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Sebring 12-hour 2014 musings, race observations

Mar 18, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT

Sebring Getty Images

Some observations and insights gleaned from the week at Sebring International Raceway, site of the latest Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring and now run under the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship banner:

  • When it was green, it was entertaining racing. Toss out the first six hours that were caution-infested, and from hour seven on, it was some seriously impressive action between P2 and DP spec cars at the front, both GT classes and a hat tip in particular to James Gue and David Heinemeier Hansson, a pair of Silver-rated drivers who flew the flag for the beleaguered PC class in a two-stint lead battle after a series of unfortunate accidents in that category earlier in the race.
  • But Coldplay’s “Yellow” might have been the race’s perfect anthem. The 11 full-course cautions, including the last one thrown in the last hour for the stranded, off-pace and off-position Marsh Racing Corvette DP, did not allow the stars to shine for nearly as long as they should have. In total, more than five hours were spent behind the safety car.
  • And the yellows were too long. IMSA’s Scot Elkins told assembled media after the race they’ll work on improving the procedure to speed up yellow flag periods, which at the low end were anywhere from 20-25 minutes per. To be fair, Sebring’s 3.7-mile track length doesn’t help, with four-plus minute lap times under yellow.
  • Officiating/safety/etc. Without belaboring the point, the officiating mistakes admitted were unfortunate and unneeded for the series, particularly after the ending at Daytona. As for safety, the Ben Keating Viper fire was also tough to watch, but he mercifully escaped without injury.
  • David Bowie’s “Changes” was the entry list’s anthem. More than half the GT Daytona class lineups changed during the week (cars No. 13, 18, 19, 22, 27, 44, 45, 49, 71, 73, 94 and 555), seemingly by the hour depending on driver rankings. In a three-driver lineup, only one designated Platinum/Gold pro would be allowed, so that meant Silver-rated (technically amateur, with some exceptions) drivers were the hot ticket. Various inconsistencies exist within the four-tier system (these three plus Bronze) and it’s something that is probably going to be addressed going forward by the powers-that-be.
  • No P1? No problem. Early last week, I wrote that it could take some getting used to not having any P1 cars on track. With that the case, I can’t remember a Sebring in the last 15 years or so that wide-open where you had no idea how was going to win overall except for 2011, and the balance was strong between the P2 and DP-spec cars. On this front, it was entertaining and was building to an excellent crescendo before the last yellow.
  • The PC dilemma. A tough weekend for the second prototype class as a whole, as two major accidents and a high volume of spins by the amateur drivers stuck out more than the sublime qualifying lap turned in by former Indianapolis 500 pole sitter Bruno Junqueira on Friday. PC qualifying is can’t miss – Junqueira, Alex Tagliani, Colin Braun, Raphael Matos, Gunnar Jeannette, Martin Plowman, Renger van der Zande, Tom Kimber-Smith, Tonis Kasemets and Stephen Simpson are all high-quality pro drivers and put on a show on Friday. Some of the ams are better than others, but some of the spins – particularly by the No. 87 BAR1 Motorsports entry, which was involved in no less than 4 of the 11 yellows – were regrettable. Enforcing some sort of minimum standard for licensing should be something explored down the road. It might mean the cars end up with less damage, too.
  • Porsche’s ridiculously strong start. Regardless of how Porsche got its second straight GTLM win, with the officiating error that occurred, there’s still no denying that the new factory effort has come out of the gate very impressive. Porsche’s new 991-spec 911 RSR has had the measure of the field – only slightly but enough to make a difference – and been pacesetters at two widely different types of circuits. BMW had luck but not pace in Daytona; the reverse was true Saturday in Sebring. SRT Viper is close to its second win, and appears a fraction ahead of Corvette, as it sorts out its new C7.R. Ferrari is on the back foot after two devastating accidents for Matteo Malucelli.
  • Krohn’s standout drive. Krohn Racing delivered an outstanding performance to end fourth in GTLM; the privateer team is running an older Ferrari F458 Italia chassis and only doing the four NAEC rounds this year. Tracy Krohn and Nic Jonsson celebrated their 100th race together and third driver Andrea Bertolini proved an invaluable addition.
  • Magnus wins on track and on YouTube. Magnus Racing took the GTD class win, and also continued their usual shenanigans throughout the week in video. They began the week with the bizarre even by Magnus standards “Rediscovering SportsCar, Part 2,” and ended it with the classic Media Barons-style short sequence of videos called “the 12 Hours of Seefried,” named for new Sebring third driver Marco Seefried.
  • AIM on target in return. Second for the AIM Autosport Ferrari 458 Italia GT3, driven by the ex-Daytona Level 5 trio of Townsend Bell, Bill Sweedler and Jeff Segal and new recruit Maurizio Mediani, was better than expected considering the lateness of the program coming together. Good on the Andrew Bordin/Ian Willis-led crew for their efforts.
  • Rum Bum won the livery game. Can’t say as I’d seen a tie-dye car before until the new Rum Bum/Snow Racing Porsche 911 GT America showed up. Not sure how it’s perceived in photos, but I loved the look on site.
  • There’s a month until Long Beach, and 1.5 until Monterey. Long Beach next month will have a significantly reduced grid from the 63 at Sebring as it will only include P and GTLM class cars. All four classes return at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in May, but in split P/GTLM and PC/GTD races.

  1. testover6370 - Mar 18, 2014 at 11:42 AM

    My observations:

    To start with the good, I think they actually managed to nail BOP. I still think the DPs will be advantaged on street circuits like Long Beach just because they can take a hit, but on most road courses they look like they will be fairly well matched against the real prototypes, and there are no standouts in GT either. GTD in particular seems very close looking at the variety in the top 5 in qualifying.

    Speaking of GTD, they may have got the BOP right, but I still don’t understand why they don’t save themselves the trouble and just make the class GT3 spec. If BOP is off, then it isn’t their fault, they can just point at the FIA. It would be easier and cheaper for the competitors to just buy a GT3 car and not have to modify it too.

    I wish Krohn would step up to a full season. Their car is very striking and they can perform. There needs to be a Ferrari on the grid and Risi seemed rather determined to crash their way out of the season this weekend, not what they needed after the Daytona incident.

    Everyone in race control needs to be sacked, immediately. That’s not too harsh. Two major officiating errors in two races, both of which significantly altered (if temporarily in the first case) the standings, and were both so comically easy to get right my 19 month old could have made the correct call. Combine that with a belief that racing fans, particularly sportscar fans, are like NASCAR fans, and throwing competition cautions for the sake of “the show”, there’s absolutely nothing redeeming about IMSA’s race control.

    After race control is sacked, the old ALMS safety crew needs to be un-sacked. Two cars in two races burn to the ground while the local safety crews hired off the street take their sweet time deciding if they can be bothered to respond or not. That’s unacceptable.

    The driver ranking issues isn’t just an IMSA problem, but an FIA/ACO problem too. IMSA is just consistent with them, which is an inconsistent and confusing system to start with. It needs a major overhaul, including making a determination far enough out that people don’t lose rides they thought they had secured.

    Simple way to fix the caution issue: No more NASCAR lucky dogs, you restart in the order the safety car picked you up. Close the pits when the safety car is released. If a short caution for a simple recovery, keep them closed. If long cleanup, then do the split pitting procedure.

    Second simple step the fix the caution issue: let marshals push stranded cars to safety and remove stray debris under local yellow. If the rest of the world can do it, so can we.

    Third simple step to fix the caution issue: Code 60. Best. Idea. Ever.

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