Choosing the best Sebring endurance races is certainly no easy task. There have been many great races over the past seven decades, making it very difficult to narrow it down to just twelve.
Fortunately, there have only been a handful of “bad ones,” and that was mainly because of terrible weather (1993 in particular). Other Sebring races were considered disappointing at the time, but history has since recognized their unique place in history (1973 for example, the first IMSA-sanctioned race that featured only GT cars, and the 1968 race that included a Trans-Am field).
What elements make a race considered to be among the “best?” Quality of entries and closeness of competition are certainly key factors, although sometimes just a truly spectacular finish can make a great race.
Comparing different eras, especially with those years you never witnessed in person, makes the selection process even more difficult.
Although I have attended 40 Sebring 12 hour races, the 1950s and 1960s were a little before my time, thus I need to rely on historical references to rank them. With all that considered, here is my list of the 12 best Sebring 12 Hours:
1970 – The first half was a yawner as the leading Ferrari amassed an incredible 12-lap lead. But the second half was a totally different race, ending with the Steve McQueen/Peter Revson Porsche 908 battling the factory Ferrari 512S co-driven by Mario Andretti. Although the Ferrari won by the slim margin of 23 seconds, it will always be remembered as the race Steve McQueen nearly won (even though Revson did most of the driving due to McQueen’s broken ankle).
1983 – The wildest endurance race ever. A record starting field of 84 cars produced eight different leaders and 23 lead changes. In the end, a GTO class Porsche 934 driven by Wayne Baker, Jim Mullen and Kees Nierop won (Baker crossed the finish line thinking he had only won his class).
1966 – It was drama and tragedy 50 years ago at Sebring. The Ford GT driven by Dan Gurney and Jerry Grant had the lead in the final minute, but the engine failed just 200 yards short of the finish line. As Gurney tried to push the car (he was later disqualified for doing that), he was passed by teammates Lloyd Ruby and Ken Miles for the win. Sadly, a driver and four spectators died in two separate accidents.
1969 – A wild final 90 minutes saw four different cars lead, but it was the underdog Ford GT40 driven by Jacky Ickx and Jack Oliver winning.
2011 – The Intercontinental Le Mans Cup brought the powerful Audi and Peugeot factory teams to Sebring, but it was the privateer ORECA Peugeot entry that scored an upset win.
1999 – The debut of the American Le Mans series did not disappoint. BMW edged the Dyson team by less than 10 seconds in the closest finish to date. Young Danish driver Tom Kristensen won the first of his record six Sebring victories.
1954 – The first of many upsets at Sebring’s 12-hour classic. A 1.5 litre OSCA driven by Stirling Moss and Bill Lloyd defeated the powerful Lancia factory team and entries from Ferrari, Maserati and Jaguar.
1956 – The legendary Fangio won the first of two consecutive Sebring races, giving Ferrari its first overall win. And 1956 marked the competition debut of Corvette, scoring the first of 22 class wins for the great American sports car.
1965 – Jim Hall’s Chaparral was star of the show, surviving an incredible rainstorm to win and give Chevrolet its first overall win.
1964 – The Cobra vs. Ferrari war was reaching a peak at Sebring this year. The race featured an amazing field of cars and drivers (take a look at the drivers entered in 1963 and 1964- a truly amazing era when drivers from all disciplines of motorsport competed).
2000 – One of the most underrated Sebring races of all-time. Audi scored its maiden victory, but not after a tough battle with the BMW.
2002 – The 50th Anniversary was a spectacular event both on and off the track! Over 40 former winning drivers and 22 former winning cars attended in a salute to America’s greatest endurance racing tradition.
Honorable mention: How about 2007 and the amazing Flying Lizard Porsche vs. Risi Ferrari finish, or Nissan breaking the Porsche win streak in 1989, or the Cunningham win in 1953, or…. The list goes on and on. There’s something special about every Sebring.
Next Week: The 12 Best 12 Hour Cars