By Peter M. De Lorenzo
Detroit. Now that the dust has settled from Daytona, road racing enthusiasts in North America are looking ahead to the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring. The most historic and important road racing event in the U.S., Sebring is also considered to be one of, if not the, toughest endurance race to win in the world. That reputation is much deserved and hard won due to the fact that the former U.S. Army training base used during World War II offers up the most brutal, unforgiving racing surface in existence, as unruly and cantankerous as any temporary street circuit you can imagine, multiplied by a hundred. Sebring is also a much faster circuit than people think and the combination of pure speed and punishing track conditions destroys machinery and dreams with equal disdain.
It's at Sebring that the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship looks to begin anew after its less-than-stellar debut at the Daytona 24 hour (Rolex 24). The prevailing thought from the powers that be in Daytona Beach is that the USCC must come out of the blocks stronger and with more confidence at Sebring, in order to leave some of those lingering doubts that emerged from Daytona behind.
But before we consider that, it might help to step back a little and understand what we're dealing with here. The only thing in common between the former Grand-Am and American Le Mans Series in the run-up to the two racing entities coming together was that they could both legitimately lay claim to the fact that they "conducted a major league road racing series" here in the U.S. That those two disparate racing organizations couldn't have been further apart in terms of form, substance and philosophy is not an insignificant point to remember in all of this. Because what the two entities had to go through to get ready to begin the new unified racing series last January in Daytona was a monumental task requiring a 24/7 effort of massive proportions over eighteen months.
In one respect the fact that it happened at all was testament to the effort of the people involved. They worked long and hard to make sure this brand-new road racing series made its debut in Daytona and it came off, for the most part, without a hitch. But the dubious, overly long caution at the climactic moment at the end of the race combined with the scoring error at the end of the race in the GTD class (which was subsequently reversed) and the glaring lack of speed of the P2 cars in comparison with the Daytona Prototypes marred the race and left a lot of people - myself included - disappointed and wondering out loud whether this new racing entity really had the best interests of road racing enthusiasts in mind.
Since Daytona, however, I have come to the realization that the effort involved wasn't simply a matter of the two sides sitting across from each other in a conference room for a couple of days and hashing it out. There were countless details large and small to be considered, details that required endless discussion and nuanced solutions. Not to mention the fact that there were sponsorships to ascertain and agreements with track promoters to nail down and on and on and on. This was by no means an undertaking that could be wished for with the snap of the finger. The two entities shared literally nothing in common, other than the fact that they raced sports cars, so given that they've certainly come a long, long way, and that needs to be acknowledged.
That doesn't entirely mitigate the fact that this new sports car racing series has a burgeoning credibility problem, however, but the table is set for the powers that be in Daytona Beach to make huge strides in a more positive direction among the orange groves in central Florida.
Taking all of that into account then, I'm willing to give the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship a do-over for Sebring. To me, the 12 Hours of Sebring will be the official beginning of the season for this new road racing entity, with the trials and tribulations experienced at Daytona and the lessons learned from that first race duly recorded and studied.
It's time to move on and look forward to the greatest endurance race America has to offer. I expect the competition among the prototypes to be better at Sebring, and I expect the overall quality of the racing to be better too.
Anything less will be unacceptable.
Publisher's Note: As part of our continuing series celebrating the "Glory Days" of racing, we're proud to present another noteworthy image from the Ford Racing Archives. - PMD
(Photo by Dave Friedman courtesy of the Ford Racing Archives)
Sebring, Florida, March 26, 1966. The No. 1 Shelby American Ford GT Mk II X1 "roadster" driven by Ken Miles (pictured) and Lloyd Ruby makes a late-race pit stop in the 12 Hours of Sebring that year. The No. 2 Shelby American Ford Mk II driven by Dan Gurney/Jerry Grant had the race won but suffered a DNF with just moments to go in the race. The No. 3 Holman & Moody Ford Mk II driven by Walt Hansgen/Mark Donohue would finish second, and the No. 19 Ford GT40 driven by Skip Scott/Peter Revson came home third. The anticipation in the Ford camp was building, as Sebring would be the final tune-up before the 24 Hours of Le Mans, where Ford would score its first overall win the following June. Watch a cool video here.
Publisher's Note: Like these Ford racing photos? Check out www.fordimages.com. Be forewarned, however, because you won't be able to go there and not order something. - PMD