World-Class Sports Car Endurance Racing at SuperSebring in Florida


TrackWorthy - FIA WEC_race_hour one_#7_Toyota T5050 - Hybrid_ lap one
TrackWorthy - FIA WEC_race_hour one_#7_Toyota T5050 - Hybrid_ lap one
“America has a bunch of them [unique tracks] and this [track] is at the top of that list…”Paul Dalla Lana, Driver of the No. 98 Aston Martin Vantage in the 1,000 Miles of Sebring in LM GTE AM

Sports car endurance race fans were treated to an epic weekend of world-class racing at the 2019  SuperSebring race weekend in Sebring, Florida. There were no less than three separate races ranging in length from 2-hours, to 8-hours and 12 hours for the granddaddy of them all, the 67th running of the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring.

TrackWorthy - WEC_race_turns 15-16-Ulmann panorama

First up was round two of the Michelin Pilot Challenge with a two hour race starting at noon on Friday, March 15. The top three spots on the podium went to Jeff Westphal and Tyler McQuarrie who won in their Audi R8, followed by Devin Jones and James Clay in their BMW M4 GT4 with Jesse Lazare and Corey Fergus finishing third in their McLaren GT4.

TrackWorthy - Michelin_race_Ulmann_#21 excursion
  • TrackWorthy - Michelin_race_#39_Audi R8 GT4 leads the field on the pace lap
  • TrackWorthy - Michelin_race_#17
  • TrackWorthy - Michelin_race_#69

Up next at 4 pm was the eight-hour 1,000 Miles of Sebring which featured the FIA World Endurance Championship cars that will be running in this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. The big news in this race was the win by Formula 1 World Champion Fernando Alonso, along with team mates Sebastian Buemi and Kazuka Nakajima. They took the overall win in their Toyota Gazoo Racing prototype LM P1. Alonso also won the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January and the 24 Hour of Le Mans last summer. Other class winners include Richard Lietz and Gianmaria Bruni in their Porsche 911 RSR in Le Mans GTE Pro. Porsche’s winning ways continued in the Le Mans GTE Am class where the Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche 911 RSR of Christian Ried, Julien Andlauer and Matt Campbell won from pole position.

TrackWorthy - WEC qualifying_#8_ #8 Toyota Gazoo Racing Toyota TS050 Hybrid (Alonso-Buemi-Nakajima)_pole
  • TrackWorthy - FIA WEC_race_hour one_#77_Porsche 911 RSR_ lap one
  • TrackWorthy - FIA WEC_race_hour one_#91_Porsche 911 RSR_ lap one

The 67th running of the 12 Hours of Sebring got underway on Saturday at 10:40 am. Mother Nature played her part in the opening race of the IMSA season with rain so intense that it resulted in red flags for the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January. Saturday started off wet but soon dried out to let the drivers battle it out on the race track. The overall win went to the driving team of Pipo Derani, Eric Curran and Felipe Nasr in their Cadillac Dpi prototype. Porsche added to their trophy case again on Saturday with a win in the GT Le Mans (GTLM) with Nick Tandy, Patrick Pilet and Frédéric Makowiecki in their Porsche 911 RSR. The GT Daytona (GTD) win went to Rolf Ineichen, Mirko Bortolotti and Rik Breukers in their Lamborghini Huracan GT3.

TrackWorthy - sunset Wednesday

We spoke to a dozen Canadian drivers who were about to strap themselves into their race cars on Friday and Saturday. We asked them what it was like to be driving on this legendary race track:

Paul Dalla Lana, Toronto, ON – No. 98 Aston Martin Vantage in the 1,000 Miles of Sebring in LM GTE AM:
“This is one of the most unique tracks. America has a bunch of them and this is at the top of that list I think. It’s one where you come and say ‘it shouldn’t work.’ It’s an old airport, its flat, is this going to be boring, and it couldn’t be more opposite. It’s a very demanding track. Obviously it’s super bumpy, everyone knows that, but it’s also a very precise track. You really have to work up to it. I think it’s one of those tracks where you come to the end of the event and you think that’s what I want to do. It’s a really rewarding track to get right, and it’s a very punishing track if you get it wrong, and that’s what makes it great. It’s different than all of the tracks we race on. We race on mostly formula 1 tracks and they’re pretty refined these days, so you don’t have the sense of concrete walls one foot away from you and these giant bumps, all these oddities that make this track special. It’s not something that would be classically designed but it works.

“We’re defending champions and we’ve got a good a chance to fight for the championship again this year. It’s great. It’s super rewarding. I never would have imagined. I’m a latecomer to racing. It’s my tenth year of doing it, and it started with a casual track day at Mosport (Canadian Tire Motorsport Park). I’m enjoying it every day. It’s something unexpected. It’s very rewarding to see knowledgeable fans, and passionate fans and we feed on it. They know who you are, what you’re doing, and they appreciate it. Who would have ever thought that I’d be racing with Fernando Alonso on the same track.”

TrackWorthy - FIA WEC_race_hour one_#98_Aston Martin Vantage_ lap one
Orey Fidani, Toronto, ON – No. 13 Porsche Cayman GT4 MR in the Michelin Pilot Challenge in Grand Sport (GS):

“It’s amazing. A lot of great drivers have driven here. It’s a very iconic track and it’s possibly one of my favorites. I enjoy it. It’s very bumpy and very challenging. Turn 17 is probably one of the most challenging corners out of a lot of tracks around the world. It’s fun and I like the challenge. We have the car pretty well dialed in and it should make for a good race.”
TrackWorthy - Michelin_race_#13_Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 CS
Scott Hargrove, Vancouver, BC – No. 9 Porsche Cayman GT4 in the Michelin Pilot Challenge and the No. 9 Porsche 911 GT3 R in the 12 Hours of Sebring in GT Daytona:
“This track is unlike any other I think that I’ve ever driven in North America. It’s the most iconic. You have the bumps, you have a combination of different asphalt surfaces, so every single time you go through a corner it’s really hard to be consistent because the bumps are different depending on the (racing) line you take. And to do the same line, especially through turn 17, it’s really, really difficult. So the car’s moving around on you and you really just have to respect that. And the fans that come out to Sebring are unlike any other turnout we get. The scaffolding by the edge of the track, there’s RV’s lining the whole track, it’s just a blast. I’m really looking forward to not only racing here in the 2-hour Michelin Pilot Challenge race but also the 12 Hours of Sebring tomorrow.”
TrackWorthy - WT paddock_Pfaff Porsche_plaid one
Jesse Lazare, Montreal, QC – No. 69 McLaren 570 S GT4 in the Michelin Pilot Challenge in Grand Sport (GS):
“This is my sixth year being here and I’m liking it more every time I come back. It is such a rewarding track to get right because it’s a long track and there are a lot of corners and we when you piece everything together, it’s just an amazing feeling. And the fans here are incredible. You look at every corner and there are fans cheering you on and caring for us and it’s just a really great experience around this track. For every car here the bumps are very hard on it so it’s up to the drivers to make sure we keep it clean, stay off the curbing as much as we can, save the car for the end of the race. In general, our car handles really well around here. This year we finished third in Daytona, on the podium, so we’re starting off the year really well. We’re hoping we’re going to continue on for this race and bring it to the front. The whole team, except for the other driver, and one mechanic, is based out of Montreal.”
Kyle Marcelli, Midland, ON – No. 60 Ford Mustang GT4 in the Michelin Pilot Challenge in Grand Sport (GS):
“This track is legendary. This place has a lot of history, a lot of nostalgia. The greatest of greats have raced here. It’s a fun place to drive. It’s rewarding when you put a good lap together. It’s a long lap with 17 corners, and a mixture of everything. There are smooth parts of the track, bumpy parts of the track, there are slow corners, fast corners, a bit of everything. It is a lot of fun to drive and even more fun to race. This place is really the test of man and machine. There is a popular hashtag for Sebring; #RespectTheBumps, and it serves true. The equipment takes a beating that’s for sure and so does the driver.”
Daniel Morad, Toronto, ON – No. 29 Audi R8 LMS GT3 in the 12 Hours of Sebring in GT Daytona:
“There is so much history here. In the drivers meeting they mentioned that this is the 67th running of the Mobil 1 Sebring 12 Hours so the amount of drivers that have been through this historic track blows my mind. It’s kind of cool because the bumps haven’t changed, they’ve actually gotten worse over the years. There’s a lot of history, culture at this track. When I was young watching this race on TV I didn’t really think I’d be in it one day. I thought I was going to take a different path but it’s very cool. In 2016 I ran a Daytona Prototype (DP). That was my first IMSA race. It was wet and it was good. We were P2 overall and then the car broke. I love it, especially in the rain today. It’s going to be a lot of fun!”
TrackWorthy - Michelin_race_#39_Audi R8 TCR_winner
Zach Robichon, Ottawa, ON – No. 9 Porsche 911 GT3 R in the 12 Hours of Sebring in GT Daytona:
“It’s a great track. Obviously Sebring’s been around forever, it’s one of the historic races and of course the 12 Hour it’s been around since the ’50’s . It’s a bucket list race. It’s going to be a great time. I raced here last year in GT3 Cup and LMP3 but this will be the first time for me running the 12 hour race. Daytona was OK until we crashed the car. We were doing well until the middle of the night and we had some electrical issues and obviously we had an incident after the red flag. The team has bounced back incredibly well. They worked extremely hard to get the car where we needed it to be. It’s a new challenge for us and it’s going to be a lot of fun!”

Bruno Spengler, Montreal, QC – No. 82 BMW M8 GTE in the 1,000 Miles of Sebring in LM GTE Pro:
“I’m happy to race again in North America. I did (the 24 Hours of) Daytona three times now, and coming back here to Sebring for the second time. It’s fun! I love it here. The first time I raced here was in 2016. We finished second in the 12 Hours of Sebring with Bill Auberlen and Dirk Verner (in a BMW M6 GT LM). It was a nice race. Coming here is very, very special for a racing driver. You hear a lot of stories. You know it’s very historical, a lot of things have happened here. It’s very challenging and demanding for the drivers. A lot of bumps. You don’t really get a break here, you have to be focused all the time. Most of the time, conditions are very hot so you have to be fit. It’s a technical track, which I like. The atmosphere is great. The fans are great, so I really like it.”
TrackWorthy - Bruno Spengler - BMW M8
James Vance, Toronto, ON– No. 23 Audi RS3 LMS TCR in the Michelin Pilot Challenge in Touring Car:
“It’s pretty crazy because the build-up to it is so much. Then you finally get here and you can’t wait to get on track and once you get on track the goal remains the same and that’s to be the most productive on track during practice sessions, to figure out any issues you may have. The track becomes the track and the car becomes the car. The historic part of it kind of takes a seat to the side once you get on the track, but the build up to it is immense. We rolled off the trailer really, really strong. We’ve had a fuel flow issue that hindered us until the end of qualifying when we finally had the time to take the whole car apart. Last night they were up until about 1 am rebuilding the car. But we’ve got it figured out and I think we have a really good race car to move forward today. We’re not going to do anything silly in this race. It’s a ten race championship, this is race two, so we’re looking forward to just getting some good points and move forward to Mid-Ohio.”
TrackWorthy - Michelin_qualifying_#23_Audi RS3 LMS TCR
Kenny Wilden, Oakville, ON – No. 59 Ford Mustang GT4 in the Michelin Pilot Challenge in Grand Sport (GS):
“I’ve been racing here since ’91 and it’s an extremely physically demanding punishing track. Probably the most demanding track in North America from a physical side. You take a lot of punishment. The heat is really bad here, so, I like that! This is my third or fourth favorite track in North America after Laguna Seca, Mid-Ohio and the Milwaukee Mile. Daytona is a cool event but it’s not a demanding track. It’s a big wide-open superspeedway. The speed is nice but you get used to that very quickly. I used to run the 24 hour races when there were no lights on the track. Now it’s all lit up, and it doesn’t seem like a night race anymore. I prefer the old-school like 24 hours at Mosport where it’s just pitch-black and you’ve got to figure out how to drive in the dark. We finished third in the encore race here in the Fall. We feel like we’ve got a good handle on the car for what we need today. We’ll see at the end. The car runs pretty steady times all the way through the run, and I’m hoping that we’re going to see the Mercedes and some of the other cars fall off at the end of their runs, and we may be able to take advantage of that.”
TrackWorthy - Michelin_race_#59_Ford Mustang GT4 enters turn 16
Mark Wilkins, Mulmur, ON – No. 98 Hyundai Veloster N TCR in the Michelin Pilot Challenge in Touring Car:
“It’s amazing. I’ve had a lot of success here. It’s a great circuit, I love the bumps, I love the technical nature of the circuit. It’s a real driver’s track. And it’s a lot of fun in these new TCR cars. They’re just a riot to drive, fun to drive, and a lot more capable than anyone would think that a front-wheel drive car could be. We’ve had a great weekend so far, and we’re looking forward to tackling this great race today. We didn’t finish in Daytona, we were taken out, but we were doing well and were as high as second place. We’re starting P3 today and it’s only the second race for this car, so we’re learning a lot. But the car really suits the circuit. I think we’re going to be right I the mix.”
TrackWorthy - Michelin_race_#98_Hyundai Velostar enters turn 16
Kuno Wittmer, Montreal, QC– No. 75 McLaren 570 S GT4 in the Michel Pilot Challenge in Grand Sport (GS):
“There’s a lot of history here. I remember the first time I came here was exactly twenty years ago. I was sixteen. My first ever pro race was here. It was in a ’94 Honda Prelude. It was a good car. It was a family team, my father and I, it was fun. I’ve been coming back ever since. Throughout the years I’ve had a lot of success here. My best finish being second in the 12 Hours in a LMP car (Le Mans Prototype). Hopefully today we can better that. Daytona and Sebring are very comparable as far as endurance races go. The 24 Hours has longer corners but the G loads aren’t as high and the bumps don’t affect you that much, there are no bumps basically. Here the race is shorter but the bumps are very aggressive. You’re beaten up after the race, you’re destroyed. It’s physically demanding as much as the 24 Hours (of Daytona). An hour here is like two hours in Daytona. We won round one at Daytona. We started from pole and won. Our team is solid. That’s what it takes these days. You can have a good car, which the McLaren is, it’s a spectacular car, you’ve got to have a good team to be able to set it up and maintain it. And it’s an all-Canadian team, with the exception of our co-driver, he’s American. It’s a good mix of crew, the guys are strong. Today we’ve just got to get through the race.”

Complete results for all three races can be found at the IMSA and FIA WEC websites.

Article © Copyright 2019 TrackWorthy Group Ltd.; Photographs © Copyright 2019 Gary Maavara

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