Sebring's first sports-car race was held at the old WWII Army base in 1950. Two years later, the first 12-hour enduro took place on the same course. This year marks the 60th anniversary of this classic long-distance race, one that has continued to evolve over the years. Today one lap measures 3.7 miles (down from the original 5.7), and is a combination of new pavement and remnants of the site's old concrete B-17 bomber runways.
The Sebring 12-hour typically draws a huge international crowd, and this year was no exception. The American Le Mans Series (ALMS), the Automobile Club de l'Ouest (ACO), and the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) sanctioning bodies all participated in the event. Two races were run at the same time, the ALMS and the FIA World Endurance Cup (WEC). The ALMS had 34 entries, while the WEC had 30. Each group featured its own classes that did not compete the other series'.
In 2009 Corvette Racing participated in the GT1 class at Sebring in the unbeatable 7.0L C6.R. Oliver Gavin put the No. 04 car on the pole with a time of 1:57.882. This year Jan Magnussen took the GT-class pole position with a time of 1:58.996 in a 5.5-liter C6.R. That it's only taken the team three years to narrow the gap between the two cars to less than a second is impressive.
It's also worth noting that at last year's Sebring race, Gavin was second quickest in GT qualifying with a time of 2:01.743. The season's reduced time is largely attributable to the '12 car's 2-inch-wider track, which greatly improves handling on this twisty, bumpy circuit.
Four Corvettes participated this year--two from Corvette Racing and two from Larbre Competition. The Larbre team competed in the WEC series in two ex-Pratt & Miller C6.Rs. The WEC has two GT classes--Pro and Amateur--and the Larbre Corvettes ran in the Amateur category. The No. 50 car was third fastest (2:01.640), and the No. 70 was fourth (2:02.732). The Corvette Racing C6.Rs, meanwhile, grabbed the top two ALMS GT qualifying positions, with entries from BMW and Porsche very close behind.
The 64 cars took the green flag under bright, sunny skies at 10:30 a.m. The two ALMS C6.Rs were tucked closely behind two WEC Ferrari 458 Italias early on, where they took turns leading the ALMS GT pack. As the race wore on, last year's ALMS Championship–winning BMWs began hounding the Corvettes. They seemed to be finding extra speed, and their pit crews were making very rapid exchanges.
As the sun set, the No. 04 Corvette held the lead, with two BMWs second and third, and the No. 03 C6.R close behind in fourth. After a series of stops, Magnussen was second in No. 03, just behind the leading BMW driven by Joey Hand.
As the race was winding down, a Ferrari that was well out of contention hit Hand. The BMW driver spun at Turn 5 but was able to recover and take the checkered flag seven seconds ahead of Mags in his Corvette. The No. 04 C6.R passed the other BMW to make it a 2-3 finish for Corvette Racing. The Larbre Corvettes, meanwhile, finished Second and Third in WEC Amateur GT.
"I really don't know what happened, but apparently the BMW and Ferrari got together. I didn't even know that I had passed the Ferrari in the darkness," Magnussen reported after the race. "We were struggling at the end of the race with the track conditions, so Second is a huge bonus and a fantastic foundation to build on. Sebring is such a difficult race, and I'm very happy with a podium finish."
The race turned out to be a virtual repeat of last year's duel between BMW and Corvette. The Bimmers appeared to be holding back for the majority of the race and did not show their speed advantage until near the end. Only one race into the season, this year's ALMS battle is already shaping up to be a fierce one.