Sebring: Sixty cars set for 50th race

SEBRING, Fla. (March 15, 2002) -- It starts in the morning and runs into the night, ending 12 hours later. It's a test of endurance of man and machine on one of the toughest racing circuits in the world. It's America's oldest sports car race,...

SEBRING, Fla. (March 15, 2002) -- It starts in the morning and runs into the night, ending 12 hours later. It's a test of endurance of man and machine on one of the toughest racing circuits in the world.

It's America's oldest sports car race, the 50th annual Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring presented by Dodge, and 60 American Le Mans Series sports cars are ready to do battle in Saturday's race.

"Sebring is magical," said Germany's Frank Biela, the polesitter, who will seek his second win in the event while driving an Audi R8 Prototype. "Sebring, Le Mans, Road Atlanta (Petit Le Mans) are all event that sports car drivers want to win."

"It doesn't matter if it's the 50th running or the 51st or 52nd, everyone wants to win Sebring," said Bryan Herta of Valencia, Calif., a former star on the CART circuit who will make his sports car racing debut in a Panoz LMP-1.

"The 24 Hours of Le Mans is a huge event," said Wayne Taylor, who won at Sebring in 1996 and will drive a Cadillac Northstar Prototype in the event. "But Sebring is just as big, or even bigger in some ways here in America. When we won Sebring in 1996, it was something I'll never forget."

More than 100,000 have gathered at the Sebring International Raceway for Saturday's race, which starts at 10:30 a.m. Sebring's appeal as both a sporting event and a social event are legendary, and fans began lining up weeks ago for the best spots inside the 3.7-mile track.

In celebration of the 50th anniversary, more than 30 former winners of the event were honored Friday, including legendary drivers such as Dan Gurney, Bobby Rahal, Juan Manuel Fangio II and Bob Akin. A B-17 flew into the adjacent airport on Friday, recognizing the World War II air base that later became the raceway. The concrete frontstretch and pit lane of the racing circuit are still the original concrete of what was Hendricks Field.

The 60-car field is broken into four classes, including two classes of exotic Prototypes as well as two classes of production-based machines. The American Le Mans Series has introduced a system of marker lights that will indicate the top three in all four classes throughout the race, helping fans keep track of the standings during the event.

Biela and co-drivers Emanuele Pirro and Tom Kristensen won the event in 2000 and have also won the last two runnings of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

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Biela takes the pole

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Series ALMS
Drivers Tom Kristensen , Frank Biela , Bobby Rahal , Bryan Herta , Wayne Taylor , Dan Gurney , Juan Manuel Fangio , Bob Akin , Emanuele Pirro