12 Seconds First Out!… 12 Hours First Overall!
March 20, 2018
Story by Reggie Smith. Photographs by James Edmonds
The worst and best results for two identical Nissan Prototypes give an overview of the pain and joy for one professional race team. Englishman Ryan Dalziel and well known American star Scott Sharp never got to touch the car that their aggressive French teammate Oliver Pla drove from 2nd grid position all the way to turn one before sliding off course and retiring the car on the spot. As we often see in Formula One, a quick start from the front row can be an advantage because you are not very likely to get involved in early traffic nonsense. This time, the cool tire temperatures and the decreasing width of the course as the long fast start finish straight turns into a rather narrow two lane stretch of road course and required a bit more grip than was available as Mr. Pla slid wide in his effort to grab the lead. Although he really didn’t hit anything, as the car rotated, the rear tires started to reverse the direction of torque going through the transmission and differential resulting in a “box full of neutrals” and a somewhat less than glamorous stroll back to the pits with not much more to be proud of than perhaps setting a record for the earliest retirement.
The other Nissan Prototype sporting the Tequila Patron green livery was able to get through not only turn one, but quite a few other turns as the day progressed and did the best job possible of bringing up the team results with the overall win. American Johannes van Overbeek, Brazialian Pipo Derani and Nicolas Lapierre from France headed a five-car lead lap result, after a steady well judged 12 hours.
2nd overall went to the Wayne Taylor Cadillac driven by his son Jordan Taylor, Netherlands export Renger Van Der Zande and American Indy car start Ryan Hunter-Reay. Jordan’s brother Ricky was driving a Roger Penske entered Acura with teammates Graham Rahal and Helio Castroneves. Although Penske’s Acuras retired in the mid-afternoon, it is interesting to observe the mixing of experience across a couple of decades and finding out how similar the lap times were, even including leading the race for a period of time. Roger Penske has always shown a knack for show casing and developing super star drivers and it might have been interesting if it had turned out that Ricky and Jordan had been competing as front runners at the end of the 12 hours.
3rd overall as well as being 3rd in the five-member string of cars on the lead lap (!) was the Whelen Racing Engineering Cadillac driven by Brazialian Felipe Nasr, American Eric Curran and Englishman Mike Conway. Mike is from Bromley and has some very strong history in both Honda and Braun Formula One cars. He is best known in America for his occasional drives in Indy cars. His choice to specialize in road course style events matches his strong skills with car sorting and strategies. He mentioned his favorite courses in America are Long Beach, Austin, Sonoma, Watkins Glen and yes, Sebring. When asked who he admired most in racing, his rapid reply was Senna for his pure skill and Schumacher for how he packaged everything. Mike is a very serious chap who is sternly focused and still a very polite Englishman.
Not surprisingly, casual conversation with several Brits, not necessarily driving English cars at the moment produced several similarities such as with James Calado, who appeared in the RISI Competizione 488 Ferrari. James was born in Worcester and actually started in go-karts at the age of nine. His favorite course is the Grand Prix configuration at Brands Hatch. He was in the same Ferrari last year and finished 2nd but this year after leading his class at mid-race was delayed and finished 5th in class and 14th overall.
Alex Brundle was in the 5th overall Ligier LMP2 entry and also has go-kart experience leading to his current ride.
In an overview analysis, the balance of performance management for the 4 classes in this year 12 Hour Race, show remarkable consistency. The P1 cars (Nissan, Cadillac, and Mazda) all had quick times within 2 tenths of a second at 1:49.2 seconds. The LMP2 class cars all managed to run 1:50.5 up to 1:50.9. The GTLM class cars were all covered around 1:58 seconds and finally the GTD class cars were all between 2:00 and 2:02 seconds. So, as it turned out, after two or three laps of each green flag deployment, the classes basically ran nose to tail with the two fast groups around 1:50 seconds and the not quite so fast production-based cars, about 10 seconds slower around the 2:00 minute mark. This parade started getting mixed up only when the faster groups advanced at about 10 seconds a lap and finally caught the slower cars and that was about the only time the actual difference in car performance and driver ability showed as the passing events either happened smoothly or occasionally not. In the first hour of the race, a risky passing incident at turn 17 involved a prototype 2 car trying to do an inside pass on a GTLM Ferrari. Unfortunately, the P2 car, lost grip and spun and the Ferrari “tripped” over the front of the P2 car, which was going backwards at the time, and launched itself, finishing on its roof. This event ruined the Ferrari and delayed the prototype when it stopped to have a new nose fitted. The fact that the P2 car was easily lapping at 8 to 10 seconds per lap faster, suggests that driver experience and judgement is probably the biggest cat amongst the pigeons, because aside from mechanical failures the finishing results and the starting qualification grid positions turn out to be very similar. Strategy and ingenuity have a diminished presence in the balance of performance style of racing.
The television coverage of a race like Sebring, is now very sophisticated and probably shows more than a person could see standing by a fence, but the sights, sounds and smells encountered in person make it well worth the trip!
2018 Sebring Hall of Fame Induction
On the evening before the 12 Hour Race, a fascinating dinner and induction ceremony took place with about 200 people enjoying a fine dinner and the company of multiple racing heroes and legends.
The inductees included Reinhold Joest, Rinaldo “Dindo” Capello, Paul Newman, A.J. Foyt and the Sebring Fireman, Inc. Well known British racing stars Derek Bell, and David Hobbs, (a pair of hilarious Brits with volumes of racing history and exceptionally humorous explanations on anything imaginable) provided public speaking skills that would amuse anyone with a clue of what they were talking about.
Reinhold Joest has a larger than life career mainly associated with Porsche and Audi quasi-factory racing team ownership and with multiple wins at Sebring and other world championship events such as Le Mans brought dignity and authority as he received his induction.
Rinaldo Capello actually rose to International status in the last two decades with stellar driving best remembered in the dominating Audi prototype cars. His remarks carried dignified sincerity as he recalled numerous victories and professional team leadership.
Sebring Firemen, Inc. served as a civic business minded organization and made a major contribution through endorsing the wisdom of associating the name of Sebring (the small largely conservative community in Central Florida) with the fledgling launch of endurance sportscar racing. Their cooperation lubricated some sticky wheels, as the early days of the endurance classic were difficult for a lot of local folks to appreciate.
Paul Newman. Derek and David both recognized Paul’s excellent adaptability and competitiveness as he progressed from hobby level SCCA racing through to major events Daytona 24 and Sebring 12. He drove well prepared cars and mixed well with traffic including some vintage and historic racing in the early 2000’s where he demonstrated excellent technique and traffic awareness every time he drove. Socially, Paul’s passion for genuine values was noted by mentioning that his various businesses and other activities have generated in excess $500,000,000 toward charitable benefactors and that activity continues to date.
A.J. Foyt needed no introduction, but a slight touch of mental imagination to picture him, since he was away unexpectedly on “bee-s-ness”. Amazingly, his recent encounter with some aggressive bumblebees, was a repeat of a similar incident 10 or so years ago and the ensuing pain, medical attention and probably ego shattering appearance caused him to have to cancel his appearance just prior to the gala. His reputation was defended faithfully by David, Derek and Kevin Jeannette (who had prepared and run many of the cars A.J. drove in sportscar racing). Several stories recalled, fairly hilarious last-minute drives, usually with good results, but always featuring the Texan’s personality both with the teams and other drivers. Of particular note was his mutual “who is that?” with Bob Wolleck who asked the same question as him when they co-drove and finally decided they liked each other.
In attendance also were star personalities Vic Elford – who had won the 1972 12 Hour in one of the highly demanding 917 Porsches – and Hurley Haywood who also has massive experience at the event.
The Hall of Fame inductions take place every second year in coordination with a small museum type building called the Gallery of Legends which has a selection of cars every year with some relationship to the history of Sebring.