12 Hours at Sebring is equal to 24 Hours anyplace else

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IMSA Weathertech SportsCar drivers have had a little less than two months to recover from one of the most grueling endurance races in motorsports with the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona. By the end of this weekend, they will know they needed every minute of rest.

Sebring International Raceway is a relatively easy three-hour drive south of Daytona. Both tracks are a little more than three and half miles in length and have a similar number of turns. This week’s race is half the distance in regard to time on the track, but no one should be fooled into thinking it is any easier.

“People say, ‘if you last 12 hours at Sebring, you last 24 hours anyplace else,’ ” Joao Barbosa told the NASCAR America crew last month. “The preparation of the car needs to be spot on. It’s a very bumpy track. Very challenging. Also for the driver – not only physically, but mentally because you go through the dark, you go through the bumps. It starts playing with your head a little bit.”

Super smooth and well-lit, Daytona is a palace. Sebring is a throwback to the days when endurance races actually took place on city streets and airport runways.

“The thing with Sebring different than Daytona … (Daytona is) all paved (smoothly); we get to Sebring, those Turns 1 and 17 are concrete,” NBC analyst and IMSA GTD driver Townsend Bell said in the video above. “And they’re concrete from like the 1940s. There’s some sealer and things, but the vertical bumps just get rougher and rougher each year.

“You feel like it’s 50 years ago. And that’s what’s cool about Sebring. It’s an old race track. It really has very little in terms of modern improvement, and I love that. It has all that rich character.

Bell and the No. 12 AIM Vasser-Sullivan team finished second in the GTD class in the Rolex 24, but team ahead of them is not racing the full season, so Bell has a chance to hang onto first in the points with another strong run.

The No. 10 Cadillac won a rain-plagued Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona. (Courtesy IMSA.com, LAT Images, Richard Dole)

In the Daytona Prototype class, the leader also has an opportunity to maintain their lead.

Wayne Taylor Racing scored the overall win at Daytona after a daring last-lap pass by Formula 1 veteran Fernando Alonso. And if they win at Sebring, it will not be the first time they’ve had the distinction of winning the “36 Hours of Florida.” Wayne Taylor began 2017 with a five-race winning streak that included these two iconic endurance events.

“Everyone wants to win Daytona and everyone wants to win Sebring,” Jordan Taylor said in a press release. “Obviously, these races are part of a bigger picture with the championship, but heading into the weekend, the plan is to go for the win. If we find ourselves in a spot where we can’t compete for the win, then we will go into championship mode, but at this point, we want to win another Sebring 12-hour. We won there in 2017 and finished second last year. These endurance races always suit or team’s strengths, so I can’t wait to get started.”

When they pulled off those wins in 2017, Taylor had support in the form of NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon and Max Angelelli at Daytona before changing up the lineup for Sebring. This year Matthieu Vaxiviere, who is coming off a second-place finish in a 12-hour endurance race at Mount Panorama in Bathurst, New South Wales, joins the team at Sebring.

“I first drove (Sebring) in December in the LMP2 and I have mixed feeling for the track,” Vaxiviere said. “The first few laps, I learned the track and I completely loved it. But, after a couple of runs, I was not a big fan.

“So I’m a bit torn about how I ultimately feel about the track. Maybe after 20 hour of racing on it for me, I will like it a lot.”

Not everyone comes to Sebring with a points lead, however. This is the second in a 12-race schedule that stretches to October, and while it is not the race one wishes to play catch up on, it is one that must be survived. Team Joest had a difficult time in Daytona, finishing 40th overall and ninth in the Daytona Prototype class with the No. 55 team of Jonathan Bomarito, Harry Tincknell and Olivier Pla. The No. 77 had a worse fate, finishing 44th overall and completing just 220 of the 593 laps.

“The 12 Hours of Sebring is one of the best races of the year,” Bomarito said in a release. “It always comes down to a last lap fight for the win where you’re tired, beat up, and still wanting more punishment that this great track places on both the driver and machine. We had really fast Mazda RT24-Ps at Daytona and I would be really disappointed if that wasn’t the case at Sebring. The whole team has worked really hard to take what we’ve learned from Daytona to continue to get better for the rest of the year.”

Graham Rahal’s “Weighty Issue”

INDYCAR Photo by Chris Owens
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MONTEREY, California – Graham Rahal admits that he can’t wait until the day he doesn’t have to worry about his weight. Being a 6-foot-2, big-boned individual can have its advantages, but not when it comes to fitting into an IndyCar.

That is why the son of 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner and three-time CART IndyCar champion Bobby Rahal has begun a body shaping therapy known as “Sculpting” that uses laser to trim away body fat.

“Honestly, it is no secret, I’m not shy about this, that I’ve struggled with my weight,” the 201-pound Rahal told a group of reporters during INDYCAR’s Open Test at Laguna Seca on Thursday. “I can guarantee you that from a strength perspective and a stamina perspective, there’s very few guys out here that can keep up with me. I’m just not a super skinny build. It’s never been my thing.

“I’ve tried. We’ve kind of looked around, there was some mutual interest from them to look into trying this, see if it works. I’ll be honest. I was always very skeptical of the stuff. Where I’m at, I’ve done one treatment. I can’t even tell you today if it’s something that really works or not.”

That led Rahal to try out the sculpting process that was invented by a doctor who found it with swelling in kid’s cheeks. The “Sculpture” process uses a laser that kills the fatty cells.

“I’ve done one treatment,” Rahal said. “It takes a long time, I think. It’s going to take multiple I think to get there.”

Watch Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey on NBC at 3 p.m.

A race driver needs to be thin, yet very strong to have the physical strength and stamina to compete at a high level in the race car. When it comes to the NTT IndyCar Series, it’s even more important because of the size of the cars and tight cockpit.

Additionally, the extra weight can impact the performance of the race car. The lighter the driver, the less weight inside of the car and that can determine. In INDYCAR, drivers are weighed and for the lighter weight drivers, lead weight is added to the car to meet a requirement.

But in Rahal’s case, the lead weight ballast has to be reduced and that sometimes throws off the center of gravity in the car.

“The facts are it’s not going to work if you don’t work out, too, and eat well,” Rahal said. “It doesn’t do anything. But earlier this year, man, I had given up drinking completely for three, four months. I was working out every day, twice a day on most occasions. I went to a nutritionist, doing everything. I literally was not losing an ounce. It was the most frustrating period of time for me.

“I am the biggest guy here. Is it ever going to be equal for me? No matter what these guys talk about with driver ballast, it’s a whole different thing, where my center of gravity is, so on…”

That is what led the 30-year-old driver from Ohio to study the “Sculpting” procedure. He realizes he is never going to have the metabolism of some of the thinner drivers, but he needs to maintain a weight that minimizes his disadvantage.

“It is a challenge,” he admitted. “Ricky Taylor and Helio Castroneves (on Penske Team Acura in IMSA) weigh 60 pounds less than me or something. There is no ballast there. That’s a big swing, a lot of weight to be carrying around.

“We have to try anything we can. If you’re going to be serious, try to find the performance advantage and the edge, you’ve got to look outside of the box.

It is something new for me. But the fight I guess against being an ultra-skinny guy…

“I fly home with most of these guys after races, I see most of these guys a lot of times, they’re sitting there eating In-N-Out Burger, whatever else. Literally I cannot do it. If I do it, it immediately reflects for me. These guys you see them the next weekend, they’re like this big.

“It’s like, (bleep), it’s not my build.”

Because of Rahal’s height and size, he chose to step away from the endurance races for Team Penske in IMSA at the end of last season. He was replaced at the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring by fellow IndyCar driver Alexander Rossi.

Rahal complained that the steering wheel actually hit his legs inside of the Acura, making it difficult for him to drive on the challenging road courses. Since that time, Acura Team Penske has moved the steering column up by a few inches and it no longer impacts a driver the size of Rahal.

For the IMSA season-ending Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta on October 12, Rahal will be back in the Team Penske Acura.

“Back in the (Team Penske) shop three weeks ago, I could actually turn the steering wheel, which I was shocked about,” Rahal said. “My head touched the roof, whatever, I’m used to that. Physically being able to steer, which I now should be able to do better.

“So I’m excited about it. It’s another great opportunity obviously with Penske. But more importantly for me is Acura, Honda. It’s a great thing to be back in.

“But that wasn’t a weight thing. It’s purely size. They just don’t build cars for guys my size. I used to talk to J.W. (Justin Wilson) about that. It’s the facts of life. Even the GT cars. You would think a GT car would be big. I don’t know if I’ve ever been in a GT car, I was comfortable in either. They’re built for small guys. That’s the way it goes.”

Rahal is taller than his father, Bobby, who is also his IndyCar team owner along with David Letterman and Michael Lanigan.

“I blame my dad,” Rahal said. “I do. You can tell him I said that. I told him, ‘It’s a genetic thing. I got good genes in some ways.’

“I told my wife this the other day, I’m very excited for someday when my career ends just to have a ‘Dad Bod,’ be able to let go for a minute, see how things turn out, because this is getting a little bit exhausting.

“We’re going to stay committed through the winter. I try my hardest every year, but I never tried harder this year to be thin. I weigh about the same as last year, but it took so much effort to get there, I just have to think outside the box.”