Sebring International Raceway President and General Manager Wayne Estes believes the recently announced double header is a “promoter’s dream”, with officials from the FIA World Endurance Championship and IMSA already in the early planning stages for the unique March 2019 event.
While marking the World Championship’s return to the famed Florida circuit for the first time since 2012, the WEC will run in a separate endurance race following the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, which remains as part of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
Estes, who met with WEC boss Gerard Neveu and representatives from the FIA and ACO last weekend at Circuit of The Americas, said the unique nature of the event offers a number of opportunities for fans and competitors alike.
“I have long been a proponent of new things that people aren’t expecting,” he told Sportscar365.
“The best thing a promoter can do is doing something that captures people’s imagination to which they say, ‘How in the heck are they going to do that?’
“I’ve been involved in some of those projects before and they are always the things that get people really excited: the first time NASCAR ran at the Brickyard or the first time they ran an endurance race.
“I think getting WEC to come back and bringing these cars back to Sebring is something that our fans have asked for ever since they left.
“The opportunity to see them back on the Twelve Hours weekend is great for everybody.
“A lot of people are scratching their heads wondering how they’re going to pull it off. It will be pulled off, I can tell you that.
“That race is going to happen and it’s going to happen on that March weekend in 2019.
“It’s something of a promoter’s dream and it should be a fan’s dream too, I think.”
The deal, inked earlier this month, currently calls for a two-hour gap between the finish of the IMSA classic and the start of the WEC race, aimed to provide nearly 24 hours of continuous race action.
It’s understood the WEC race will be called the “1500 Miles of Sebring” to differentiate itself from the long-standing 12-hour enduro.
While the name and format are expected to be announced later this week, in the upcoming FIA World Motor Sport Council meeting, details such as pit procedures, paddock space and track cleaning are all items that are currently being discussed, Estes said.
“It’s a little early on the how-to, but there’s going to be a game plan,” he said.
“We’ve got a year and a few months to get ready for this thing. In that time, we will work out what we have to pull out and what resources have to be there. It’s a big undertaking.
“The guys at Daytona will tell you it takes them a day to [clean] that racetrack, and Sebring is a different animal.
“The idea of doing that in two hours, doing it at night, is a pretty big task.
“When we sit down and try to figure out what the game plan is, it’s going to be a lot of planning.”
While the WEC’s one-and-only previous visit to Sebring created numerous logistical challenges and compromises from both series, Estes believes time is on their side this time, with 18 months to prepare for the event.
The track recently undergone a number of facility upgrades, including the paving of a new fan zone and other areas in the paddock.
“There’s a lot of property there that’s gone unused,” Estes said. “We started putting some of those areas into use a year ago like with the parking on the back straight.
“Somebody’s going to have to tell us what their acreage needs are.
“Give us the footprint you need for WEC, the footprint you need for IMSA, and we’ll make it happen.”
Estes believes the return of the WEC will lead to a larger attendance than seen in recent years.
While official attendance numbers are not published, it’s believed the event generally attracted in excess of 100,000 spectators at the height of the pre-merger era.
“I think it’s going to bring some people back who have been there before but may have gone away,” Estes said.
“I’d like to think that every year we’re finding new ways to attract new people, and I think we did a particularly good job this year, advertising in some places that didn’t even know Sebring existed.
“2018’s going to be fantastic. We’ve been given a pretty good grocery bag full of tools to be used right now and people are soon going to be talking about 2019.”
When asked which event will be in the record books as the definitive Sebring, Estes said it’s an easy answer.
“There’s only one Mobil 1 Twelve Hours, and that’s the one that will run on Saturday in the IMSA WeatherTech Championship,” he said. “There should be no question about that.”