I’ll come out and say it: I was dreading the 2019 ‘Super-Sebring’ weekend, the first FIA WEC-IMSA double-header (with separate races) at the fabled Floridian circuit and the WEC’s first trip to the airfield since 2012.
As a member of the media, covering both championships, I feared the worst in trying to keep up with the politics of the two championships running on the same bill and juggle the huge workload caused by a timetable featuring multiple sessions early in the morning and late at night.
How wrong I was. I covered 20 international sportscar meetings live in 2019 and ‘Super-Sebring’ was by far the most enjoyable and memorable of the lot. In fact, it was one of the best motorsport events I have ever attended.
Sebring for any sportscar fan is a bucket list item. To me it will always feel like the true season-starter. Back in the American Le Mans Series era that preceded the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship it produced stunning races and acted as somewhat of a dress-rehearsal for Le Mans, with factories like Audi, Peugeot, Aston Martin and Corvette Racing using the 12 Hours as a chance to try out new cars or put existing chassis through their paces before heading to France for the big one in June.
There have been some classic races, some with rather small grids, because the circuit is so punishing. ‘Respect The Bumps’ is more than just a cliche tagline. On the TV it’s clear that the cars are being tested. It’s a flat-airfield circuit, but what makes it special is that it has unique characteristics. It’s littered with ridges, cracks and surface changes. But, it’s a far more punishing circuit than you expect, you don’t realise just how tough it is until you see it for yourself.
At multiple corners you can get up close to the cars, and there’s plenty of variety too. Turn 7 is a slow speed hairpin and Turn 11 (Collier) a medium speed-left, and you are just feet away from the drivers at both. The grandstand overlooking Turn 14 (Bishop) is special too, showcasing the cars at speed going through the kink.
Arguably the most special viewpoints though, are the final turn – Sunset Bend – where the ‘Bumps’ are most violent, and on the outside of Turn 1. We’ve all seen the spectacular sunset shots from Turn 1, as the 12 Hours comes to a close, and you can go see them for yourself as a spectator, by taking a wander to the fences at the end of the runoff. If the sky is a mix orange and blood red and it’s Saturday night in March, you know that it can only be Super-Sebring, as you see the cars coming racing towards you, their splitters and under-trays bumping, banging, scraping and producing sparks from contact with the concrete.
Almost the entire circuit is a gem for spectators. The infield is very accessible and gives you access to all the key corners of the circuit. A stroll through the huge campsites, with the sun going down and the circuit just feet away, is an experience up there with a hike to the Karussell from Planzgarten at the Nürburgring during the 24 Hours or a camping ground tour of Le Mans on the Friday afternoon. It’s a huge ‘Spring Break’ party, full of welcoming locals and race fans that have travelled thousands of miles.
Predictably, the set ups you see vary wildly, from a simple tent or RV, to a fully constructed Wild West Saloon complete with a full spectating tower overlooking the circuit. This is far more than a typical IMSA race, it’s a lifestyle for many of the dedicated racegoers, who clearly plan far in advance. You will see things you’ve never seen before in a campsite, like pickup trucks converted into grandstands, and full living room sofa set ups (complete with fireplaces) pressed up against the spectator fences. The music is pumping, the smell of barbecues is overwhelming and the friendliness of the locals means you won’t go long without a chat and a drink.
Super-Sebring is also home to some of the best catering options for fans not staying trackside with their own facilities. The infield, and the complex behind the pits are littered with food and drink outlets that sell far more than a typical burger or beer. Ever tucked into a heap of beef brisket with a side of shrimp and cheesecurds at a race? How about fried gator? It has to be seen, and tasted, to be believed.
The addition of the FIA WEC to the event has come as a huge boost. It’s unclear just how many years this double-header will last, so fans should recognise that it shouldn’t be taken for granted. There was a sharp increase in spectators in 2019, and it’s easy to see why. Right now IMSA DPi is producing great racing, and the allure of LMP1 cars from the WEC is always a draw, especially at a stunning circuit.
The programme is packed full of great racing, with two huge endurance races on Friday and Saturday. This time around, the timetable has been tweaked, the WEC race being held earlier on Friday to allow a longer circuit cleanup before the 12 Hours and fans longer to recover before the engines fire up again. It’s not quite 24 hours of racing, the 1000-mile WEC race and the 12 hour IMSA contest not quite adding up to a twice-around-the-clock spectacle. But it’s now not far off, and you get incredible value in seeing the world’s biggest and best sportscar series on the same bill.
What is more, is that a trip with Travel Destinations means a stay on the lake front at Lake June. It’s a peaceful place to spend each evening, relaxing after a day of walking in the sunshine at the circuit. Here, in the lakeside condos, it’s a rustic secret getaway. At the track, it’s a festival of motorsport. Quite a combination…
Enjoy the best of Super-Sebring. https://traveldestinations.co.uk/motorsport-events/12-hours-of-sebring/
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Written by Stephen Kilbey
Photography by Dailysportcar