of Twin Cams with hardtops was prepared at Abingdon and shipped over to the States for drivers from the U.S.A. and Canada, using mechanics drawn from the workshops of BMC Hambro Auto Corp. in New York and BMC Canada.Gus Ehrman and Ray Saidel came 2nd in class behind a works Porsche with this car.

1962 MGA works car

MGA

This is one of the three lightweight coupés built by the MG factory for the 1962 Sebring 12-hour race. Powered by the 1.6-litre engine in a Twin Cam chassis, the car had 4-wheel disc brakes, Plexiglass rear and side-windows and fibreglass bumpers.

The three car team finished the race and this one came 20th driven by John Whitmore, Bob Olthoff and F.Morrell.

1999 BMW LMR V12

BMW LMR V12

This car was built by BMW Motorsport Ltd in co-operation with Williams Grand Prix Engineering at Grove in England. It was powered by a 48-valve 4 cam V12 of 5,990 c.c., a development of the engine that won Le Mans in the McLaren in 1995.

It not only won the Sebring 12-Hour race in 1999 but also that year’s Le Mans 24 Hours.

David Blumlein March 2012

Over The Horizon

In the run up to the 60th Anniversary 12 Hours of Sebring I amassed a few recollections from those who had been at previous events………..Ken Breslauer has graciously allowed me to publish these accounts here on DDC……………enjoy.

Oh and

You can still order a souvenir program from this year’s 12 hour classic. Fans have told us its the best Sebring program ever- 200 pages filled with historical photos and features. $20 + $6 shipping. You can order by calling Toni at 800-626-7223.

Andy Pilgrim


In November 2000, we were testing the Corvette GT1 cars on the full Sebring track and it was the first time Dale Earnhardt and Dale Jr. had been in the cars. This was prior to them doing the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona in February 2001. The Earnhardts had never driven in the Vettes before nor had they seen the track. I had already met Dale (Big E) and Dale Jr. the month before when the whole deal was announced. When Dale arrived at the track he grabbed me and asked me to take him around the track in my C5 street car, while Jr. went off with someone else. The street car Vette was the car that GM had given me to use during my time with the Corvette factory team. I had driven up in it from Boca Raton, about 125 miles south of Sebring.

I did a couple of slow 70 mph laps of Sebring with Dale in the passenger’s seat. I pointed out the apex of each of the corners and how the weird Sebring pavement changes. Meanwhile Dale was filling me in on how his new boat was coming along. I wasn’t totally sure he’d heard one word I’d said, to be honest, but I kept babbling on as best I could giving my top Sebring tips in a two or three slow laps.

As we came down the Ulmann Straight towards Sunset a third time, Dale piped up “My turn”. So I said “Alrighty, no problem,” and pulled in the pit lane and we changed seats.
Dale asked if I was ready, suddenly I saw this little twinkle in his eye. I just knew this was not going to be good. Within a microsecond of the words “I’m ready”, coming out of my mouth Dale launched the car and we must have been doing 100 mph before exiting the pit lane. I closed my eyes, braced for the inevitable impact and started saying sorry for all the things I thought might affect my status in the hereafter.

After a few seconds I realised we were not impacting anything and that Dale had masterfully negotiated Turn 1 and that we were already braking for Turn 3. Dale had not only been listening but had put down every apex and was gaining confidence with every corner and gear shift.

As we were flying down the Sebring’s long back straight I was starting to relax, I could even think about getting out of the car and walking away, we were almost home, one more corner.

But wouldn’t you know it,  there was more. Dale flew into the braking zone at Turn 17, a monster of a brake zone in any car, never mind a production car with zero downforce. As Dale went for third gear from flat out in fourth the car felt like it got hit by a truck and ripped sideways into a massive spin at over 130mph. Round and round we went until finally coming to rest about 8 feet from the bridge at the apex of turn 17.
I just sat in silence for a second and then looked at Dale. He had the biggest grin on his face. He looked at me and asked “You a nervous Nellie yet?” “Nope” I lied. He looked down at my feet and said. “Well that’s not what your feet are telling me” and he laughed. I laughed too, admittedly a more nervous laugh. He was right of course, my feet had almost pushed right through the fire wall as I braced myself. We calmly drove into the pits and parked. No one had really seen anything and nobody asked any questions, it was amazing.
Of course the question on my mind was why had we spun out? I’m sure some of you car fans can hazard a guess. My own little thought on it would be a grab for 3rd gear ended in a grab for 1st. That would have certainly caused the immediate spin.

Did we ever talk about it specifically, no? Am I sure Big E found 1st gear, pretty sure? Do I think he might have done it on purpose to bust my chops? From the mischievous look in his eyes after the spin, a distinct possibility ladies and gentlemen, a distinct possibility.

That is my most cool Sebring moment for sure. It is a different story and feeling than winning the 12 Hours but I thought you might like a story a little off the racing line.

 

Serge Vanbockryck

When friends in Europe ask me about Sebring, I refer to it as being a bit like Woodstock, but for sportscars. Coming from the sanitized world of European race tracks it is always a great joy to each year start the season in the relaxed and down-to-earth Floridian atmosphere. The guys running the Sebring event are just as professional as their counterparts across the pond, but that week in March they sure try to make everybody’s life as easy and enjoyable as possible, as do the fans.
One afternoon after testing, early in the “Sebring week” in 2001, while standing on the pit lane terrace, our Corvette team photographer and I noticed a scantily clad lady tanning on the roof of one of the RVs, right in front of the Corvette pit. She was wearing little more than a postage stamp-size bikini and, obviously, drew some healthy attention from the Corvette crew (and indeed most other crews who had a view).
As the week progressed, the girl got more daring, the bikinis got smaller and our crew got more and more enthused by the unexpected moral support from across the road. On Thursday morning before practice, a senior Corvette Racing team member donned his shades, hopped on a golf cart and made his way to the other side, armed with his usual convincing charm and a “Corvette Racing – Welcome Race Fans” banner which was neatly tied to the fence in front of the lady’s RV. When later the crew arrived to set up the pit for the practice session, they immediately noticed their new #1 fan and certain requests were hollered across the track. Soon enough, the lady fulfilled their wishes and off came the mini-skirt to give the boys a 360-degree view of a tiny professional g-string contraption which briefly silenced her fans all along pit road. The banner unfortunately disappeared the next day, and apparently the lady was arrested on Friday while strolling through the paddock in a short, fishnet dress and little else.
Oh, and Sebring also has the best coffee trailer in the business, conveniently parked right outside the media centre. Helps cure the jetlag.

Dindo Capello

I have many good memories about Sebring , I have four victories to my name, for sure a very good score :-). (Now Five)
But what will be forever my best memory about Sebring, is the the podium of the 2001 race.
The smile of Michele Alboreto, my co-driver, next to me.
It was his last race and last victory before the terrible crash at Lausitzring.

 

Graham Goodwin.

I was co-commentating with John Hindhaugh at Sebring in 2007 in the final stages of the race – John’s attention, correctly, was on the overall winner but I’d been watching the developing GT2 battle between Jaime Melo and Jorg Bergmeister – I got Hindy’s attention to what was going to be a grandstand finish just as the TV turned their attention to the Ferrari vs Porsche shenanigans.

 

From that point on there was no point in saying a thing as Hindhaugh went into overdrive, gripping both sides of the sound desk and nailing it with an emotionally charged but perfect commentary on one of the epic finishes to a classic endurance race – I swear he didn’t take a breath – or pause – for a full two minutes.

 

The film of that last lap became an internet classic of course and laid the foundations for one of the great needle matches in the ALMS – Risi vs Lizards, Ferrari vs Porsche, Melo vs Bergmeister.


Mike Garton was a factory driver for British Motor Corporation (BMC) during the 60’s. He recalls the 1968 Sebring 12 Hours.
It was March 1968 and I was with the BMC mob on our way to Florida. We tried to leave London Heathrow in a VC10 bound for New York but had to taxi back for few hours’ delay. We found out that a fuel pump actuator was changed – not a good omen !

The flight was then diverted to Canada as we ran short on fuel.  So we had to spend the night in New York as we missed the connection, eventually arriving West Palm Beach the next day.

We found Geoff Healey was not best pleased as the dockers had left the imprint of their size 12 boots all over the alloy bodywork of our Sprite Coupe.  Before the cars could be released from US Customs they all had to be steam cleaned.  Warwick, where our factory was based was subject to quarantine as that winter there was a major outbreak of Foot & Mouth disease that devastated the farming community. At Tech, the officials objected to my race gloves, they felt that the soft leather gloves with pin holes were unsafe. I was told that I must buy the official gloves, but on seeing them I pointed out they had larger holes than mine and said no thanks. Eventually they agreed with me and I kept my gloves.

Then we finally got out on track, I was totally awed by the size of it all.  However the pits were from the Dark Ages with fuel drums on scaffolding. I remember the Howmet TX Turbo especially, it caused much excitement. BMC had entered our Sprite prototype, a Group 4 Midget,  Group 3 MGB and the MGC prototype. During practice I tried different cars while learning the circuit and trying not to get lost.

We had a good start by Clive Baker, my co-driver, who reappeared early in the race with overheating, we sent him back out again and  promptly disappeared. He returned on foot reporting that the fuel is contaminated with water.  Actually that’s not what he said, but I cannot repeat the exact expressions here! Clive was sent back to car with some tools accompanied by Geoff Johnson, the Lucas Fuel Injection boffin, to advise over the fence. After a while Clive got the car back to the pits and the boys cleaned out the system. We found that the fuel drum had over a gallon of water in it. Once that issue was fixed we found that our pace was good. But our fuel stops were interspersed by stops to top up the coolant as car was continually overheating. These extra calls into the pits were really annoying, considering  how well the little 1.3 litre ‘A’ series ran. We managed around 120bhp with the experimental Lucas fuel injection, hitting 7400rpm continually on the straights. The car also had experimental four wheel brake discs which were fantastic. The only problem was the pedal disappearing on the straights due to the pads being knocked back, you learned to tap the pedal with your left foot so there was a hard pedal for the hairpin. On the last session of the race a Javelin tried to side swipe the Sprite and to miss him I had to leave the track at the hairpin, I hit the sand but kept foot down and just managed to get out and back on track.

At the finish we were classified and we won the class!

Funniest memory – Paul Hawkins, coming into pits with a badly damaged car, as a result of contact from a car that pulled across him, driven by a well known lady driver who favoured pink. As he got out of car a media guy shoved a microphone in his face and asked for a comment. As this was then broadcast over the track live he probably wished he hadn’t asked, as Paul replied in typical Aussie fashion.
“There’s only one f——— place for f——— women and that’s the f——– kitchen or bed !!”
Oh dear. After the race was run I flew back to New York for the Motor Show and worked on the BMC stand where that wonderful ‘car’ the Austin America’ was introduced.
Great Times.

Nic Minassian

I have now raced at Sebring three times, always with Peugeot. Although I finished on the podium in 2010, I think my favourite memory of the race comes from 2008.

It was Peugeot’s first trip outside of Europe with the 908. We knew that Sebring has a reputation for testing the limits of the car and also the drivers. We needed to finish to learn about the car and gather information for the future.

We were on the front row, with the #1 Audi on pole position but we felt that we had the faster car and were determined to prove it. I was nominated to start, so my team mates, Stéphane Sarrazin and Pedro Lamy discussed strategy with me. This happened while on the grid and I think they may have been joking, telling me to go round the Audi on outside on the first corner, a completely crazy risk with 12 hours of racing to go.
Then I was in the car on the warm up lap and it was one of those days where you feel invincible, that you can do anything you want with the car, so I decided to follow their advice. I went for it, absolutely flat around the outside of Dindo’s Audi into Turn One and it stuck and I was into the lead and pulling away, fantastic,

It felt really great, I really loved it, why I went racing in the first place. We had a few problems in the race and did not keep the lead but we did finish. That move will stay with me forever, when someone says Sebring it is what I remember the most.

Marty Kaufman

John….I have so many fond memories of the Sebring 12 Hour events from the 20+ years that I was there as IMSA’s Race Director, and the history that it brings, it is really impossible to single out one….but there was one event that truly stands out in my mind and, I am sure, in the minds of a few other folks who worked in Race Control.


The Race Control office was remodeled in the late 80’s or very early 90’s and was nicely done in that there was more room, better lighting, and an outside stairway that provided access.  During the 12 Hour race, a power transformer that was located on a new power pole very close to the new outside stairway began releasing a significant amount hot, poisonous liquid of some sort.  The order came from the Fire Department to immediately evacuate the Tower as this substance was really bad news (contained PCP’s or some other really ugly agent) and would eventually cause the transformer to blow up and cause significant damage to anything around it.  Only problem with this order from the Fire Department was that this stuff was showering down on the only stairway to exit the facility.  We all decided, the Race Control staff, we would stay the course and wait it out and continue running the race.  About a half an hour later, that shower of liquid stopped and the Fire Department folks cleaned up the mess and all was well.

Just kind of one of those things that sticks in your mind…..for a long time.


Allan McNish

I have many memories of Sebring, good and bad, but that is only in terms of the racing. That usually tends to go by race results. From my point of view Sebring 2009 is probably one of my best races in my career, it was fighting all the way to the end against Peugeot. The last two hours I had to pull everything out of the bag to make sure that the R15 won its first ever race. I could also look back to 2006 and the pole position with the first diesel, the R10, and to give the car its first victory, with Tom, Dindo and I, it was really incredible.
But the biggest impression Sebring has made on me is the crowd, the 180,000 or so fans that turn up. The way they create such a carnival, they make this an annual event. The way they get into the spirit of this unique race is just………..fantastic. there is no other way to put it.

I do love that at the autograph session you see the weird and the wonderful; someone dressed as The Stig’s very fat brother, then there are the lawyers dressed up as cows, everyone coming along with their families and friends, all being part of this great event.

As a single story, probably the biggest thing that has brought me into this scene was going to Turn Ten, for a photo shoot with Mr. Brooks, one year (2004). To see that there is a club at Turn Ten, where they have made their own grandstands, they have made their own bar, their own restaurant, in effect they have cornered a section of the track as their own territory. They return there every year, like a pilgrimage. They have their own entrance ticket effectively, which is a key ring and I am pleased to say I have been able to build up a collection of Turn Ten key rings over the years. To see the commitment that these guys have put into enjoying the 12 Hours of Sebring certainly matches the commitment that AudiSport and every other team makes to win the race, that makes Sebring special.

Andy Wallace

I had been testing the Toyota TS010 in Eastern Creek, Australia a few weeks before (Sebring ’92). We had been doing a marathon test, which lasted for nine days straight! Eastern Creek is a great racetrack, but there is a monster bump in the middle of turn one, which is taken flat-out in sixth gear at about 190 mph. Fantastic corner, but each time you go over the bump you get bashed about quite badly in the cockpit. Well after nine days of endurance testing I went over the bump one more time and, CRACK, two ribs decided they’d had enough of that! Within an hour Hitoshi Ogawa had also broken his ribs for the same reason. As you can imagine, the flight back from Sydney to London was interesting… If I got up for a walk around the plane, I remember having to tell anyone who was thinking of passing me going the other way in the aisle, DON’T TOUCH ME, as you pass me. Sneezing was another very painful experience.

Anyway, back to the point of the story; my ribs broke on February 29, 1992, and the race day at Sebring was on March 21, 1992. I didn’t dare tell Dan Gurney what had happened, as I knew he would find another driver. I remember the worst part for me was the driver changes and also, strangely enough, under yellow. Behind the pace car the stiffly sprung Toyota was running too slow to compress the springs and the car bounced all over the place – not pleasant. Anyway, we won!

 

Timo Bernhard
The 12 Hours of Sebring is one of the hardest races in my point of view, all over the world, for a driver and the team. I have competed in the race nine times between 2001 and 2011.

2001 Sebring was the first race for me in the US, that’s why Sebring has a special place already for me. With the Alex Job Racing Porsche we finished 2nd in GT, a great result. The heat, the roughness of the track, the humidity, the corner speed, the bumps, the track layout and all the traffic makes this race absolutely tough but also challenging. You want to beat it, to win it.

My best Sebring memory was the overall victory with the “small” LM P2 Porsche RS Spyder from Team Penske! It was a dream come true! We had a perfect race. The years before, Romain and I always had a difficult Sebring as not only a single race but also as a start to the American Le Mans Series. So it was vital to finish this race and to score the points. But also there was the glory to try to win it overall and be part of the “Heroes’ Wall” at the entrance of the paddock. In 08 everything came together!

And also we made Roger Penske very proud, it was his first overall Sebring win as a team owner. For Porsche it was the first overall Sebring victory since 1988.

 

Michael Keyser

Between 1970 and 1980 I raced eight times on the old 5.2 mile Sebring circuit and there are two words that come to mind: hot and rough. In 1971 and 1972 when the race was still a part of the Manufacturer’s Championship Series the cars I drove, 2 liter and 2.5 liter Porsche 911s, were some of the slowest in the field, mixed in with Porsche 917s and Ferrari 512s. This meant I spent almost as much time looking in my rear view mirror as I did out the windshield. In 1973 when the race came under the auspices of IMSA and was limited to the GT and Touring classes I was one of the fastest and cared little about what was happening behind me.
As is the case today the old circuit was a combination of concrete and asphalt. Although the concrete portions were referred to as “runways,” in fact they hadn’t been used for that purpose for many years. The actual runway planes used was adjacent to the section of track known as the North-South Runway, and you’d often look off to your left and see planes taking off and landing.
When the airport was first built, the concrete had been laid in slabs, which required seams between each one. As a result you felt as if you were driving on a washboard. With wear and tear over the years and the effects of weather and general deterioration, the concrete had inevitably shifted; fallen, risen and broken up. Although track maintenance was carried out each year prior to the race, weeds scraped away and concrete chunks removed, parts were bound to degrade and break up during 12 hours, so unexpected surprises were to be expected.
We’ll begin our lap of the old circuit at the start finish line, midway down pit straight where we’d probably shift into 4th gear. I may have hit 5th just before entering the very fast left-hand sweeping turn #1, bearing in mind this is some 40 years ago and my memory is not crystal clear. Depending on traffic, which is something I’ll repeat, you’d swing to the right just after pit out in order to make the widest arched turn possible, clipping the apex on the left and drifting out to the far right, close to the edge of the concrete surface. This was one of the fastest turns on the circuit and could be taken flat out…or not, depending on who you talked to.
If you were unfortunate enough to run out of room and slide off the concrete, a weed-covered expanse awaited you. The ground was not somewhat sandy here, which insured an explosion of dirt resulted. If you were lucky, it was nothing but a spin. If you were unlucky you might collect an errant chunk of concrete, a rusted piece of rebar or some other nasty bit of busness.
Between turn 1 and the fast left-hand turn 2 was a short straight. Still in top gear you’d fly through turn 2, then almost immediately brake and downshift for the ninety-degree left-hand turn 3. Immediately after the apex the road surface changed from concrete to asphalt. I believe that originally this was one of many service roads that crisscrossed this part of the airport. You immediately felt the smooth surface under your tires which was welcome each lap.
From 3rd gear you’d shift up to 4th for the short run up to the Esses, then back to 3rd for the quick left, right, left flick under the MG Bridge. I seem to remember the track sort of undulating a bit through here. When taken properly it was a nice little section. Unfortunately, it was where my race ended in 1975. I believe I was running 2nd in a Porsche RSR in the latter stages when another RSR spun ahead of me, flew back across the track and I promptly T-boned it. I made it back to the pits on the front rims in a shower of sparks, but the front left wheel nut had been smashed onto the hub and the chassis was badly twisted, not the mention extensive body damage.
After the Esses, it was up to 4th gear and into the long sweeping right-hand Big Bend and under the vehicle bridge. Depending on traffic, you either drifted out to the left or hugged the right side. In 1973, driving a Porsche RS with Milt Minter, I was on my first lap after taking over early in the race when, in the middle of this curve, the car suddenly burst into flames with a loud WOOOMPF. I later learned fuel had surged up the vent tube onto the left-front disc and ignited. I pulled to the side of the road, where thankfully emergency crews arrived quickly and extinguished the fire. I drove back to the pits where the crew cleaned up the car and we went on to finish 2nd. Who’d a thunk.
I may have shifted to 5th on the exit to Big Bend, but the Hairpin was fast approaching. If you were on your own, it was a mechanical exercise of braking and downshifting, at least to 2nd gear and in some cases 1st, clipping the apex of the turn and accelerating away. All neat and easy. If you were in traffic, there was always the potential for disaster with faster and slower cars jockeying for position. If there was one place where body to body contact was insured numerous times during the race, it was the Hairpin.
In the 1971, Gregg Young was driving a Ferrari 512M and overcooked it in the hairpin. There was an exit road to the left of the turn, but if you slid across it, as Gregg did, there was a large sand bank waiting. His car climbed the bank and flipped onto its roof, and since the doors on the Ferrari opened up, not out, he was trapped inside. Luckily the corner workers were on the scene quickly and a group of them lifted the car up just high enough for Gregg to crawl through the door. The second he was out, the car burst into flames. I recall a two-page spread in Sports Illustrated showing the corner workers dropping the car, Gregg scrambling away and the Ferrari, “fully involved,” as firemen say, behind them.
The Hairpin was a place where many photographers congregated as they could get quite close to the track. Of course a bonus was that there was always the possibility of drama, as evidenced by Mr. Young’s conflagration. It was the one place on the circuit where I remember seeing familiar faces of photographers I knew. Sometimes I’d give a little wave if it was a close friend.
Accelerating out of the Hairpin, it was a drag race up the short straight to the Green Park Chicane, then stand on the brakes and downshift, followed by a quick right and left turn of the wheel. Taken alone it was an enjoyable section. Traffic could make it “interesting.”
In 1971, during night practice in my 911S I recall being followed closely by a set of lights through Green Park. On the exit I clung to the right as a car pulled alongside. Looking over I saw it was Jacky Ickx in the Ferrari 312P. He hesitated a moment, shook his fist and then blasted off into the distance. It was only my second FIA race, so I was somewhat mortified. The following year when I was making the documentary film, The Speed Merchants, I got to know Jacky quite well. At dinner one night I related the story of his fist shaking at Sebring the previous year. “I would never have done that,” he said, with a guilty grin on his face.
After  Green Park there was a long section that may have been called the Warehouse Straight where you got up to 5th gear and the asphalt changed back to concrete. Fast approaching was a very quick right hand sweeper, taken flat, or close to it, after which you were all over your brakes and down shifting for the 3rd gear right hander that led onto the 4,700 ft. North-South Runway.
This long section of the track was sort of like the Wild West, ie: anything goes. It was so wide that cars would often run three and four abreast. There was always the chance a car ahead of you running the same speed would throw up a piece of concrete, so you’d pick another lane. In the meantime you might be passing slower cars on one side and being passed by faster ones on the other. Some sections of the track were smoother than others, and you quickly learned where those were, sometimes drifting back and forth to weave around the rough bits. Maybe you’d look over and wave to a fellow driver you knew.
At the end of the North-South Runway was a 90 degree turn that led onto the Backstretch, but because there was a wide expanse of concrete on both the entrance and exit you were able to take the turn at a very high speed, 4th gear or even 5th. To turn a fast qualifying time, swinging out wide to the left before turning into the apex and drifting out obscenely wide to the left on exit was a prerequisite. If you were going to perform this maneuver you were forewarned to keep an eye out for another car diving on your inside otherwise there could be a nasty incident.
The Backstretch was smoother than the North-South Runway and not quite as long or wide. At the end was the double-apex left hander that has changed little from its present configuration. If you were going into the pits, you clung to the inside right, and if you were continuing for another lap you’d swing out to the left and climb through the gears back to the start/finish line.
Since its inception in 1952, Sebring has always been a unique venue in which to hold a race. The lack of decent accommodations near the track in the 1970s was always a challenge and I did my time at The Kennelworth and Harder Hall, the pink stucco whales from the 1920s near the town. There were fairly massive crowds during this time, with spring break providing its fair share of college fans. Much like today, they were probably there more for the party than the racing, but in the 70s things were considerably wilder than today, if that’s possible.
At one race I remember driving through the infield with some friends between stints to check out the “zoo” as we called it. It was a radical juxtaposition. To be sweltering in the hot noisy car, racing around the circuit one minute, and idling through the infield the next with the air conditioner blasting, the smell of pot wafting through the air and young ladies flashing their wares.

Oh, to be young again.

Orange Blossom Special

Cover Shot

For sure we live in strange times, perhaps it is the change of the seasons, perhaps some other wild cosmic shift in the Solar System. Whatever, the Mojo wire has a steady stream of bizarre stuff tumbling out, as might be expected when the first Grand Prix of the year is on, the hype dials are set to eleven. But there is more……

Bruton Smith, is normally a very sharp businessman and CEO/Owner of Speedway Motorsports, Inc. (SMI), an organisation that has a portfolio of Speedways at Charlotte, Atlanta, Bristol, Kentucky, Las Vegas, New Hampshire and Texas, plus Sears Point. So reports that he is going to recreate the Nordschleife in Nevada are to be treated with some respect, though the question is why? Where will he put the Pistenklause and will the beer be cold enough? What about sand in the Schwalbenschwanz?

Even more weird are tales that Pamela Anderson is heading towards sportscar racing.

Pamela Anderson, a renowned petrolhead, has launched her own motor racing team, Downforce1 by Pamela Anderson, with plans to enter this years’ European Le Mans Series (ELMS) with an Aston Martin Vantage GT2, the International GT Open Series and NASCAR for 2013. Austrian Markus Fux is the first driver to be named.

I suppose she will be a visual improvement on some of the Team Principals I have known but………………..according to one social media group that I am linked to she is something of an veteran when it comes to handling drivers…..Paul Gentilozzi • Her interest comes from her dating Eddie Irvine a few years ago. She was our guest at the Long Beach Grand Prix and was immediately drawn to the sport.

Strange Days Indeed, Mama.

Buy This Book

How appropriate then that I have spent the best part of a week in motorsport’s version of Saturnalia, the 12 Hours of Sebring. For those who did not attend or those who did not pick up a copy of the excellent Official Programme, I am allowed to publish some of the pieces that I collected for the publication. Ken Breslauer, PR Director for the place and Track Historian had kindly given me permission and in return I am giving a plug to his latest book the “Sebring 12 Hours Record Book” a comprehensive guide to the results from all the endurance classic held at Hendricks Field.

So starting with my own experiences here are some of the memories that Sebring provokes amongst those who have visited it in the past………….more tomorrow.

Blondes Have More Fun

The Grand Old Dame of American Sportscar races has reached Senior Citizen status. My own involvement with the annual trip round the clock-face is relatively recent, 1999 to be exact. In truth I had visited the Central Highlands a few years earlier, as part of the travelling circus that was the 1997 FIA GT Championship. I was distinctly underwhelmed by the place, remote and scruffy, yet strangely familiar, a race track based on a World War Two bomber base, hello Silverstone, hello Thruxton, hello Snetterton.

Fast forward to March 1999, like many before me, I used the opportunity of a race in Florida in March to have a holiday to try and shake off the European Winter Blues. So as I dropped my wife at Miami International I wondered what I would encounter up Highway 27, everyone had told me what a great event the 12 Hours was, but my own experience of the place had not been positive,

On The Mean Streets Of Sebring

Most Europeans find on their first visit to the United States of America that the most distinctive feature is the scale and sheer size of the place. So, not for the last time in my travels, what looked on the map like a short hop from Miami turned into a long, and frankly, boring drive. Through the Everglades, past sugar-cane plantations, into and out of  Clewiston and Moore Haven, across the Caloosahatchee and alongside Lake Okeechobee. These were places that would become familiar in the following decade but the first encounter increased my sense of apprehension, what was I going to find even further away from the bright lights of Miami? Eventually the cattle fields gave way to citrus groves and then the gates of Sebring International Raceway were in front of me.

Excitable Boys

The place was transformed from the one I had seen in earlier times, it was bursting at the seams and everywhere there were folks having a good time with motor racing as a background. This was now familiar territory, it had the feeling of La Sarthe in June, now I understood what others had tried to tell me about the 12 Hours of Sebring, it really was a special time and place.

Spirit Of Sebring

Over the years it has become clear to me that the track action is just a small part of the attraction that drags some 100,000 plus souls back to the Central Highlands around Saint Patrick’s Day. Where else do folks queue outside for weeks prior to a motor race? Shared experiences forge friendships that survive the passage of a whole year or years, there is a generosity of spirit amongst the Sebring fans that is rarely, if ever, encountered elsewhere in the motorsport world. As I look back over the decade or so since my first 12 Hours a few memories come to mind.

Dining Al Fresco?

For those competing in the Big Race, the Sebring 12 Hours is a largely frenetic affair, pre-race testing in the run up to the gates being opened to the public, then all day track action on Thursday, followed by Friday Qualifying, prior to the race day itself. Friday afternoon is however a time of rest for the drivers, if not the mechanics, so most disappear to their accommodation but one or two of the more adventurous go out to see close up what they have passed at racing speeds. This was how I came to pick up a couple of blondes on the Friday afternoon in 1999.

No my luck had not changed, the blondes in question were JJ Lehto and Tom Kristensen, team mates at BMW.  I caught them hanging around outside team hospitality, I knew JJ pretty well from our GT  seasons together but Tom less so. We were all a bit bored and bit curious to see more of the madness that was happening just over the bridge. So off we went for a few hours that could only be described as “different”.

Reading The Motoring Column

Cutting a long story short, I signed the drivers for the 2000 season with La Bomba Racing, helped them read Playboy and Penthouse (only the motoring sections of course) in the Stumble Inn and watched some goldfish in, rather than on, the television. Finally we ended up at that Floridian motor racing Mecca, Turn Ten. This was my first encounter with the citizens of that particular town and thankfully not the last. As you would expect the Blondes were treated as if they were royalty, everyone was pleased to have the Pole Position winner (JJ) drop in for a beer and a snack. To round off a perfect introduction to the Sebring 12 Hours the Blondes won the race the next day, my weekend was just about complete.

Sign Of The Times

Two years later I was at the track on race morning before the sun rose, there is always a photo briefing to look forward to, a great assembly of grumbling, groaning snappers. I understand that the collective noun for motorsport photographers is a Moan. 2001’s raceday photo meeting  was an unexpectedly solemn occasion though.  First to arrive, and in those pre-digital days, first to leave, the vast majority of us snappers had not heard the news, Bob Wollek was dead. It was unbelievable, Wollek had survived during a truly dangerous period in motorsport and now, as he contemplated retirement, he was killed in a pointless traffic incident.

Memoriam

Just how pointless was soon evident when the circumstances emerged. Bob was a keen cyclist and would use that method of transport to get to and from the circuit. In fact he would ride to Le Mans every year from Strasbourg, and then back after the race, over 400 miles each way. So on Friday afternoon he left the Sebring paddock en route to his lodgings, west along Highway 98 towards the small town of Lorida. An 82 year old local resident driving a pickup truck collided with the Frenchman, killing him instantly.

The Florida Highway Patrol reported “Wollek had been riding close to the edge of the pavement marking and the van, travelling in the same direction behind other traffic, hit the back of the bicycle. Wollek was taken to Highlands Regional Medical Center with fatal injuries.”

Ciao, Michele…….

The whole paddock was in a state of shock, things like this no longer happened to drivers. A minute’s silence was observed before the race as a token of respect and there were not many dry eyes amongst those who had known him. Tributes from the fans appeared on the walls, it was the other side of the soul of motor racing. The race went on and was won by an Audi as expected, it was the R8 driven by Dindo Capello, Laurent Aiello and Michele Alboreto.  As if we needed any further evidence of how brief our time here on earth is, former Grand Prix star Michele was killed in a testing accident a few weeks after his victory at Sebring.

B-17

2002 marked the 50th Anniversary of the 12 Hours of Sebring. As might be imagined the boat was pushed out all round with celebrations and commemorations everywhere. For my part top of the list was a ride in Nine-O-Nine, a B-17. During World War Two, the current track location was known as Hendricks Field, a  B-17 Flying Fortress crew training base of the United States Army Air Force. So what more appropriate way of marking 50 years of the Floridian classic than the appearance of this fabulous aeroplane, paying tribute not only to the race itself but also to the men and women who served their country and who passed through the base during its years as a military establishment.

On Parade

The Flying Fortress idea was facilitated by Vintage Porsche Guru, Kevin Jeannette, who persuaded The Collings Foundation to bring their extremely rare war bird along to raise money for various deserving charities. The B-17 arrived to much fanfare on Friday with Kevin’s son, Gunnar, hitching a ride with the crew on their journey South. To support this worthy effort the team painted up their Panoz LMP01 in a USAAF camouflage dull green and raised more funds for Services’ charities.

High Flying Bird

Saturday morning and the call came from Kevin, a real dream come true.

Get over to the airport and you can have a ride in the B-17, if you want.”

“Try and stop me.”

So an hour or so into the race I, and a few other lucky dogs, took to the skies over the temporary city of Sebring International Raceway. The abiding memory of the short flight was of how small the plane was inside and how vulnerable the crew would have been, flying for hour upon hour over enemy territory. As the plane droned along, tracing the outline of Lake Jackson and the shopping malls on Highway 27, a silence descended over the passengers. Each of each us started to gain a small appreciation of the courage of the very young crews who had endured such terrible casualties in the skies during the War. It was a sobering thought and there are not many of those to be found in Highlands County during race week. It was a rare privilege to be a passenger in such an aircraft and a memory that I shall always treasure.

One For The Frog & Toad?

I have seen many strange things during my time at the tracks but a wedding is definitely in my top ten list of oddities. But perhaps I should not be surprised at any of the antics that the real Sebring fans get up to. So in 2005 I gathered with all the other guests in the Florida sunshine to celebrate the institution of marriage. Of course this being organised by the gang at Turn Ten, this was no conventional ceremony. Unusually for weddings in Florida’s Central Highlands it was reported in the London Daily Telegraph, not I grant you in the Court and Social pages, but in the Motoring Section.

Derek Pye

“It was a moving ceremony. The bride wore vaguely white and carried a bouquet in one hand and a large Budweiser in the other. The bridegroom wore an Hawaiian shirt, shorts and sandals. He had one arm in a sling and a 10-pin bowling ball chained to his ankle, convict style. But he looked very relaxed.

Bride or Groom?

The flower-girls looked particularly fetching – male, admittedly, and more heavily stubbled than is usual, but nicely turned out, especially the taller one in the American football shirt, faded jeans, unlaced Caterpillar boots, flowery headband and lime-green tutu. The maid of honour was colourful, too, in a floaty off-white dress with fluorescent green feather boa and shocking-pink wig – like a psychedelic and visibly better- developed Shirley Temple.

Honey Do?

The bride arrived a little late and walked the length of stair-carpeted aisle to warm applause from the large congregation, accompanied by the best man, looking frighteningly like the Elwood half of the Blues Brothers. And in a touching if oddly ethereal moment, the strains of Here Comes the Bride crackled out on loud hailers, led by a choir of Friesian cows with prominent udders, truck-drivers’ caps and very large cocktails.

Emergency Supplies

The candles, in Jack Daniel’s bottles on a flag-draped altar that doubled as a substantial coolbox for emergency beers, were ceremonially lit, as the preacher, in full gorilla suit, pronounced the blessing through another megaphone. The gorilla invited the groom to kiss the bride (which he managed with some enthusiasm) and the Friesians proposed another toast, warmly taken up. Twenty feet away on the other side of the barriers, the racing cars thundered past, apparently oblivious to the solemnity of the moment.”

What more can I add to Brian Laban’s purple prose?

Norm meets the Fourth Estate

I witnessed the other side of the human experience on my last visit to the 12 Hours, back in 2010. The news had come at the end of February that one of great characters of Sebring’s annual race was not at all well. A few days later there was an announcement that Norm “It’s a dry rain” Koury had passed away. He was a true eccentric, even by Sebring Fan standards, but much loved by the nomadic community. So to celebrate his life and to assuage some of the grief and sorrow of those left behind, it was decided that there would a Wake For Norm on the Thursday evening. As a guest but not a member of the Turn Ten clan, I felt that I would show up, pay my respects and proudly display my “2002 Year of the Norm” beer cover. So I did, as did many, many others. The ceremony was given a dignified start by Richard Anderson, from Motorsport Ministries, who said a few words and prayers for Norm. It seemed a very appropriate way to mark the passing of such a Sebring Citizen.

Hen’s Teeth

When someone mentions Sebring to me these days I think not of the cars and track action but of the fans who make the atmosphere of March in the Central Highlands of Florida unique.

Message In A Bottle

Remember Steve McQueen may have acted at Le Mans but he raced at Sebring, that tells you all you need to know.

John Brooks, March 2012

 

Honour Guard

Guard Duty

Ten years back, Gunnar Racing saluted the 100,000 or so enlisted men who passed through the Hendricks Field Training Base on their way to fight for their country during World War ll.

It was a fitting tribute to the brave men and women of that time, and deserves to be remembered. In a few hours I will be back in the Central Highlands…………and in 90 minutes the gates open, time for the Sebring Nation to rise again. This might not have been possible but for the sacrifices of those who went before us. Let’s take time to reflect on this in the midst of our celebrations this next few days.

John Brooks, March 2012

Landing Lights

The last of the treasure from the Michael Keyser archive, this time back some 40 years to 1972………..a time of Ferrari, Jacky Ickx and Mario Andretti………………

The Passage Of Time

More goodness from Michael Keyser’s archive. The final roar of the Porsche 917, killed by the CSI and others, to what purpose? Don’t ask, you will be looking at grassy knolls next, just enjoy a real flavour of Sebring circa 1971.

Through The Looking Glass

It is March, the days grow longer and the spirits lift. It is also the month for the annual trek to the Central Highlands and the 12 Hours of Sebring. Many years ago Michael Keyser made this journey, camera in hand, here is some of what he saw, from 1969 and 1970. All images courtesy of and copyright Autosports Marketing Limited.

See more HERE

Nϋrburg Natters

A brief look at how endurance racing came to the Nϋrburgring and a look at some of the less publicised participants in the 2011 24 Hour race

The Nϋrburgring is chiefly remembered for the many outstanding  Grands Prix races that took place over its unparalleled Nordschleife, a driver’s circuit if ever there was one, and it is not surprising that some of the greatest talents of all shone there e.g. Nuvolari in the P3 Alfa Romeo in 1935, Fangio in the 250F Maserati in 1957 and Moss in the Lotus 18 in 1961. With such performances as these is it any wonder that the circuit has tended to be associated with the single-seater racing car?

And so it has not been thought of as a natural home for long distance enduring racing, although its early Grands Prix were ironically run for sports cars, mainly because Germany had no suitable Grand Prix contender and because Mercédès had just joined up with Benz and the new combine was intent on getting on with their new 6-cylinder S, SS and SSK supercharged sports cars designed by Dr Ferdinand Porsche and Max Wagner.

Sports car races supporting the Grands Prix events, yes, but nothing really serious until 1953 when the Nϋrburgring hosted its first 1,000km race as a round of the newly created World Sports Car Championship. This 1,000km race steadily became a permanent fixture ( with hiccups in 1954 and 1955 ) and as the Sixties unfolded a 12-Hour Touring Car race joined in, providing BMW and Jaguar with two wins apiece. Then, as the Liège-Rome-Liège/Liège-Sofia-Liège rally, the Marathon de la Route, was forced  off the roads of neighbouring countries, it found refuge in a series of real endurance events around the Nϋrburgring as 82,84, 86 and 96 Hour marathons between 1965-71.

By this time endurance racing was firmly in the Eifel blood and in 1970 the 24 Hour race was instituted. With gaps in 1974/75 owing to the oil crisis and 1983 when the reconstruction was being carried out, this wonderful event has been run ever since and long may it continue! One of its great attractions is the way it is not limited by constraints of championships in the breadth of its varied entry. Le Mans has long forsaken all those varied capacity classes which made its fields so very rich and interesting – not so the Nϋrburgring 24 Hours: lots of classes to accommodate all sorts of runners and sufficient factory interest nowadays to give the event big importance.

The top runners get all the media attention in the motoring press so here are some of those others who took part in 2011. There were 198 starters and 783 drivers!

Artega GT

Welcome to the Artega GT, a new German sporting car with a 3.6-litre V6 engine mounted midships. Designed by Henrik Fisker, it is built in Delbrück in northern Germany. The car finished the race in 70th position.

Zig

 

Aston Martin constructed two prototypes of their forthcoming Zagato model – this one is nicknamed “Zig” and encountered many delays but finished 111th.

Zag

 

And this is “Zag” powering out of the Pflanzgarten to finish 89th. In the background is the spot where poor Peter Collins came to grief when his Ferrari Dino ran wide during the 1958 German Grand Prix, throwing him out against a tree.

Opel Manta

 

The rules require all entries to be less than ten years old but special dispensation was given to this Opel Manta which managed a noble 129th!

Lexus LF-A

 

Lexus by their own admission treat the race as the “best possible test session” for their LF-A. In 2010 the test session yielded a class win – no such luck in 2011!

Peugeot RCZ HDI

 

This is the only surviving Peugeot RCZ HDI but it did win its class.

Mini Coupes

 

There seemed to have been very little notice taken by the media outlets of the new Mini Coupé which was after all making its first public appearance prior to its formal launch two months later. Here are both cars finishing.

TAILPIECE

Intervention

The Nϋrburgring has a very sensible way of coping when a car strikes the barrier – they simply cone off half of the track where the trouble is, carry out the rescue and repair work, all without the need for safety cars. Meanwhile marshals ensure that the cars on the track simply slow down sufficiently as they pass through the restriction and then resume racing straight after.

Here the Heico Motorsport Mercédès-Benz leads a group of cars out of the restricted section on its way to 7th overall.

Perhaps others could learn from this.

David Blumlein March 2012