By David Phillips
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In a perfect world, James Tiberius Kirk would be the Grand Marshal of Saturday’s Cadillac Grand Prix of Sebring. After all, who better embodies the spirit of the event than the character known for ‘boldly going where no one has gone before?’
For never has there been an IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race at Sebring in July, let alone one scheduled to last 2 hours and 40 minutes – 9 hours and 20 minutes shy of the classic Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts.
It would take a bold prognosticator indeed to make ironclad predictions with any degree of confidence. However, some aspects of the race will almost certainly bear watching, particularly as they contrast to the Sebring norm.
It’s Not a Marathon… It’s a Sprint
For one thing, there will be less margin for error than during a 12-hour race. Cut a tire, flub a pit stop, bust some carbon fiber or suffer a minor mechanical glitch in a 12-hour race?
Not fatal to your chances of finishing on the podium, even the top step. Depending on when the mishap occurs, there can be ample time to make up the lost ground with an extra turn of speed and/or cagey fuel/tire strategy. Go down a lap on Saturday and it’ll be as if the same mishap occurred in the closing stages of the Twelve Hours.
Respect The Bumps
Sebring is acknowledged to be the supreme test of reliability thanks to the pounding meted-out by a pit straightaway featuring the original concrete over which Juan Manuel Fangio, Phil Hill, Dan Gurney and Stirling Moss raced some 60 years ago.
The folks at Sebring International Raceway didn’t make-up the tagline “Respect the Bumps” out of thin air! Sure, Saturday’s race is less than a 1/4 distance of the usual Twelve Hours; and yes, lately the pace of the Twelve Hours has resembled that of a sprint race.
But this is a sprint race and mechanical mayhem could impact the outcome. And will drivers be less, er, patient when it comes to overtaking (or defensive) maneuvers? Keep an eye on the No. 6 Acura Team Penske DPi, especially when Juan Pablo Montoya – he of the sharpest elbows in the paddock – is at the helm.
Fresh off their 1-2 finish in the Daytona 240, the Mazda DPis appear to be the cars to beat for overall honors. Likewise, AIM Vasser Sullivan and Lexus will be looking to repeat their GTD class 1-2 at Daytona. And, having notched the new C8.R’s first win at Daytona, Corvette will be gunning for IMSA win No. 101 in GTLM.
But it remains to be seen whether the Daytona winners’ pace will translate to Sebring’s rougher, twistier environment.
Did Someone Say “Weather?”
As always, rain is the great equalizer and there’s a 60 percent chance of precipitation in the forecast. A squall or two could be just what the doctor (as in the late Dr. Ferdinand Porsche) ordered in GTLM and GTD.
Finally, the LMP2 class returns to action at Sebring. Featuring identical Gibson-ORECA LMP2 07s, the five-car entry is – by definition – equally matched. DragonSpeed USA must be the favorite, considering they won the season opener by two laps over their PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports rivals. But that was after 24 hours at Daytona in January. This is 2 hours and 40 minutes at Sebring in July – a time, place and distance no one in IMSA has gone before.
May competitors and fans alike live long and prosper!