This weekend marks the 65th running of the Twelve Hours of Sebring, one of the most important races on the US motorsport calendar. Now part of the WeatherTech United Sportscar Championship, the race into the Florida night at Sebring has a history of hosting the world’s premiere sportscar series. It’s also where the FIA World Endurance Championship made a rather inauspicious start back in 2012.
There’s an old adage that, compared to Le Mans, Sebring is half as long but twice as fast. Indeed, the 12 Hours of Sebring has long been considered the ultimate car-breaker. First run back in 1950, the track has, in some places, barely changed at all. The aged concrete rattles competitors’ cars right down to the last nut and bolt, the barriers and run-off unforgivingly close. Audi, Porsche and countless American sportscar teams have used Sebring as test location, believing that, if their cars could survive the bruising six-kilometre circuit, they could take anything.
On 17 March 2012, the FIA World Endurance Championship made its debut on the international motorsport scene in the 60th 12 Hours of Sebring, a race jointly organised with the precursor to the WeatherTech United Sportscar Championship, the American Le Mans Series. It marked a new era for global prototype racing, the first time a world sportscar championship had visited Sebring since 1961.
The advent of the FIA WEC promised much, but the departure almost overnight of Peugeot – the driving force behind the introduction of a world championship – had plunged the series into unknown territory before it had even begun. Audi arrived at Sebring in confident mood looking to re-take the title after Peugeot’s two successive victories in 2010 and 2011. However, despite the good intentions of taking the WEC to Sebring, the coming together of the ALMS and the WEC was perhaps too much for the track to take.
The mixed grid produced a 64-car entry, or one car for every 93 metres of the Sebring International Raceway – akin in terms of car-to-track density to 146 cars running at the Circuit de la Sarthe. In truth, it was too many – and the WEC’s four classes and the ALMS’s five made it extremely difficult to follow.
But the race did provide plenty of action and surprises. The field of privateer LMP1s, including Rebellion Racing, JRM, Strakka Racing and Pescarolo Team, weren’t quick enough to catch the Audi R18 TDIs, with Allan McNish, Tom Kristensen and Dindo Capello taking the overall victory ahead of future world champions Timo Bernhard and Romain Dumas and future Le Mans winner Loic Duval. Starworks Motorsport, who would go on to take the LMP2 title that season, finished a surprising third overall. Andrea Bertolini, Olivier Beretta and Marco Cioci took the AF Corse’s maiden WEC victory at the first time of asking, albeit in third on the road behind the ALMS entries of BMW Team RLL and Corvette Racing.
Sadly the WEC never returned to Sebring, instead preferring to focus on the Circuit of the Americas for its US round. This year’s 12 Hours of Sebring will see the factory-backed efforts from Cadillac, Mazda and Nissan go up against the likes of Rebellion Racing for the honours in the 65th running of the famous race. Coverage is available free online in Europe via imsa.tv, with the race starting at 2:40pm (UK)/3:40pm (Europe).
Images © JEAN MICHEL LE MEUR / DPPI media