How do car guys welcome Spring? Well, just with one of the best and most fun racing events in the world – The 2018 12hrs of Sebring. Let us dive deeper into this legendary event, track, and its nuances.

For the fans the 12hrs of Sebring endurance race starts before any green flag waves at 10:40 am on Saturday. RVs, tents, campers invade Sebring International Raceway on Wednesday morning. The rest of us set those iPhone alarms at some forsaking hour and start the journey to one of the most iconic and fun tracks in motorsports. Sebring has become a fan-favorite track due to how it treats its fans and the mix of an old-school race track with new-school race cars. 

One thing we value in spectating motorsports is freedom and intimacy with a track, from the staff to cars and teams. The freedom to enjoy a race as one deems it is rare. Sebring is beloved by racers and fans. The racing pilots enjoy the conquering of this track, especially Turn 1 and the bumps on Turn 17. The fans enjoy the party atmosphere and freedom.


Early Bird Special 

The plan was to make it to the 12hrs of Sebring early to see the pre-event action in the pits and the pit-lane walk. The dark, early morning sky combined with fog made for a more scenic, albeit eerie ride than usual. The mix of fog and the rising sun was creating a light haze and aura around every car on the road. It was fitting that we were driving through “clouds” since we are going to a motorsport paradise.

A scenic ride to Sebring International Raceway, by scenic I mean eerie, but for a weirdo like me, it’s beautiful.

Porsche Lawn Service?

Once we arrived the fun began, a first glimpse of the eccentric and enthusiastic fans of Sebring parked right next to us in the free parking section (Gate 3). You may have seen or heard of lawnmower racing but what about a lawnmower race car? Witnessing this contraption put a smile on my nerdy, car-loving face, and it acted as an appetizer for the 12hrs of Sebring.

The first glimpse of Sebring International Raceway and the Gate 3 parking entrance.

I still do not understand the reasoning for this but who cares, no more fitting way to start my 2018 12hrs of Sebring experience by being introduced to the Porsche lawnmower.

Sebring Track Approved

We arrived early, and it left us with time to see the paddock and witness last-minute repairs or preparations before non-stop 12hrs of racing. Sebring is a punishing track for all cars. The Joest Racing team would test their racecars at Sebring, even if they were not planning on racing the 12hr race just to build rugged and fast cars. The common phrase among race teams here is “if it can handle Sebring and its bumps, it can handle any race track.”

Entry to the paddock section in Sebring.

Stress + Cars = Every Motorsports Event

Most cars were by the hot pits after a warm-up session, but while walking to the Mazda paddock section, we noticed some frantic mechanics moving fans and other staff aside to pull in the Joest Racing/Mazda Prototype to diagnose an issue. The mechanics immediately removed body panels and lifted the vehicle. Time became the mechanic’s enemy because within an hour the car had to be stagged in the pit-lane. The good news was they made it in time; it is always good to see hard work pay off in motorsports because auto racing can be cruel.

The Joest Racing mechanics pushing the Mazda prototype.

The frantic Joest mechanics taking parts off and diagnosing the issue.

The Disposable Heroes

The paddock was not as busy as we expected. The cars were ready for battle, so we decided to see the unsung heroes of endurance racing that rarely get seen on TV, the tire changers. The tire-changers are a hardworking group that changes all the competitor’s tires all day long, no small task with the beating the tires get on the Sebring bumps, rough pavement sections, and the Florida heat. We come from a drifting background and changing tires on a tire machine gets old fast. The tire changing layout was one of assembly line accuracy and efficiency. What some people may not notice is everyone plays a part in motorsports from the drivers, crews, team owners, auto and tire manufactures, track staff and fans. You need them all to produce the best events.

Continental Tire preparing the tire changing assembly line before the race.

The Fan Grid Walk – Pit Lane

The pit lane opens up for just under an hour (9:15 am – 10:10 am); this is the time to enjoy the cars up close. By strolling down pit row, we always gain an appreciation for these cars, more than we ever will watching on TV. Anyone who is DIYer can see and appreciate the working hours on the vehicles from the engineers and mechanics. The art of modern aerodynamics mixed with engineering displayed in front of our eyes. The walk down pit-lane is another excellent car nerd appetizer for the race.

A celebrity makes his appearance during the pit lane walk.

The Corvette is looking as menacing as ever.

The Ferrari 488 looks like a cobra about to prey on its victims.

The inside view of the Mazda Prototype, a snug fit even for a shorter person.

Stretch Your Legs and Start Your Engines

Once the track officials move everyone off the track, it is time for the 12hrs of Sebring to start. In our experience, all endurance races are a resistance test for fans as well. The price of sore feet is worth it. The “lap” around Sebring for us begins with the national anthem festivities coming to an end. This year we were determined to find the grandstand section that we sat in on our first visit to Sebring.

The opening ceremonies fly-over with vintage warbirds.

The path to the grandstands we first sat in years ago.

We made our way to the grandstands that divide The Flying Fortress Straight and Bishop Bend (Turn 14), quite the hike after walking up the whole paddock and pit lane. We waited here until the start of the race. This section is great to see wide-open throttle on the straight and seeing corning speeds on Bishop Bend.

The Flying Fortress Straight and Bishop Bend grandstands were a favorite place for many spectators.

The cars are racing on the Flying Fortress Straight.

A Ferrari with damage exiting the Flying Fortress Straight into Bishop Bend.

A Porsche at wide open throttle with an airplane backdrop, yep we are in Sebring.

The Counter-Clockwise Journey

We started viewing different sections of the track counter-clockwise on the inside of the racing circuit. The plan was, to begin with, Kristensen Corner (Turn 3) and circle back around to the grandstands near The Flying Fortress Straight. The amount of “hiking” around the track might as well be called a car guy’s pilgrimage of racing. Sebring International Raceway has a way of making everyone (young or old) nostalgic for the tracks of the past. Sebring was an old WW2 airport for flight training, and due to how flat Florida is we could see control towers, airplane hangers, and airplanes the farther we walked around Sebring.

A Ford GT exiting Kristensen Corner.

A duo of Corvettes chasing down a BMW.

Another great view, now between Turn 5 and 6.

Ferrari 488 heading towards “Corvette” Bridge and Turn 6.

A Mercedes-Benz nearing the Gurney Bend.

For fans, Sebring has excellent viewing areas with low fences perfect for taking photos, videos or just enjoying a racing battle with no high fences in the way. Drivers and fans feel safe at this track. It seems that Sebring knew where to put barriers with spectators and drivers in mind. Yes, of course, Sebring is a daunting track to drive, but I rarely hear of any significant injuries since I have attended and watched on TV. 

The Weird, The Drunk and The Fun at Green Park

Ah, the infamous Green Park area, located around the infield sections of Turns 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 is a special place to be at any time. The marriage of weird, ingenuity in “architecture,” drunkness, and comedic value adds another layer to the 12hrs of Sebring. Green Park feels right at home for any passionate car guy but if you bring one of those non-car people expect some discomfort and sideways glances from them. I am not much of a drinker but being weird and having a sense of humor is my nectar of (car)life. I can only imagine camping for four days in Green Park.

The first sights that we are entering Green Park

The Sebring Viking royalty blessed us on our voyager deeper into Green Park.

She welcomes all who enter Green Park with a “come hither look.”

The “force” blesses us as we continue our trek.

Gurney Bend and Turn 7

The two best turns in our opinion as a spectator is the Gurney Bend and Turn 7. If we were to stay or camp near any turn, it would be between those two. The transition of full-throttle, blistering red rotors from hard-braking and quick sequential down-shifts from multiple cars might as well be an orchestra playing at Carnegie Hall for this gearhead. The best way to enjoy these sections is to linger at the Gurney Bend and enjoy the wide-open throttle blasts and overtaking. The sound of the Porsches became a love and hate relationship over the 12hr race, by far the loudest and highest-pitched cars. The Porsches loud wailing sounded like a masterpiece at the beginning and then head-pounding by the end. 

The instrument of pleasure and pain in my ears – Porsche flat-sixes.

Once we have enjoyed the never lifting that the Gurney Bend provides, it was time to stroll further down to Turn 7. A true test of braking as the driver goes from 6th gear to what must feel like a dead stop in 1st gear. Other motorsports may have issues with passing but do not include endurance racing to that group. If there were one corner of Sebring, I would lounge at and watch the majority of the race Turn 7 would be it. You have everything a gearhead fan needs, a technical turn, race cars, a jumbotron, a mound that improves your view and the sense of humor of Green Park.

A Ferrari was entering Turn 7 while standing on the brakes.

Around that bridge is the braking point for Turn 7.

Making yourself at home in Sebring, sofa, some shade, and a big screen.

Finishing The Green Park Trek

Our now sunburnt skin and tired feet continue bordering Green Park to see every turn possible.  The “majestic” structures of infamous Turn 10 (a well-known group of enthusiastic Sebring fans and campers) cast a large shadow were we took an impromptu nap. If Green Park is a kingdom of the weird and fun, Turn 10 are their royalty. We could spot them easily as many wore commemorative Turn 10 green shirts this year due to St. Patricks Day falling on the same day as the 12hrs of Sebring. 

Nearing Turn 10 and their fans.

We arrived at Turn 10.

View from near Turn 10.

We finished last the portion of Green Park by passing “Beer Town” another Turn 10 offering. We continued and stopped at every section that had low fences for unobstructed views and breaks for our weary feet. Collier Curve and Turn 12 marks the end of Green Park. Our “lap” of Sebring ended where we began but the day was far from over. We made our way back to the Gurney and Fangio Terrace areas for a break from walking, unintentional sun-bathing (thanks for the t-shirt tan lines) and lunch.

Beertown, USA lives up to its name. A special appearance from the Green Park St. Patrick’s Day shirt.

There still was a race going on as this Nissan proves by just passing Beertown.

If It’s Free Three For Me

Some delicious BBQ chicken sandwiches and lemonade later (inside an air-conditioned room) courtesy of the Snack Shack we made our way to the manufactures displays, we crossed over the bridge near the Fangio Terrance. It is always a pure pleasure to hear engines roaring and feeling the wind pick up from underneath the wood-planked bridge as cars race by underneath. What can I say it is all about the simple pleasures of car-life.

Just in case you get lost and need to find other race tracks in the U.S.

It is a tradition now to go to the manufactures displays and see what new free shirt design is available this year. This time around the best free t-shirt came from Mobil 1, a commemorative shirt of the 66th Annual 12hrs of Sebring. The display areas were a needed break, strolling from one manufacturer to the next. One can walk around looking at cars, get your free shirts, test your sim racing skills or rest your feet and watch the race on large monitors. It is the car guy’s version of lounging.

Air-conditioning lounging at the Mazda display

Scratch that itch for racing with some sim racing, this was in the BMW display section.

Nightfall At The 12hrs

When nightfall comes, cooler temperatures are excellent for fans but another hurdle for drivers and teams. Now the drivers have to fend off other drivers, flickering glare of headlights, and cooler tire temperatures. Endurance racing is just that, how many problems can one endure in 12hrs and how fast can you go while doing it. For the spectators and photographers, dusk becomes the golden hour for viewing racing action. No other time in the day symbolizes art in motion like the golden hour. The hues of orange, yellow and red mixed together make for an incredible canvas. The cars and their lights are the brush strokes. 

A Lexus RC GT3 at Dusk (sounds like a name for an artwork).

The colors at dusk were terrific, I have never seen Sebring like this.

The crisp night air, exhaust notes, headlights flickering like candles in the wind due to the bumps at Sebring change the feel of this event. At night we choose to go back to one of our favorite sections, the Gurney Bend and enjoy the sun dropping behind the track. This time on the outside, closer to the entrance of Sebring International Raceway. The Gurney Bend spectator area near the main entrance of Sebring gives a great view of the cars from Turn 5. Then, exiting the “Corvette” bridge into the Gurney Bend to the hard braking zone of Turn 7.

Race car brush strokes from Gurney Bend to Turn 7.

Waning Hours 

As the race heads to its final hours, we make our way back from the Gurney Bend to the Midway. The Fangio and Gurney Terrace is the best place to catch some behind the scenes action. We can feel the desperation of teams, either for the race to finish or to maximize the remaining hours to gain a position. The access to teams in endurance racing is like no other professional motorsport; you can have a significant amount of access to the pits and not be a pest for race teams. 

Photographer and videographer were enjoying a light-hearted moment in the pits.

This picture sums up motorsports at a glance: suspension, helmet, and fluids.

Winners, Losers, and Victory Lane

After seeing the race teams in pit lane do their final pit stops and with less than thirty minutes to the end of the race we made our way to victory lane. An area we have never been before to see the celebrations. We were surprised by all the media members in a confined space. It is great to experience events from behind the television cameras; we always find a new appreciation for professional motorsports. 

It looks completely different on TV; this is victory lane and the media.

The race ends, and shortly after the roar of engines is quieter and quieter, the only cars audible are the winning cars from each class making their way to victory lane. The winners for the 2018 12hrs of Sebring were a Nissan(Prototype), Porsche(GTLM), and Lamborgini (GTD), The fireworks spray the sky and the champaign sprays victory lane, and so ends another great Sebring race. 

Podium Celebrations with the winners of each class.

Fireworks were announcing the celebration and end of the 12hrs of Sebring.

The line was leading to victory lane and the “love/hate” ear-drum piercing Porsche.

Until Next Year My Racing Friends

What makes Sebring distinctive among other tracks (besides its motorsports history) is having freedom for the fans. You can stroll around almost anywhere and see the race, all in a safe and fun environment. Sebring always finds ways to be beloved by everyone; we are part of that subset of humans called “car guys,” and Sebring is now a second home. The 12hrs of Sebring is growing; more people are flocking to the event every year. It is an event every gearhead has to visit. Just like a home, it has all sorts of family members, the helpful, the drunk, the weird but in Sebring all passionate about one thing – motorsports.

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