Editor’s note: With the 2016 65th annual 12 hours of Sebring scheduled for March 16-19, 2016, we decided to revisit Walt Thurn’s coverage of the exciting 2015 race.
The Sebring area is not glamorous. It’s tucked away in the middle of Florida and is located miles from many of the beautiful beaches this state is known for. However, this is why the military chose Sebring to build Hendricks Army Airfield in 1941. The goal was to train World War II heavy bomber pilots to fly the Boeing B-17 in an isolated setting. Sebring was a perfect location. When the military abandoned the base, Sebring race founder Alec Ulmann began holding sports car races in 1950 on the airport’s old concrete runways. His first 12 Hour event was in 1952 and sixty-three years later, Sebring is still going strong. The track length has been changed eight times. For 30 years one lap was 5.2 miles long and today it’s 3.74 miles. But the circuit retains two portions of the old Hendricks field concrete runways, which is part of its legacy. The track is rough, hot, and brutal on drivers and equipment, but teams come back repeatedly to try and conquer it. Annually Sebring draws large crowds, and spring break college kids are part of this group.
In 2013 two of the United States sports car organizations, ALMS and Grand Am, merged and formed the Tudor United Sports Car Championship. Corvette fans follow two classes after this merger, Prototype (P) and GTLM (Grand Touring Le Mans). In the P class, the Corvette Daytona Prototype (DP) is the car to beat. In GTLM the Corvette C7.R is a consistent class winner. Chevrolet has not captured an overall victory at Sebring since 1965 when a Chevy powered Chaparral won the top honors. Could a Corvette DP bring home a second Chevrolet victory? Four DP Corvettes qualified 3rd, 5th, 6th and 7th. The No. 5 Mustang Sampling Corvette DP was the quickest Corvette with a time of 1:52.128. The other three Corvette DP’s were not far behind. In GTLM, two factory 911 RSR Porsches captured the front row. The No. 3 C7.R driven by Magnussen, Garcia and Briscoe was .24 of a second behind the pole time in third place. The No. 4 C7.R driven by Gavin, Milner and Pagenaud was .86 of a second behind the pole winning Porsche! The GTLM class offers fans very close competition.
Forty-four cars took the green flag to start the 63rd running of this historic endurance race under hot sunny skies. At the end of the first hour, Corvette DP’s were in 2nd, 3rd and 4th overall positions. The No. 3 C7.R was running a close second behind the class leading Porsche. From hour two to the finish, the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Corvette DP crewed by the Action Express team dominated the top positions. The other three Corvettes had small problems that kept them behind the storming No. 5. The No. 10 Konica Minolta Corvette lost a lap early in the race due to some front end damage, but drivers Ricky Taylor, Jordon Taylor and Max Angelelli fought their way up the charts and challenged for the overall lead late in the race. It was not to be, the Mustang Sampling Corvette DP took the overall victory by one lap ahead of the No. 10 Konica Minolta Corvette. It took fifty years for Chevrolet to capture its second overall Sebring victory. Like the 1965 winning small-block Chevy powered Chaparral, this year’s winner was also powered by a small-block Chevy! In 1965 a massive rain storm flooded the track, but much to everyone’s shock the Sports Prototype Chaparral took the overall victory. Fortunately no rain pelted the track this year and the Corvette powered prototypes took 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 5th. A little further down the order the No. 3 Corvette C7.R finished tenth overall and first in GTLM. This was Corvette’s ninth GT victory at Sebring. The No. 4 Corvette experienced mechanical difficulty and finished a disappointing 32nd overall and 9th in GTLM. The 2015 season is started off with a bang for Corvette race fans, let’s hope the victory momentum keeps building and brings Corvette double championships. Stay tuned.