The 2016 Sebring Classic 12 Hours, Pistons and Props, was held December 1-4 at Florida’s famed Sebring International Raceway. Presented by Historic Sportscar Racing (HSR), this debut event mixed Sebring’s aviation and automotive history with vintage aircraft and vintage cars at one of the world’s most iconic race tracks.
The entire Sebring Classic 12 Hours race weekend was blessed with warm sun, low humidity and cool breezes, a perfect backdrop for all the activities laid on by HSR. The main focus for this event was the period correct groups of racers that would form the Classic 12 Hour races. Each group, based on performance and age, competed in four one-hour races. Of special note, one of the races for each group would be run in the dark on Saturday night. Filling out the rest of the weekend would be HSR’s signature sprint races and endurance series.
The Classic 12 Hour groups had their first race on Friday and what a show to start things off! Group A saw thundering Lola T70s, Ford GT40s and Chevrolet Corvettes. Each of the other groups had a very diverse selection of cars for every taste. Some standouts were the three Lola T70s, a 1966 and 1968 Ford GT40, a McLaren M1B, Lotus 23B, a 1969 Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona, 1963 Aston Martin DP214 recreation, 1975 March 75S, 1972 De Tomaso Pantera GTS, 1992 Toyota 94CV, 1986 Porsche 962 and many more. On the decidedly less vintage end of the spectrum, the 2007 Pescarolo 01 LMP was an absolute missile around the Sebring circuit and gave fans a taste of what top-line prototype racing looks like.
The unique format of the Sebring Classic 12 Hours attracted more than just famous cars. The roster of past driving greats on hand included Jochen Mass, Andy Wallace, Butch Leitzinger, David Porter, Chris Dyson, Andrew Beaumont and Nigel Greensall.
The vintage aircraft arrived Saturday morning and taxied in using the old runway that is now the very fast back straight of the circuit. Once the props had stopped turning the fans were allowed to get up close and talk with pilots about their aircraft. Lots of smiles all around! Also on view near the paddock entrance were some period military vehicles, some of which toured the track while firing their weapons with blanks.
In the paddock, several teams had arrived from Europe bringing very tasty machinery to test their mettle on the rough Sebring surface. Florent Moulin and his French team brought several cars and he commented that when he arrived at the circuit he thought “That’s it?”. However after a few laps he said he understood the magic of Sebring.
The beautiful Aston Martin DP214 recreation was brought over from England and driven with gusto by Robert Rawe. And if anyone was interested, the replica could be yours for a cool $1.1 million. That is really the essence of vintage racing, cars that are beautifully preserved or lovingly restored, very valuable but doing what they were made to do — race!
The HSR race groups had their usual close and entertaining racing during their sprint and endurance races including the Classic RS Cup, Global GT and the Bob Woodman International/American Challenge.
Saturday night was a real treat for race fans who may not get to see night road racing very often. Unlike a NASCAR night race where the entire track is illuminated like a football field, the Sebring circuit maintains only minimal lighting at the corners. Perfect circumstances to see Lola T70s spitting exhaust fire, brakes glowing on LED-adorned prototypes and even a Chevron B16 making a pass on a Lola T70 in pitch black because of an intermittent problem that put its headlights out. It doesn’t get any better than that.
The Sebring Classic 12 Hour groups had their final races on Sunday morning. As a testament to the skill, dedication and love put into them, there were few missing from the grid. No small feat when trying to keep a 50-year-old race car running. The event was a wonderful way to celebrate both facets of Sebring’s heritage and a great way to wrap up racing in 2016. Bring on 2017.
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