"Just remember that I can only go home when you're done." That was what the Sebring organizer told us as we waited in an RS7 to roll out on the pit straight. That's all. Just don't do too many laps. Otherwise, one of the greatest circuits in the world was completely open for us and us alone.
Well, we thought the track was completely open. As it turned out, there was some random guy walking on the racing line somewhere at the start of the long course. Then there was the group of about thirty guys in Ferrari jackets hanging out on the last turn before the back straight just hanging out. They were from a racing school, maybe. I dunno. We slowed down for them.
This was the very beginning of Travis and my trip of running from Daytona to New York in 24 hours with the East Coast's best endurance racetracks in the middle: Daytona, Road Atlanta, and VIR. Oh, and Sebring. Sebring was our Roar before the 24. The marathon drive started, well, an hour ago as of me writing this (I am currently in the passenger seat of the RS7 running off its in-car WiFi), and Sebring was our preview last night.
We landed in Orlando Friday afternoon, took the shuttle to the parking lot with a red RS7, and then b-lined straight for Sebring.
We got this view on the GPS just as the sun started to go down. We'd never driven Sebring before. We got the aforementioned notice about time, we got a lead-follow lap behind the organizer's Mazda, and then we were free to lap.
Everyone who drives Sebring says it's a hell of a track. The pavement changes sometimes mid-corner from asphalt to concrete. There are patches on the surface everywhere. It's as narrow as a tight mountain road on the back stretch. You have to be familiar with the layout or else you'll pile into a decreasing right thinking it's a sweeper because it's easy to get mixed up on the old airfield course.
But man is it a great track. Turn one is simply massive. There's a long sweeping right not long after that the RS7 wants nothing but to swallow speed into the triple digits.
And on Travis' second lap, the RS7 wants to swallow something else: a bird, on the back straight, at 140 miles an hour.
No dent on the hood, no nothing. The bird disintegrated. A few feathers got stuck on the hood, that was it.
The RS7 ran Sebring like a beast. The car weighs in at over 4,000 pounds, but it doesn't feel it. You never have to throw the car against its own weight. It just pounds its way through the curves.
And then the car cooked its brakes. These are steel brakes, not carbon ceramics, and after two laps of Travis threshold braking into turns, the pedal goes beyond soft. Travis has got his foot to the floor just to come to a rolling stop in the pits to cool down.
After a little while I went out for two laps of my own. Remember that sweeper? It ends in a hairpin. I was a little tense.
But holy shit were those laps amazing.
The way the back course flowed was unreal. Corners opening up into esses, one turn connecting into the next, fast sweepers slowing into decreasing rights. The back straight as the V8 roared, the speedo topped 140, and the sun dipped below the horizon. It's not something I'm about to forget.
It'll be hard for the rest of the tracks to top this.
Photo Credits: Raphael Orlove