Sebring: Pre-race news and notes

Sebring, Fla. - Bring it On, Biela! Frank Biela is one of only five drivers ever to have won three overall Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring championships. Should he capture the championship this year driving for Champion Audi in the No. 2 Audi...

Sebring, Fla. - Bring it On, Biela!

Frank Biela is one of only five drivers ever to have won three overall Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring championships. Should he capture the championship this year driving for Champion Audi in the No. 2 Audi R8, he would become Sebring's all-time champion, surpassing legends Phil Hill, Mario Andretti, Hans Stuck and Olivier Gendebien.

48 Years Ago.

It was 48 years ago, 1957, that Maserati saw its last factory effort in the USA, winning the 12 Hours of Sebring in a Maserati 450S piloted by the legendary Juan Manuel Fangio and Jean Behra.

Can O'Connell Reign?

Phil Hill and Johnny O'Connell are the all-time leading winners at Sebring with a total of six victories apiece (overall and class wins combined). A win by O'Connell this year for Corvette Racing in the GT1 class with teammates Ron Fellows and Max Papis would secure a place in history for the Flowery Branch, Ga. resident. He has won three straight years with the factory Corvette team, while he also won three straight years in a Nissan GTX from 1993-95, including the overall title in 1994.

Dyson Trio has Impressive Sebring Numbers.

The drivers of the No. 16 Dyson Lola (Andy Wallace, James Weaver and Butch Leitzinger) have 43 career starts at Sebring amassing 16 podium finishes, two wins, (both by Wallace), 10 second place finishes and three class wins. Weaver is the "dean" of Sebring drivers with 16 career starts. Wallace has stepped up to the most podium finishes at Sebring (9).

Florida On My Mind.

Three of the four returning ALMS 2004 championship teams hail from the state of Florida. Champion Audi based in Pompano, Fla. won the LMP1 class a year ago. Miracle Motorsports including driver/owner John Macaluso, which won LMP2 class last season is located in Winter Haven, Fla. Alex Job Racing, last year's GT2 ALMS champion, is located just outside Orlando in Tavares, Fla. GT1 also had a Florida association a year ago with Max Papis, a resident of Miami, driving the winning GT1 car at Sebring. Panoz Motor Sports' Gunnar Jeannette lives in Palm Beach Garden.

Crisis Management.

The 12 Hours of Sebring was not held in 1974 due to the fuel crisis in the U.S. This past year, it was three hurricanes - Charley, Jeanne and Frances - that wreaked havoc at the race course, causing more than $300,000 worth of damage at the track.

The Porsche Streak.

At least one Porsche has competed in every Sebring 12-hour race since 1953 - a streak of 51 consecutive races. Porsche boasts 17 victories, 61 class wins, nine poles, and 14 fast lap performances.

Leader of the Pack.

Porsche also leads the list of manufacturers with the most overall wins at Sebring.

That list is a virtual "who's who" of world class sports car racing:

Porsche 17
Ferrari 12
Audi 5
Nissan 4
Ford 3
BMW 2
Toyota 2

1 each for Maserati, Riley & Scott, Chaparral, OSCA, Cunningham, and Fraser Nash

Lap Leaders

Among the 29 manufacturers that have led at least one lap of any event, Porsche, Ferrari, Audi, and Nissan rank at the top:

Porsche 3,997 laps 19,233.7 miles
Ferrari 2,743 laps 13,099.1 miles
Audi 1,762 laps 6,539.4 miles
Nissan 1,111 laps 2,478.6 miles

Where's the Starbucks When You Need It?

Ray Crawford is the only driver in history to complete the entire 12 Hours of Sebring race solo, accomplished in 1955. Crawford received special permission by the American Automobile Association that sanctioned the race that year to drive the event alone.

Whew! That Was Close!

The closest Sebring finish in history came in 1999 when only 9.2 seconds separated the winning BMW (JJ Lehto, Tom Kristensen, Jorg Muller) and second place. The 2001 margin of less than one second was a team-managed finish by Audi.

Not So Fast

In the 52-year history of the event the driver with the fastest lap has won the race only eight times.

By the Numbers

102 drivers have won the 12 Hours of Sebring - 24 drivers remain active in motorsports; 51 have retired; 27 are deceased. 3,251 cars have started the 12 Hours of Sebring and more than 2,700 drivers have competed.

Gone But Not Forgotten

Audi Team Joest became the first team in history to win five consecutive Sebring races (2000-2004). It is not competing this year.

Fame Off the Race Track

Famous Sebring competitors from other walks of life include actors Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, James Brolin, Gene Hackman, Craig T. Nelson, David Carradine, Dick Smothers, and Lorenzo Lamas; journalist Walter Cronkite; astronaut Pete Conrad; and stock car racers Fireball Roberts, Curtis Turner, Bill Elliott, Ricky Rudd and Terry Labonte, who won the GT class in 1984.

More Famous Names Take Their Turns

Many of the names of the turns at Sebring are in honor of sports car racing legends:

Cunningham Corner - Briggs Cunningham (3-time Sebring winning car owner)

Collier Curve - Miles & Sam Collier were pioneers of American road racing. The first Sebring race ever in 1950 was named in Sam Collier's honor after he was killed at Watkins' Glen in 1949.

Bishop Bend - John Bishop, founder of the International Motor Sports Association

Fangio Chicane - Named in honor of five-time F1 champion and two-time Sebring winner Juan Manuel Fangio

Gurney Bend - Named in honor of American road racing legend Dan Gurney

Gendebien Bend - Three-time winner Olivier Gendebien

Ulmann Straight - Sebring founders Alex and Mary Ulmann

Tales, Folklore and Fact

The famous B-17 named "Memphis Belle" landed at Hendricks Field on what is now the Ulmann Straight, during a 1944 publicity tour.

Former President Jimmy Carter attended Sebring several times as a spectator. His family would travel from Georgia every March to attend the races.

Bruce McLaren had a remarkable career at Sebring. He won three times in three completely different races - the 1959 Formula One race, the 1967 12 Hours of Sebring and the 1962 GT support race.

John Fitch and Phil Waters co-drove a Cunningham to victory at Sebring in 1953. Remarkably, they had something else in common. Both were pilots during WWII, both were shot down and both were in German POW camps at the end of the war.

While it has not been uncommon to see cars from Germany, Italy, Japan, Great Britain, and the USA compete at Sebring, a most unusual entry occurred in 1963 with a Sebra built in Israel.

The legendary Juan Manuel Fangio won back-to-back races at Sebring in 1956-57, his only wins on American soil. Ironically, his nephew accomplished the same feat in 1992-93.

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About this article
Series ALMS
Drivers Andy Wallace , Bill Elliott , Terry Labonte , Tom Kristensen , Frank Biela , Butch Leitzinger , James Weaver , Max Papis , Ron Fellows , Johnny O'Connell , Jorg Muller , Phil Hill , Dan Gurney , Mario Andretti , Bruce McLaren , Paul Newman , Juan Manuel Fangio , Gunnar Jeannette , Dick Smothers , John Macaluso , JJ Lehto
Teams Corvette Racing