Panoz Motor Sports Road to Sebring: Part 1 of 3 Twelve Questions with Doc Bundy about the 12 Hours of Sebring, Saturday, March 21, 1998 The 12 Hours of Sebring, in Sebring, Florida is one of the premier endurance races on the sports car ...
Panoz Motor Sports Road to Sebring: Part 1 of 3
Twelve Questions with Doc Bundy about the 12 Hours of Sebring, Saturday, March 21, 1998
The 12 Hours of 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.
Doc Bundy is one of the premier road racers in the country. This is his second season with Panoz Motor Sports driving the GTR-1. From humble beginnings in the SCCA amateur ranks, Doc's racing talent propelled him into professional factory rides with Ford, Porsche, Jaguar and Lotus. Bundy has been a class winner at both Le Mans and the Daytona 24 Hour race, as well as the overall winner in the Bridgestone Potenza Supercar series in 1992. In 1997, Bundy scored three victories and three seconds in the Panoz GTR-1, finishing second overall in the U.S. series' driver standings.
What is the preparation necessary for the 12 Hours of Sebring?
From a driver's standpoint it's somewhat similar to Daytona in that I get physically conditioned because I'm going to spend several torturous stints in the car. Sebring offers its own unique challenge with its bumps. In a very fast car like the Panoz you take quite a beating, especially in Turns 1, 13 and 17. It really beats on you, so you have to be in really good condition. To prepare for endurance races, I start doing double workouts. I run about an hour a day, then I do a light weight workout. I'll be adding an afternoon or evening workout as well to prepare my body for the beating that's coming.
How does Sebring differ from other races?
Sebring is a track you love to hate. Sebring really is a love/hate relationship for all the drivers. It's a place you hate to go to until you get there. Then you love it because it is unique, with a tremendous historical background. Sebring also gets a tremendous turnout. It's one of the biggest on our circuit as far as spectators go. It's also a fast track, which is always twice as much fun, but it's rough, and you have to deal with hot daytime running and a horrible sunset. The sun sets on the back straightaway, so that Turns 16 and 17 and the back straightaway are almost impossible to see because the sun is in your eyes. After sunset, the night offers its own challenges. In addition, there is always rain at some point during the 12 Hours of Sebring -- anything from a light shower to a monsoon. It's a challenge. Conditions vary, and the race itself is just a brutal on the driver and on the car because of the combination of constant bumps and very high speeds. In one lap, we'll get up to over 180mph and we'll get down to as low as 30mph.
What is a typical strategy for Sebring?
It depends on how we get the car to ride over the bumps. After Daytona, we tested at Sebring, and we made significant gains in that bump control. So we're encouraged by that. If everything goes the way we'd like to see it, we could spend as long as two hours in the car. I'd say the minimum we'd do is double stints, which, now that we have 100 liters of fuel in the car, will put us right around the two-hour mark.
What do you think of the track itself?
I've never won the 12 Hours of Sebring in all of the years I've been there. I've raced with winning operations, first with Peter Gregg, then with Al Holbert, but when I drove we never captured that piece of gold. I like Sebring.
Don Panoz recently took over the track lease, and he's going to change the track a lot over the next year. I sat down with Jim Selwa (COO of Panoz Motor Sports) and Tres Stephenson (Executive Raceway Director of Sebring) and we mapped out the things we want to do. It's going to be a premier circuit. All the questions and concerns about bumps, blowing sand, dust ... that's all going to be addressed. I can't wait! I look forward to the 1998 12 Hours of Sebring more than normal for three reasons: 1) the Panoz GTR-1 is so good now, 2) the team is so good now, and 3) this is the last we'll see of the old Sebring circuit. The next time we go back there it's going to be different.
What do you think of the new format this year opening the race up to the world?
Great. The level of the competition will come up. There's nothing more exciting than racing against the best in the world. We truly hope everyone will show up -- everyone from Le Mans. We know that probably won't happen because there are a lot of teams in the midst of testing for Le Mans. Nissan and Toyota and Mercedes won't come, because they're testing their new cars. They won't come this spring, but hopefully we can get enough participation out of Europe this time that word will go back that "Hey, this place is changing." It's going to be a tough, good, high-profile race along the lines of Le Mans, and the teams will want to come back. I'm excited about that. We feel that we have a world-class car and we're eager to run against the best there is. Bring 'em on.
What do you think of the climate in the world of U.S. sports car racing?
Don Panoz is sitting in the position to be the savior of sports car racing the in U.S., because obviously everything is being turned upside down. There are two sanctioning bodies and rules that are all over the place. Don is here with a team, with his own personal interest -- and that is to win Le Mans. The fact that he controls two of the major racetracks in the country, and four races, gives him the opportunity to influence the rules -- to run the type of rules that the Panoz was built for, and that's what we're most interested in doing. We want to run a fair race. It's hard to make all that come together, but I think it'll get worked out this year. It'll be a struggle, but I feel that it'll be a stronger, better climate in 1999. We've always talked about, "Well, next year it'll be this" or "Next year it'll be that," but I think Don is doing those things that'll work out in reality next year because of the things happening in 1998.
Do you think the past is bound to repeat itself?
Not this time. Every other time, we had talk, lots of talk. All you have to do is look at Don's track record. In less than two years, he's built a world-class team. If there's any doubt of that, just look at how we ran at the Rolex 24 at Daytona -- we're a world-class team. Also, go out to Road Atlanta and see what's happening. It's going to be fantastic. The same thing will happen at Sebring. It'll also be fantastic, a premier facility. It will be a place which teams will consider locating. Once the Sebring changes are underway, it'll be as impressive as Road Atlanta.
I also think October's Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta will help revitalize U.S. sports car racing. Le Mans has always been important to the European and Asian manufacturers, but with the U.S. manufacturers, participation has been sporadic. Don Panoz will change that because we'll have a minimum of two races per year based on the same rules that run at Le Mans. This means that other U.S. manufacturers will say, "Hey, we don't have to build a car for one race over in Europe. It can run in prestigious races here in the United States, which will help us better prepare for Le Mans." I'm totally excited and confident about sports car racing here.
What has been done to the Panoz GTR-1 in preparation for Sebring?
We've gone through the #99 Visteon/Road Atlanta car that we ran at Daytona and discovered that everything was in great shape. We took the car to Sebring directly from Daytona, put our practice/qualifying engine back in the car, and tested for two days. We put more than 24 hours on that car. The car came out beautifully -- no problems anywhere. We were encouraged by some new suspension-oriented setups that we tried and didn't expect the kind of results that we got.
What do you think of the car? What are its strengths?
The strength of the car now is in the preparation level. We've got a Formula One-like team preparing and building this car. When it comes back from a race, it comes apart -- all the way down to a bare tub -- and goes back together from there. It's like a brand new car every time. It's clean, it's tidy, and everything is done correctly. I get in the car and say, "This thing is just right." From the first turn, I can challenge the circuit and the other competitors. I don't have the slightest worry about the car. It's fun driving this year because I can just get in and go for it. The Panoz has continued to evolve because we have an aggressive test program and the drivers get a fair amount of seat time. I can't wait until the car is finished! I go to the race track every day asking when the car will be ready to drive. I suggest that we go early so I can drive more.
How many Panoz GTR-1s are being entered?
As far as I know now, we're entering two, but we're working on more cars to debut later in the season.
Who is driving them?
Myself, Andy Wallace, David Brabham, Eric Bernard, and Jamie Davies.
What do you think of Panoz Motor Sports chance for victory?
Very good. As we test more and more, we learn about the car and what it can do. I have no concerns with the gearbox, the brake system, or the engine.