2008 Sebring SPEED GT Race - Slip Sliding Away

The Speed GT Season Opener Proves Wet And Especially Wild

Walt Thurn Sep 1, 2008 0 Comment(s)
Vemp_0809_01_z 2008_sebring_SPEED_GT_race 1/8

This sequence almost ended my photo career. Here, Eric Curran has lost all traction and is heading directly toward me at 140 mph. When I realized he wasn't turning, I jumped out of the way.

Rain, rain, go away...This familiar refrain was on every driver's mind leading up to the first SPEED GT race of the 2008 season. No surprise there: Sebring International Raceway is a tough place to race when the going gets wet. The old, WWII-era concrete runways on the front and back straights tend to hold water, causing even rain-compound tires to aquaplane. And even though race day started out sunny and warm, the forecast predicted storms and rain for the 4:40 p.m. start.

Besides the weather concern, the Corvette teams had a dynamic issue to worry about. Before the race, the SCCA added 250 pounds of weight and a larger engine restrictor to the Corvettes to slow them down. It worked, as evidenced when '07 pole-setter Eric Curran could qualify his No. 30 Whelen Corvette no higher than eighth-the best showing of the seven Vettes entered. Notably absent from the grid was SPEED GT stalwart Lou Gigliotti who decided, in the off-season, to leave the series and campaign a GT2 Corvette in ALMS.

Although the pre-grid was filled with sunlight, the race crews knew Sebring's mercurial skies could bring rain at any moment. What to do? After much deliberation, the teams decided to start the race on dry tires.

Bad move. When rain began to fall during the pre-race ceremonies, the competitors were quickly arrayed behind the pace car for a single-file rolling start. Just after the green flag fell, the downpour intensified all around the historic Sebring course. Curran took advantage of the resulting mayhem to move up from eighth to third. But at the start of his second lap, something went wrong as he attempted to negotiate Turn One. He later stated that the car's front tires completely lost their grip, making the required directional change impossible.

Unfortunately, your author was watching Curran through a telephoto lens as his car closed at around 140 mph. Finally realizing the danger, I was able to jump out of the way just as Curran's Vette impacted the 8,000-pound wall. It was a horrific hit, throwing parts and tires everywhere. On a positive note, Curran was able to climb out of the wrecked vehicle without injury, and I was able to walk away with a newfound respect for safety barriers.

The damage to the Turn One barrier was significant enough to elicit a full-course yellow for four laps. Curiously, only a third of the competitors-including race leader Randy Pobst in his Porsche and Andy Pilgrim in a Corvette-powered Cadillac CTS-V-took advantage of the yellow to dash into the pits for rain tires. Although the stop put Pobst and Pilgrim at the back of the field, the two veterans were able to carve their way through the pack and eventually retake their place among the front-runners. Pilgrim was in third when the second-place Porsche of James Sofronas spun in front of him on Lap 10 of the 12-lap race. Pilgrim avoided contact and moved into second place, a position he would hold to the finish. Pobst got the win in his 911.

Afterwards, Pilgrim commented on the less-than-optimal racing conditions. "It was impossible to even run down the straights due to aquaplaning-we were all over the place. I had so many near misses, with the car trying to go straight when I wanted to turn and trying to spin when I wanted to go straight! I am glad it is over and we are taking home a Second Place finish."

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