Sebring 2018

With the 36 hours of Florida behind us, it’s a good time to check in with the Weathertech Championship and see how things are going.

Sebring was certainly a departure from the refreshingly green run we had at Daytona, with a painful rate of safety car interventions. While the green allowed the Caddy’s to cruise off into the Florida sunset at Daytona, many factors including the yellows, track character, and the hard work of some of the other teams made things quite a bit more interesting at Sebring.

Once again Sebring showed us that it will bite you hard and without mercy. While the 2018 race was competitive, there were numerous other factors that stood out as detractors from this end – here my main takeaways.

Cautions Kill Endurance Racing

While we all love to see a good fight on the track, endurance racing is traditionally about going further than anyone else. The constant interruptions that eliminate the hard fought gaps between positions violate the entire spirit of the race. This is primarily why I’m in favor of IMSA adopting a code60 procedure similar to the system employed in the FIA WEC and others. Folks like to complain that code60s give unfair advantage to teams that are able to pit as they lose less time. This is surely an issue the race organizers need to consider going forward, but the outcome is surely more equitable than the constant safety car interventions – which certainly play favorites of their own. Beyond this issue, a race marred with yellows is simply less entertaining, especially for the fans at the track who go from watching high-speed action to a 10-20-minute stint of parade laps. As a fan watching at home for this one, I eventually decided to get some fresh air and catch the replay on YouTube, where I can gleefully skip over the safety car periods. Addressing this problem should be a top priority for IMSA as it seeks to expand its  audience. Like many other folks I know, I’m not too keen to spend my Saturday watching several hours of yellow flag laps.

Sebring Needs Safety Updates

Before you close out this window and swear never to return to this website just hear me out. I understand proposing any changes to Sebring is a bit of a third rail in sports car racing, but I think it can (and must) be done without altering the character of the track. Primarily, the track just needs a number of barriers moved back significantly, Turns 1 and 17 particularly come to mind. Tristan Vautier and Frankie Montecalvo’s incidents coming out of 17 highlighted the need for this wall in particular to be recessed, with both cars have since been written off from those impacts. I’m not advocating sterilizing green park or building a bunch of fancy buildings like we have at COTA or Le Mans, and I certainly wouldn’t touch the racing surface or pave any additional runoff, but one need only watch an on-board lap at Sebring to cringe a little bit. There are lots of other tracks with limited runoff, but few pose the precarious crash angles we regularly see at Sebring. The thought of LMP1 cars on the track again for next year’s WEC extravaganza certainly worries me.

Balance of Performance Once Again the Story

A shame BoP still dominates the headlines, but it remains the biggest problem in sports car racing, with complaints flying in from global-spec prototype teams about the speed of the DPi spec cars. I just really don’t know what to say at this point, has IMSA learned nothing? The merger and balancing the old DP and LMP2 cars was a nightmare, but it appears they have made the same mistake. Yes the cars are much more similar this go around but the formulas are still massively different; one is literally spec and the other is literally intended to give manufacturers  opportunities to improve that spec. What are we doing here?…

There’s Only One 12 Hours

With many heads in the community utterly confused about the rationale behind the timing and logistics of the IMSA-WEC double header next year, I’m more perplexed as to why it’s happening at all. I’ve been an advocate for the WEC returning to a slot in one of America’s existing premier endurance events for some time.

I was never a fan of Circuit of the America’s, or the 6-hour event, but this somehow seems to be an even worse idea. For a few years we’ve heard some others in the industry spout that American fans should be thankful for the Austin event, and if we want to support the WEC in America we should make the trip to the Lone Star State. I’m not always one to parrot the cliché that the customer is always right, but in this case it is painfully apparent. Why does the WEC seem set on selling us this F1-style, white-washed, cookie-cutter championship all the while there are many wonderful events like Sebring that we already worship? Putting the race in Austin was clearly a mistake, but this plan for Sebring is not exactly what I had in mind.

There is only one blue ribbon event at Sebring and that is the 12 hours, and it should be a World Endurance Championship event. This is not to say IMSA should give it up either, I salivate at the idea of a combined event like we saw in the days of the ILMC. Of course, this will likely only be possible if/when the upcoming global prototype regulations come together, but to me this is really the only idea worth considering. A united 12 hours would be a fantastic showing of solidarity on behalf of sports car racing and of course, the fans! The 12 hours event is bigger than either championship (although evidently not the egos of either gang of organizers) and deserves to be placed on a world class pedestal. The split 2019 event will only further underscore the sheer idiocy of continuing to insist on having two divergent prototype philosophies (although we may have our answers by then). For now, it seems the WEC would be better served to find their own date at Sebring or elsewhere.

cover photo: JGkatz

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