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.
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.”