Bobby Rahal cherishes Sebring victory

Bobby Rahal Cherishes His Sebring Victory. BRASELTON, GA. - Bobby Rahal has experienced every emotion possible at Sebring's legendary 12 hour endurance race. As a youngster, he accompanied his father to Sebring several times, working on his...

Bobby Rahal Cherishes His Sebring Victory.

BRASELTON, GA. - Bobby Rahal has experienced every emotion possible at Sebring's legendary 12 hour endurance race.

As a youngster, he accompanied his father to Sebring several times, working on his pit crew. Mike Rahal was battling for a class win in 1970, driving a Porsche 906, when mechanical problems late in the race ended hopes of a victory. "I was shattered," stated Rahal. "Sebring was always very important to our family. We raced sports cars and Sebring was the big international race of the year for us."

As a college freshman in 1972, Bobby Rahal headed for Sebring during spring break and volunteered to work on a pit crew for a car co-driven by Milt-Minter. Just four years later, he made his first Sebring start, driving a Chevrolet Monza with Jim Trueman.

In 1982, teamed in a Chevrolet March with Trueman and Mauricio DeNarvaez, Rahal won the pole position and then drove to a second place finish, despite losing third and fifth gear early in the race. "That was an incredibly tough race," recalled Rahal. "We just kept going and nearly won it."

In 1986, while practicing in a new BMW prototype, he experienced one of the worst crashes of his career. After the rear bodywork and wing flew off during qualifying, the car flipped several times in the air and was destroyed. "It just suddenly snapped loose and then it got real quiet. Someone said I got about 30 feet in the air. I wasn't hurt, other than getting a mouthful of sand," joked Rahal.

Fortunes changed dramatically the following year. Rahal co-drove a Porsche 962 with Jochen Mass to victory after a thrilling duel with Al Holbert's Porsche, adding his name to the list of legendary drivers who have won America's greatest sports car race.

"For me, Sebring was really the most important victory of my career, and that is no way a knock against Indy (Rahal won the 1986 Indy 500). It's just that growing up, Sebring was so important to our family. My parents first took me to Sebring in 1958, and my dad drove there in 1969, 70 and 71. Sebring always meant so much to me, and winning there was really an emotional experience."

The 52nd Annual Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring runs on Saturday, March 20, kicking-off the 2004 American Le Mans Series. Rahal will be inducted into the Sebring Sports Car Racing Hall of Fame at a luncheon the day before the classic event, along with Carroll Shelby, Sir Stirling Moss, Mario Andretti, Bob and Al Holbert, race official Ford Heacock, Sr. and the legendary manufacturer Ferrari.

Although retired from racing, Rahal does not rule out the possibility of competing again at Sebring with his son, who is now 15 years-old. "That would complete the circle for me," stated Rahal. "That's how much Sebring means to me."

Gates open for the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring at 7 am on Wednesday, March 17, and remain open 24 hours a day through Saturday. Sebring's four days of racing includes seven supporting events plus vintage racing and a wide variety of off-track attractions.

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Series ALMS
Drivers Bobby Rahal , Mario Andretti , Al Holbert , Stirling Moss , Jochen Mass , Mauricio DeNarvaez