Sebring by the numbers:
Track length 3.7 miles
Race length 12 Hours
The Secrets of Sebring…how the race is likely to be won. There are three basic things that all the team managers, crew chiefs, drivers, and race engineers claim as the keys to winning the 12 Hours of Sebring. You need to be fast, reliable, and lucky.
The fast part means trimming out the aerodynamics on the car to reduce downforce. This helps increase speed on the long straightaway and helps get through traffic.
The reliable part seems self explanatory. After all these are great race cars, meticulously prepared by top teams. Most are extensively tested and all are racing at a track well known to teams and drivers. If they had to describe it in one word, the answer would likely be “bumps.” Sebring is fast and bumpy. Teams consider 12 Hours of Sebring the perfect prep for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Why are bumps such a big deal? Bumps, big bumps, and lots of them, upset the balance of cars and stress the mechanical elements like engines, gearboxes,and suspension parts to considerable abuse. In short, bumps break things.
So, you are probably thinking, why not drive a line that avoids the bumps? Well, some teams and drivers do try to avoid certain bumps, but altering their line around the track may take them off the fastest line. Going off line as the race progresses can put them into the marbles, the bits of rubber and gravel and sand that accumulate along the edges of the track. The other piece of that puzzle is traffic. With five different classes and significant speed differentials, passes often force either the “passer” or the “passee” off line and over the bumps.
If the stress of 12 hours of high speed, high G -load competiton and lots of bumps doesn’t break your car, the slightest mistake by your driver in dealing with the bumps, or especially with traffic, may do it for you. Remember that there are three drivers alternating behind the wheel of each car. Do you know who you are passing and what he or she may do? At 170 or 180 miles per hour with a couple of competitors are you really, really sure? Heck, sometimes even teammates take each other out. Reliable means having a near perfectly clean race for the full 12 hours.
Luck is one of those things that racers don’t always like to acknowledge. Some will tell you that they don’t believe in it, but rather “we believe in God and preparation,” or, “we make our own luck.” They lie about other things too. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time, like when the car in front of you spins, or the caution flag comes out, or it starts to rain is all part of the adventure and call it what you wish, you need a touch of it to survive for 12 hours. Stay tuned.