By Bob Harmeyer
Sebring International Raceway, located on a former Army Air Force base situated among the orange groves of south-central Florida, is celebrating the 60th anniversary of the legendary 12 hour endurance classic in 2012.
Sebring has always been one of my three favorite races to photograph, along with the 24 hour races at Daytona and Le Mans. At all three, the lengths of the races provide a wide range of lighting conditions that change and evolve throughout the races.
But Sebring has a distinctive character trait that’s lacking at the other two. More than Daytona or Le Mans, the relentless pounding of Sebring’s singularly brutal track surface has yielded images of wounded cars staggering toward the finish. Sebring’s finishing order is more often the result of true endurance, with outright speed frequently relegated to long stops for repairs, or outright retirements.
The circuit has been reconfigured several times, with the lap distance now pegged at 3.7 miles. That’s less than half the distance around Le Mans and, although it’s a shorter track and just a 12 hour race, many believe that the 12 hour mugging of Sebring is actually tougher than 24 hours around Circuit de la Sarthe.
Among Sebring’s ironies: the 1985 event yielded the final victory in the career of IndyCar legend AJ Foyt.
And among Sebring’s enthusiastic fans: Bobby Rahal, who has described his 1987 victory as one of the emotional highlights of his career.
Porsche has more Sebring victories than any other marque, and Porsches dominate the following photo selection. But Porsche has won just once since 1988, with recent events being dominated by the classic duels between Audi and Peugeot. Unfortunately, Peugeot’s unexpected closure of their racing program sets the table for another Audi romp to the podium this year.
Always run during March, Sebring is perfectly scheduled as a “spring break” for both students and adults who’ve grown weary of several months of northern winters, and the infield party atmosphere has a long history and richly deserved reputation. Coupled with the track’s classic endurance racing action, the 12 Hours of Sebring is a multi-sensory experience that should be sampled at least once by every serious racing enthusiast.
To see more of Bob Harmeyer’s images, visit bobh.photoshelter.com.