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.”

New Chip Ganassi driver Marcus Armstrong will team with boyhood idol Scott Dixon

Marcus Armstrong Scott Dixon
Joe Portlock - Formula 1/Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images
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Marcus Armstrong was a Scott Dixon fan his entire life, and when he was 8, the aspiring young racer asked his fellow New Zealander to autograph a helmet visor that he hung on his bedroom wall.

Next year, Armstrong will be Dixon’s teammate.

Armstrong was named Friday as the fourth IndyCar driver in the Chip Ganassi Racing lineup and will pilot the No. 11 next season on road and street courses.

A driver for the five oval races on the 17-race schedule will be named later.

The No. 11 is essentially the No. 48 that seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson drove the last two seasons, with Chip Ganassi making the change to run four cars numbered in sequential order. Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson drives the No. 8, six-time champion Dixon drives the No. 9, and 2020 IndyCar champion Alex Palou drives the No. 10.

So just who is the second Kiwi in the Ganassi lineup?

A 22-year-old who spent the past three seasons in Formula One feeder series F2, a Ferrari development driver in 2021, and former roommate of Callum Illot and former teammate of Christian Lundgaard – both of whom just completed their rookie IndyCar seasons.

“I’ve always been attracted to the IndyCar championship because it’s one of those championships that’s been really well televised in New Zealand since I was young, mainly because of Scott and his success,” Armstrong told The Associated Press. “As time progressed, as I got closer to F1 and single-seaters, the attraction to IndyCar grew just because of how competitive the championship is – I like to challenge myself and the level of competition in IndyCar is remarkably high.”

Armstrong, from Christchurch, New Zealand, was set to travel from his current home in London to Indianapolis this weekend to meet his new team. He won’t need an introduction to Dixon, the 42-year-old considered the best IndyCar driver of his generation and Armstrong’s unequivocal childhood hero.

Last season, Dixon earned his 53rd career victory to pass Mario Andretti for second on the all-time list. Dixon has driven for Ganassi in all but 23 of his 345 career starts.

“For a long time I’ve been a Scott Dixon fan. I don’t want to make him cringe with our age difference,” Armstrong told the AP.

Despite the two-decade age difference, Armstrong never considered someday racing with Dixon a fantasy.

He convinced his father after winning five national karting championships to allow him to leave New Zealand for Italy at age 14, where he moved by himself to pursue a racing career. Armstrong said as soon as he’d received parental permission, he’d never look back.

Armstrong was in Formula 4 two years after his move to Italy and won that title in his first season. He won four races and four poles in F3 in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, then collected four wins and eight podiums in three seasons of F2.

“Maybe it’s a strength, or maybe it’s a weakness, but I always thought I was capable of doing great in the sport,” Armstrong told the AP. “I think you probably have to succeed in the sport, you need to believe in yourself. I always pictured myself being in IndyCar.

“As Scott’s teammate? I can’t specifically say I saw that. It’s an extraordinary chain of events.”

Armstrong becomes just the latest driver to leave Europe, where F1 is the pinnacle but has only 20 seats each year. Alexander Rossi began the trend in 2016 when the American left F1 and won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie. He’s been followed by Ericsson, last season’s Indy 500 winner, Romain Grosjean, Illot, Lundgaard, and on Thursday three-time W Series champion and Williams F1 reserve driver Jamie Chadwick was announced as driver for Andretti Autosport in IndyCar’s second-tier development series.

Armstrong said he could have remained in F2 for a fourth season, but he’d been watching IndyCar for so long, and after conversations with Illot and Lundgaard, he decided to make the move to what he believes is the most balanced racing series in the world. He tested for Dale Coyne Racing at Sebring in October.

He doesn’t know if European racing is done for good, just that he wants to be in IndyCar right now.

“I don’t want to think too far into the future, I’m just grateful for this opportunity that is standing right in front of me,” Armstrong said. “I want to perform as well as I can in the near future and just consolidate myself in the fantastic chance that is IndyCar and just do my best.

“I’m not looking at F1 as a landing spot – I am looking at IndyCar, and that’s exactly why I am here.”