BRASELTON, Ga. (February 24, 2003) -- Ask any professional sports car racing driver in the world what race he wants to win and there's a good chance that Sebring will be the answer.
Ask any former winner of America's oldest sports car race how important that win is to him and most likely that driver will expound with reverence.
For those who have won it before, and those who have never won, the annual opportunity to win the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring is at hand, as the historic Florida raceway will come alive with American Le Mans Series sports cars Mar. 12-15. The 51st renewal of the event will get the green flag at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, March 15.
A field of 60 cars will include drivers from North and South America and Europe. Most cars will have three drivers who will rotate stints during the grinding 12-hour endurance event that will test man and machine under the hot Florida sun and then well into darkness. All will chase the international glory that comes with an overall Sebring win, or victory in one of the four racing classes of American Le Mans Series cars.
Racing at Sebring began in 1950 when a former WWII bomber training airfield was converted into a road racing circuit. Though the circuit has undergone several revisions and modernizations since then, it still retains much of the original flavor, including the bumpy, high-speed frontstretch that sends cars down one of the original concrete runways of the airfield. Where B-17s once took off and landed, ultra-sleek and fast Prototype race cars now compete.
"The history and atmosphere of Sebring make it one of the most special races in the world," said Johnny O'Connell, an American who resides in Flowery Branch, Ga., and will seek his fifth Sebring win. "I've been lucky enough to win four times and all of them are very special and meaningful to me."
More than 100,000 race fans will jam inside the 3.77-mile circuit during the week of the race. The fans are as much a part of the Sebring lore as the racing, with many coming year after year and camping in the same place next to the same people every event.
"Just an incredible turnout of fans," said Ron Fellows, a Canadian who will co-drive with O'Connell for the factory Corvette team. "They are everywhere around the circuit."
"You go into the infield and you meet people who tell you 'This is my 38th Sebring, and I haven't missed one yet,'" said O'Connell. "The only place in my career that I have ever encountered anything like the atmosphere of Sebring is at Indianapolis."
The attraction of Sebring is not limited to Americans, as many race fans travel annually from Europe and other areas to attend the event as well.
"Originally, Sebring became a focus in Europe because of the weather," said James Weaver, who will seek his first Sebring win while driving for Dyson Racing in a Prototype. "The weather is so bad in Europe that there was no other motor racing going on in March, so people began to travel to Sebring to race and be spectators, journalists began following it, and it just grew and grew."
The drivers know they have as difficult a challenge as any in motorsports to win at Sebring.
"It's almost four miles around Sebring," said Fellows. "But there's also 17 turns, and you get a full grid of cars out there and it's video game time. You're always busy in the car, and always in traffic. It's a long 12 hours, and racing into the night makes it even tougher."
"It's just a great, great circuit," said O'Connell. "I love the place."
Ticket information is available online at www.sebringraceway.com or by calling (863) 655-1442, or toll-free in Florida (800) 626-RACE. The race will be televised live from flag-to-flag by the SPEED Channel, with live coverage by the American Le Mans Series Radio Web online at www.americanlemans.com.