Ah Sebring! A famously old WWII airfield in the middle of central Florida is the home of America’s most enduring road race. First run in 1952, the Sebring 12 Hours is one of the roughest, toughest races of the modern age. There’s nothing contemporary about the track or its facilities and its mid-March date has long made the twelve hours one of Florida’s many big ‘Spring Break’ parties. The crowd is there to have a good time in the growing late winter heat with the sights and sounds of a classic motor race as a convenient backdrop.
This year’s 56th running of the Sebring 12 hours was billed as a Le Mans preview centered on the duelling turbo diesels from Audi and Peugeot. The race was supposed to be all about a titanic struggle between the two factory teams from Germany and France, but both Audi R10s and the lone Peugeot 908 ran into unexpected troubles as the Penske-Porsche team came through to score Penske Racing’s first win in the endurance classic and the first outright Sebring win for Porsche in twenty years. It also meant Penske becomes the first team owner to win both the Daytona 500 and Sebring 12 hours in the same year and the first team owner able to boast of wins at Indianapolis, Daytona and Sebring. And it brought an end to Audi’s eight-year Sebring winning streak.
Before the race, Audi ace Alan McNish reckoned the lighter LMP2 Penske Porsche Spyders were serious dark horses to win the 12 hours. “We saw Penske and Porsche step up last year and raise the bar,” McNish remarked. “Porshe improved their downforce from last year and between that and their fuel advantage, they will be very hard to beat.
“The Porsches are good in every situation,” McNish added. “They are a little slower than us in qualifying but their race pace is very similar to ours. Also, the LMP2 cars’ fuel capacity mean they can run longer than us on a tank of fuel which can add up to three pitstops less over the course of a twelve-hour race. So that’s a lot of advantage in their pocket.”
As Audi focuses its factory racing efforts with its R10 on Europe this year, it will be interesting to see if the Penske Porsche RS Spyders will continue their winning ways in the American Le Mans Series. After winning eight races last year and Sebring for the first time in twenty years, has Porsche replaced Audi as the new standard-setter for the ALMS?