The 12 Hours at Sebring, in Sebring, Florida is one of the premier endurance races on the sports car circuit. It is a tough, challenging race for the cars, the teams, and the drivers. Sebring was the site of the first U.S. Grand...
The 12 Hours at Sebring, in Sebring, Florida is one of the premier endurance races on the sports car circuit. It is a tough, challenging race for the cars, the teams, and the drivers. Sebring was the site of the first U.S. Grand Prix in 1959 and is the oldest endurance race in the United States. Andy Wallace has established himself as one of the world's leading sports car racers. He is quick and consistent, with an outstanding record in the 12 Hours at Sebring (victories in 1992 and 1993) and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. He won the Daytona 24 Hours and Lime Rock in 1997, plus he scored three victories for Panoz in GTS-1. What is the preparation necessary for the 12 Hours at Sebring? For me, I'd say that the 12 Hours at Sebring is harder than a 24-hour race. The two 24-hour races, Daytona and Le Mans, have considerably longer straights. On a long straight, there is time to gather yourself together; to get some kind of rest and relaxation. At Sebring, there is no relaxation. The straights are very short and narrow so over the course of an hour in the car you wear yourself out more than the other two races. A driver has to be quite fit because Sebring is a traditionally bumpy track. The car leaps all over the place and actually knocks the air out of you over long distances. I'd say that the preparation would be similar for a 24-hour race, which includes looking after what you eat and making sure that your heart and lungs are up to the job. It's a very hard race. I've done the race several times with only two drivers. The good part is that you don't lose a night's sleep, but by the end of 12 hours, you wish you had a third driver. The bumps just drive you mad. In one particular race, I think in '92, it was dry throughout, without any pace cars. The next morning my eyes couldn't focus. The bumps got me so much that they actually stretched the four muscles that hold your eye in. I thought "I've gone blind, I can't see." So I went downstairs for breakfast and I saw Juan Fangio and Davy Jones. Before I could say anything, both of them asked if I could focus. They had the same problem. It took a day and a half or so to right it. I went to the doctor and he said that nothing was wrong, I just stretched my eyes a bit. How does Sebring differ from other races?
Although it's quite a narrow track, a lot of cars start. At Le Mans and Daytona, if there is traffic in front, you are supposed to wait and blow by them on the straights. At Sebring, there are no long straights. Every time you catch a car you have to pass it on the corner. That can be tedious and it can mean that you're really close to hitting someone. What is a typical strategy for Sebring?
The car must be set up correctly -- especially the shock absorber settings and brakes. The car must be stable under braking, because if another car moves in front, you've got to stand hard on the brakes and not have your car swap ends. You have to be careful not to hit anyone, but if you take too much care you lose too much time. What do you think of the track itself?
It's got a lot of history. You can see and feel the history when you're there. I still get a good buzz driving around Sebring. There are several corners where you really get a good feeling, especially a left-hander that leads into the last section before the backstraight which you take completely flat in 5th gear It's very, very quick. What do you think of the 1998 format opening Sebring up to the world?
It should mean we have a lot of cars. I think it'll be a very interesting race, because at Daytona the GT cars and the Can-Am/WSC open cars are much closer together. On the straight, the WSC cars have much more drag than the GT cars, so even if the WSC cars quicker in the corners, the GTs gain back the time on the straights. There aren't too many straights at Sebring. Opening the race up to the FIA rules and teams means the cars will be equalized. I'd say they'll be a lot more front-running cars, a lot more potential "winning" cars than you'd otherwise have. I think there's a chance for a number of cars to win, and teams are going there with that thought in mind. What do you think of the climate in the world of U.S. sports car racing?
There has to be a bit of worry that there is not one stable situation. If you look at the history of sports car racing there always have been problems. There's a lot of upheaval at the moment, but perhaps for the future it's for the best. What has been done to the Panoz GTR-1 in preparation for Sebring? Following the 24 Hours, we shot right down to test at Sebring. We really played around with the springing and damping of the car. In fact, we ran the #99 Visteon/Road Atlanta car with just an engine change (back to the practice/qualifying engine) for two days without any problems. We came away faster than I thought we could be. What do you think of the car? What are its strengths? It's a lot better than last year. We've got more reliability and the car is a lot stronger. Speedwise, we've done well too. It's very nice to work with Michelin -- they simply produce a tire that works well on our car and it's very nice. The braking is quite impressive, and that'll help us with the traffic situation. Just dive down on the inside of somebody and stop quickly. If you do that, you've got a chance to pass some cars. How many Panoz GTR-1s are being entered?
Two. What do you think of the Panoz Motor Sports chance for victory?
Very good. The reliability is certainly there for a 12-hour race. Speedwise, the Porsches will be close. The WSC/Can-Am cars are going to be very fast and tough to beat, but we have a shot to win the race.