One of America’s most infamous endurance races is this Saturday: the 12 Hours of Sebring. It’s half as long as the Rolex 24 but just as crazy; run on a former airstrip-turned-race track that’s so bumpy that teams use it for shakedown tests (and we do mean “shake”). Here’s our guide to what’s important and how to follow it.
IMSA’s Fastest Ever Fastest Class
The newest, fastest Prototype class is back with sixteen cars full of some of the most talented names in sports car racing. The No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R just set a new distance record for the 24 Hours of Daytona, so they may do the same for Sebring.
While we won’t see the return of Fernando Alonso or Lance Stroll this close to the start of the Formula One season, it should still be a blast to watch. Once again, the Cadillac cars and Team Penske’s Acuras have been quick in practice, with Penske team member (and reigning 2017 champ from his run with Wayne Taylor Racing) Ricky Taylor topping the time sheets for the second practice session Thursday, per Sportscar365.
But the front of the Daytona field isn’t the whole story of the Prototype class. We’re still waiting for Audi’s former partners in Le Mans domination Team Joest to work their magic on the long-suffering Mazda prototype team, whose outing at Daytona included a typically miserable showing. The No. 55 Mazda retired after catching fire, and Mazda’s No. 77 car also retired early thanks to electrical issues.
Yet for Sebring, Mazda ran second and fourth fastest in the second practice session on Thursday, and then ran 1-2 in night practice, reports Sportscar365. Has Mazda Team Joest finally gotten better? And will their engine not go boom this time? We can only hope.
There Will Probably Be Less Tire Drama (Emphasis On Probably)
Tire failures for several Prototype teams sort of killed the mood at Daytona this year. Most notably, the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R retired early over safety concerns with their popping tires, thus robbing us all of watching the team who won the Rolex 24 in 2017 gun for another win.
If tire drama was too lame to stomach at the 24, Sebring would be a good time to give IMSA another chance. Continental rolled out new tires for both the Prototype and GTD classes that will be used for the rest of the season that they claim will be a bit beefier when it comes to impact resistance, reports Sportscar365. The new tires seem to be working okay in practice, so we’ll see.
The New BMW M8 GTE Finally Got A Break
Teething pains aren’t just limited to new race cars and reshuffled teams. The IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship series itself sometimes struggles with what to do with a brand new race car, like the new BMW M8 GTE.
IMSA uses a “balance of performance” system to make sure the different kinds of GT-class cars entered in the series all have a shot at winning. If one car is running away from the field, they can do things like add ballast weight or restrict air intake into the engine to bring that car back in line.
Of course, balance of performance isn’t without controversy. The BMW team—and many onlookers who saw them lay down qualifying laps that were far off pace—argued that their car was so restricted in its maiden race at Daytona that they didn’t even stand a chance. In the interest of full disclosure, yes, I was BMW’s guest for Daytona, but the data from the race backed up their claims that they’d been hosed.
That’s changing for the better for Sebring, reports Sportscar365, so we’ll hopefully finally get to see what the new M8 GTE can do. Both cars ran mid-pack in the in the second practice session, and then the No. 25 BMW ran second fastest in night practice.
No. 69 Is Still Niiiiiiiiice
We didn’t expect the Jalopnik Bump on HART’s No. 69 Acura NSX GT3 to stick around for multiple races, but there it is in all its glory. Note the little black line above the driver’s side headlamp: that’s us! Jalopnik! On the car!
No. 69's be-Jaloped car ended up finishing HART’s first ever attempt at the Rolex 24, so I’d say it ended pretty well for them. They came in 16th despite losing time to a lengthy suspension repair, so as long as nothing breaks this time, this plucky crew of regular nine-to-five Honda employees racing in their spare time actually has a chance!
Especially if they don’t remove that bump. It’s good luck. Really. (Sometimes.)
One More NSX GT3
While most of the field already debuted at Daytona for the year, there is one new team in the GTD class. CJ Wilson Racing, the team owned by ex-MLB pitcher and noted Jalop CJ Wilson, will compete for the first time in IMSA’s top series at Sebring in a new NSX GT3.
Marc Miller, Kumo Wittmer and Till Bechtolsheimer are set to drive the new car, which has perhaps the best livery on the grid. It’s all color-shifty green and gold. I like that.
The Fans Will Still Be Crazy
If you’re down there in person, I am jealous. Sebring is the wildest race I’ve ever been to, and it’s because the fans are insane. You’ve got everything from custom-built vehicles for trolling through the interior roads to insanely elaborate campsites, most of which can be found in the infield section known as Green Park. There’s a host of well-known characters who have been camping out at this race for decades, like the Turn 10 crew, Drunk Monks or the Sebring Cows.
Justin Bell’s broadcast walk-through above is a nice overview that makes it look relatively tame, but some of the fan vids look like they belong outside of a Buffalo Bills game. As the night goes on, it turns into one big festival of race cars and debauchery.
If you’re looking for Florida Man, look no further. He’ll be shotgunning cheap beer (and possibly burning a couch) in the infield somewhere. If the infield inhabitants are extra, well, extra this year, our tips line is always open: firstname.lastname@example.org. Please feel free to share the most outrageous things you do in the campgrounds with us.
Hey, WEC Fans: Here’s A Preview
The World Endurance Championship recently announced that they’ll be coming back to Sebring next year to run a 12-hour race after IMSA’s 12-hour race. I don’t know how that will work or how many people will be able to stay up for all that, but it’s what they planned. A number of WEC staff are also at Sebring this weekend scouting it out, per Sportscar365.
So, even if you don’t usually follow IMSA, you might want to tune in just in case to get an idea of what next year’s lone WEC stop in the United States will be like. Personally, seeing LMP1 cars back on Sebring next year would be worth scoring industrial-grade No-Doz to power through, as it’s already pretty fun to watch with cars roughly equivalent to WEC’s LMP2s as the fastest class.
Here’s How To Watch
If you’re not at the track, never feat! You can always light your own couch on fire. Wait, no, that’s not where I was going with this at all. Oh! That’s right: you can and should stay glued to all 12 Hours of Sebring anyway.
Here’s the full broadcast schedule for the 12 Hours of Sebring as well as its key support series (all times Eastern):
- Fri. 9:10 a.m.-11:05 a.m.: Prototype Challenge Round 2 - IMSA.tv
- Fri. 11:15 a.m.-12:10 p.m.: Porsche GT3 Cup (USA & Canada) Round 2 - IMSA.tv
- Fri. 12:20 p.m.-1:35 p.m.: WeatherTech Sports Car Championship 12 Hours of Sebring Qualifying - IMSA.tv
- Fri. 2:35 p.m.-4:45 p.m.: Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge Alan Jay Automotive Network 120 - IMSA.tv
- Sat. 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.: WeatherTech Sports Car Championship 12 Hours of Sebring - FS1
- Sat. 12:30 p.m.-3:40 p.m.: WeatherTech Sports Car Championship 12 Hours of Sebring - FS2
- Sat. 3:40 p.m.-6:00 p.m.: WeatherTech Sports Car Championship 12 Hours of Sebring - Fox Sports Go
- Sat. 6:00 p.m.-11:00 p.m.: WeatherTech Sports Car Championship 12 Hours of Sebring on FS2
Here are a few more resources that make keeping up with the race easier as well:
- Andy Blackmore’s Spotter Guide is a handy reference to which cars are run by what team, and who’s driving them. It includes both the WTSC and its main CTSCC support series, and can be downloaded here.
- IMSA’s official entry list for the 12 Hours of Sebring is here.
- Find results from each session here.
Happy watching, and may God have mercy on your couch.