Event of the month -- Sebring Endurance Challenge

What better way to build up for the classic 12 Hours than a festival of old-car action at America’s most famous airfield track? Bob Harrington reports

Historic Sportscar Racing’s forte has always been its strong emphasis on endurance events. Ever since the club’s inaugural meeting at Sebring back in 1991, the HSR has set the benchmark in North American historic sportscar racing.

This year’s event, run on March 4-6, was true to form. Two three-hour Rolex-backed enduros, two one-hour night races and a one-hour GTP/WSC event were all included on an ambitious schedule. As ever with the HSR there was more going on than at a three-ring circus thanks to a wide range of races catering for all manner of cars, classes and eras.

The weekend kicked off with the Anglo-American GT Challenge for British sports and GT cars over 1500cc and pre-73 American ‘muscle cars’. In a field largely dominated by ‘American Thunder’, Larry Ligas in a ’61 Jaguar XKE held off a determined charge by John Cloud’s ’67 Chevy Camaro to take the win.

Next up was the Klub Sport Porsche Challenge for 356s, plus 911s and 914s up to two litres. In a rare occurrence in this series we had a flag-to-flag winner: James Thomason’s ’72 914/6. But behind him there was a great scrap for position, Josh Vargo’s ’66 Porsche 911 holding second at the chequer. Eric Bretzel’s ’72 911 beat Jim Scott’s ’73 IROC by a scant 0.076sec in the 3-litre Porsche Challenge.

It was no surprise that the trio of GTP cars in the 24-car Chevy Challenge took a 1-2-3. But the race was not without its drama. The Intrepids of Gunnar Jeannette and Craig Bennet diced all race for the lead, with Jeannette coming out on top, while Ron Ciarvella’s Spice had an off on the opening lap and had to wait for the pack to go by before he could rejoin the fray. He got back up to third, but time was not on his side to mount an attack on the leaders.

A Sebring tradition, the vintage night race, finished off the first day’s activities. The entry was dominated by Porsches, Mark Herrington and Brady Refenning taking the win in a ’73 911 ahead of Jim McCormick’s ’69 911 RSR and Jack Refenning and Peter Uria in a ’70 914/6.

In the first of Saturday’s feature races, the Corvette Challenge, Steve Collins (’66 Corvette) and Mike Donohue (’63 Corvette) went at it hammer and tongs, but on the penultimate lap they both hit oil and pirouetted off in unison. They didn’t make contact and Donohue recovered, still in the lead. But Collins stalled and was out.

A strong field of 20 cars took the green flag for the Al Holbert Memorial GTP/WSC race. Doug Smith, driving Jim Roger’s five-year-old Audi R8 (they clearly have a different definition of ‘historic’ in the US — Ed), took the lead from the start and was never seriously challenged (what a surprise — Ed, again). A lap behind at the end of the hour-long race was Lloyd Hawkins’s 1990 Porsche 962, with Dennis Spencer’s ’93 Kudzu-Mazda chasing him hard to the chequer.

Refenning and Uria’s 914/6 took the first of the Rolex vintage night enduros. Dennis Spencer and Rich Grupp’s ’93 Kudzu-Mazda had a 30sec edge on the Porsche 996 of Marc Brune in the second.

Sunday started with six-lap ‘Group’ sprints followed by the last race of the weekend, the Rolex Historic/Classic GT Enduro. After three hours Shane Lewis, Jeff Kline and J Bailey in a ’90 Spice GTP led by a full two laps ahead of Gary Pearson, Roger Mandeville and Ian James in their ’90 Spice. A further two laps back in third was one of the oldest cars in the race, the Roy Waltzer/Phil Harris Chevron B16.

So ended a full weekend of action, all in the Sebring enduro tradition. A perfect curtain-raiser for the contemporary 12-hour classic.