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PUMPELLY: Sebring Debrief

Spencer Pumpelly files his latest Sportscar365 column…

Photo: Jamey Price/Lamborghini

Photo: Jamey Price/Lamborghini

On every trip I take to Sebring, I find myself amazed. Why does the racing world revere a flat piece of sand in the middle of a desolate orange grove so much?

Why does it have such an old feel? Why are there huge cracking concrete slabs instead of fresh smooth asphalt? Why put a racetrack near a town where there are so few hotels and places to get a good meal? Why here?

The answer is history. After World War II, the many of the returning officers brought back an enthusiasm for European sports cars.

In the late 40’s and early 50’s racing events were organized in places like Monterey Calif., Elkhart Lake, Wis., and Watkins Glen N.Y. Permanent road racing facilities were still a decade or more away so back then races were run through uncontrolled public streets.

But one sports car enthusiasts had his own idea. Alec Ulmann, an aerospace engineer, had bought what was then Hendricks Army Air Field as a base for his aviation company.

Ulmann attended the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1950 and figured his airport would be the perfect place to stage a similar style endurance race in America.

In 1952 the first 12 Hours was run on a 5.2 mile layout that used both the runways and the access roads around the base.

The place has changed over the years to become almost unrecognizable. The track and airport are now two distinctly separate entities. No longer do we run on the wide runways that made the track so challenging.

My father tells stories of going off track in the runway section. Because it was so dark, he wouldn’t know which way to go to get back until another car came by with it’s headlights on.

Now the only things that remain of the old Sebring is the bumps. From the entry to Turn 17 to the exit of Turn 1 the track still runs over the old concrete slabs that used to be the ramp for the airbase.

Time has not been kind. The result is one of the bumpiest tracks anywhere in the world. To be fast at Sebring is to be good over the bumps, and that’s one Sebring tradition I hope never changes.

When you get to the track it’s easy to forget all the history and focus on the task at hand.

Our Change Racing Lamborghini was ready to go but we had several unknowns heading into the event. For the first time Al Carter joined the team but with his experience and success in pervious endurance races it was an easy integration.

We also had a new BoP with made us one of the heaviest cars in the class, and at the last minute we added the 11 car to our stable making us a two-car team.

As it turned out the second car was a plus. The extra personnel proved to be an advantage and each team was able to use setup features from the other car to narrow in on a good balance quickly.

The BoP change was tougher. The weight made tire wear worse, especially in the heat of mid day. The power advantage we had at Daytona only really came once we clicked it into 6th gear, something you don’t do much of at Sebring or anywhere else for that matter.

Either way we had a race to run and off we went. The start was OK for me but things started to really look up when it rained.

After the red flag Corey Lewis was able to bring the car to the front in the mixed conditions. Al Carter did a great stint as the track dried and I was able to get back in on slicks for another go.

With four hours to go Corey got back in and was once again able to take the lead. Corey was very cool under pressure and held off charges from several pro guys.

But things would not end up the way we hoped. With 3 hours to go there was some confusion and we took a wave around that we were not supposed to take.

The result was a 4-minute penalty that took us off the lead lap. With little time remaining we were not able to get the lap back and finished a disappointing 11th.

But looking back on the weekend there were a lot of positives. We had good speed despite not being in the best position BoP wise.

We had a Lamborghini that ran flawlessly despite taking 10 hours of abuse. Corey proved he will be a great co-driver this season, and the team’ pitwork and prep were flawless.

Sebring had never been lucky for me. I’ve never won a pro race there and I seem to have all sorts of bad luck on the old Hendricks Field tarmacs, but it’s still an honor to run in a place with so much aviation and racing history.

Under green as you approach Turn 13 you are completely focused on your brake point and getting to the apex cleanly.

Under yellow you look to the left and see an old DC-3 sitting on the ramp just like I’m sure many did in the heyday of the airport. Yeah, despite it’s challenges (like trying to find a vegan meal in town), Sebring is pretty cool.

Spencer Pumpelly (@SpencerPumpelly) is one of America's leading GT racers, driving for Change Racing in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and Rennsport One in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge.


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