By David Phillips
SEBRING, Fla. – Round 2 of the 2023 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship features the granddaddy of American sports car endurance racing, namely the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring. Make that the 71st Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring.
Organized by aviation industry poohbah Alec Ulmann on a temporary circuit utilizing the runways and service roads of the one-time B-17 pilot training facility Hendricks Field, the inaugural event took place on New Year’s Eve in 1950, won by Fritz Koster and Ralph Deshon in a Crosley Hotshot. In the ensuing seven decades, a virtual who’s who of racing have won at Sebring in iconic marques like Ferrari, Porsche, Audi, BMW, Ford, Cadillac and Acura.
Where the original race lasted six hours, after a one-year hiatus, the event grew to 12 hours in 1952 and has remained an even dozen hours ever since. And while the track has evolved from the original 3.3-mile temporary layout marked by hay bales and (empty) oil drums to today’s permanent 3.74-mile facility, the circuit’s fundamental nature remains unchanged. For although it’s been many a year since those rough and tumble runways saw a B-17, they continue to dish out some of the harshest punishment known to sports car racing. Small wonder Sebring International Raceway’s unofficial mantra is “Respect the Bumps.”
Traditionally the second round of the WeatherTech Championship, the Twelve Hours of Sebring comes seven weeks after the season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona. In essence, that’s a second (if abbreviated) offseason for competitors to fine-tune their acts in the wake of the Rolex 24. Case in point, the Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class.
While the complex new Acura, BMW, Cadillac and Porsche hybrids weathered their baptism by fire with surprisingly few mechanical hiccups, rest assured the manufacturers and teams have not been resting on any laurels. For example, the two Porsche Penske Motorsport entries showed very competitive speeds at Daytona, but both Porsche 963s experienced mechanical issues that waylaid any chance of victory.
Will Acura show the same pace that resulted in a 1-2 finish at Daytona? Or, in the wake of last year’s 1-2-3 Sebring finish and JDC-Miller MotorSports’ popular win in 2021, could Cadillac claim a third straight conquest in the top prototype class?
Similarly, GT manufacturers, teams and drivers alike have been trying to figure how to match the strong form exhibited by the Mercedes-AMG GT3 and Aston Martin Vantage GT3 en route to their respective class wins (GTD PRO and GTD) at Daytona. The Ferrari 296 GT3, Lamborghini Huracán EVO2 and the type 992 of the Porsche 911 GT3 R all made their competition debuts at the Rolex 24; we’ll see if they can improve their lot at Sebring.
On the other hand, Corvette Racing has been annually competitive at Sebring – witness last year’s unprecedented 12th Twelve Hour triumph since 2002. While that was Corvette’s only GTD PRO win of 2022, the No. 3 served notice at Daytona that 2023 could be a very different proposition.
As for GTD, matching last year’s 1-3 finish for the Ferrari 488 GT3 seems a tall order for the AF Corse, Triarisi Competizione and Cetilar Ferrari 296s in only their second outing, especially given that Team Korthoff Motorsports’ No. 32 Mercedes set the pace at Sebring in prerace testing. On the other hand, anything can – and often does – happen over the course of 12 grueling hours at Sebring.
In the Le Mans Prototype 2 and 3 categories, traditional LMP2 powerhouses PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports and Era Motorsport are seeking to rebound from disappointing showings at Daytona. Similarly, Tower Motorsport will be looking to at least visit the podium after the No. 8 ORECA LMP2 07 finished what, for the defending class champions, was a lackluster P5 in the Rolex 24.
Although they missed Daytona, Jr III Racing has to count as a favorite in LMP3, given that the team captured the pole and two wins in as many tries last weekend in the IMSA VP Racing SportsCar Challenge races at Sebring. You’ve got to figure Jr III knows a thing or three about Sebring and stands to give Daytona podium finishers AWA, Sean Creech Motorsport and Performance Tech Motorsports a run for their money.
All these prognostications – and many, many more questions – will be put to the test beginning at 10:10 a.m. ET Saturday. Catch all the action on Peacock (starting at 10 a.m.) and USA Network (joining in at 4:30 p.m.), as well as IMSA Radio.