Feature – Klub Sport Porsche Challenge
SVRA Sebring Enduro Weekend
by Angelo Lisuzzo * SVRA Photojournalist and Reporter
Sebring International Raceway, located near Sebring, Florida, is one of the oldest continuously operating racetracks in the United States. From 1941 to 1946, pilots learned to fly the B-17 Flying Fortress for WWII at this United States Army Air Forces training base known as Hendricks Field.
Celebrating its 60th anniversary as a racing facility this year is thanks to an aeronautical engineer Alec Ulmann. He had been seeking sites to restore military aircraft for civilian use and saw potential in the runways to stage a sports car endurance race very similar to the 24 Hours of Le Mans. 1950, New Year’s Eve, the first race was held at Sebring, the Sam Collier 6 Hour Memorial race, consisting of thirty cars and won by Fritz Koster and Ralph Deshon in a Crosley Hot Shot.
The first 12 Hours of Sebring, held on March 15, 1952, had a track length measured at 5.38 miles on the rough concrete runways. On December 12, 1959, the racetrack hosted the first Formula One Grand Prix in the United States. Britain Stirling Moss in a Cooper T51 took the pole position but New Zealander Bruce McLaren also driving a Cooper T51 won the 42-lap contest helping him to the 1959 Drivers Championship and the Cooper-Climax winning the Constructors Championship. Unfortunately, due to poor attendance and the high costs it lost the event to Riverside.
Currently the course is a 3.7 miles long, seventeen-turn road course with long straights, several high-speed corners, and technical slower corners with very little elevation change around the track and little camber to the track surface. Sebring is also visually famous for its blue and white barriers coloration.
Friday started the weekend with sunny skies, a few clouds and temperatures in the mid-80. Down in turn-1, the fast left-hander after the pits, you could see how the cars would jump to the right as it bounced across the separations in the concrete runways. Many cars fighting for grip changed from oversteer to understeer and back. The wide main straightaway allowed many passes completed in fine fashion as the cars passed under the footbridge and entered turn one.
Friday was dramatic for most teams as they attempted to find grip in corners during their practice and qualifying sessions. Later in the day standing in turn-17/17A it seemed to be the worst for putting down the power over the bumpy surface to gain maximum speed down the front straight. Balancing the throttle through the sweeping corner with steering input was an art.
Groups 1, 3 and 4 ran together with twenty-five cars fighting for pole. George Balbach driving a 1961 Porsche 356 topped the time sheet with a 2:34.797 lap.
The Group 7 and F-Libre session saw many different style cars together on the track at the same time. Robert Blain had the fastest time in his 1976 March F2.
Later in the afternoon, we were treated to an all Porsche event, the Klub Sport Porsche Challenge. Battles lasted all race throughout the field. The competition was so close that of the 24 cars in the event, 19 were on the lead lap at the checked flag. Well, one car blasted away from the field never to be seen by the competitors until the victory circle. Cody Ellsworth drove his dark blue 1972, 911 ST to a 1:05.764 margin of victory over Paul Swanson in a 1958 Speedster, followed closely by George Balbach in a 1961, 356.
Friday night featured the Night Enduro for any cars with lights. As the natural light was going dim and the sky glowing with an orange tint the engines roared to full song as 18 cars took the green for the 90-minute, 1-pit stop contest. William Binnie jumped out to a quick lead in his 2005 Lola B 05/40. Soon the natural light had extinguished leaving the visual to the cars lights and track lighting placed in the braking zones. Brake rotors glowed orange and flames belched from exhausts as cars decelerated for the corners in the back of night. In the end, William Binnie claimed the first place with a margin of victory of 1:13.897 over John Reisman piloting a Lola B2K40 followed by Paul Reisman driving a similar car.
Weather Saturday mirrored Friday and was welcome by Northern based folks. Standing in turn-7, drivers left, with the hotel as the backdrop, proved how difficult negotiating the tight right-hand hairpin would be for most competitors. With the braking area bumpy, many cars changed yaw direction with the application of brakes, and then there was the attempt to aim at the apex. A few cars went wide. As a great corner to pass, it would be tricky to make it clean, but all behaved.
Watching the racing action from the outside of turn one, groups of onlookers witnessed the gaggle of cars making the left turn during the seven qualifying races. Some of the cars farther back in the fields took advantage of the wide approach and formed four and five abreast entering the corner.
Just after lunch, 28 cars raced down the main straight for the Mike Stott/UBS Classic/Historic Enduro. A variety of Groups were represented, 1, 3, 4, 5 and 8, for this 90-minute, 2 pit stops challenge. In the end Cody Ellsworth lapped the entire field in his 1972 Porsche 911 ST. Salvaging second was Jerry Peters in his 1969 Porsche 911 ahead of Travis Engen driving a 1962 Lotus 23B.
David & Andrea Robertson brought their two ALMS 2006 Ford GT MKVII cars to this event. Both said they were glad to be able to race their cars here with the SVRA, and hope to continue in other events over the years with hopes at finding funds to return to the GT Class in the ALMS in the future.
A well-attended awards banquet held at the track in the Gallery of Legends building presented the hardware to the 2011 winners. Speakers such as Jon McKnight, Peter McLaughlin, Ray Snowdon and Bob Williams started out the talk. Ed Conway, the master of ceremonies, brought humor along with an accurate presentation for all to enjoy.
Along with the many group and endure winners there were other notable awards.
Bob Williams presented the Amateur Mechanic of the Year to Yvan Binette – Mike Snowden and the Professional Mechanic of the Year to Peter Monford – Howard Katz.
The Rookie of the Year-Winner was Debbie Cloud.
The Most Improved Driver of the Year was John Gatto.
Lee Talbot presented the SVRA Driver of the Year award to Joe Blacker.
Sunday started out cool and cloudy after a night rain but the sun soon popped and made for a beautiful day enjoyed by many. The four remaining feature races went off prior to the lunch break.
Group 8 started the morning out as Rob Mocas in a 1967 Alfa Romeo GTV defeated the closely packed field by only 0.132 seconds. Dan McChesney and his 1972 Porsche 911 finished ahead of Jerry Peters also in a 1969 Porsche 911.
Toby Bean driving a 1975 Chevrolet Dekon Monza took victory in Group 10. Don Soenen and his 1998 Ford Taurus beat John Cloud in his 2005 Ford Fusion SC, both sporting 358cid engines.
The Mike Stott/UBS Historic for GT/GTP/ALMS was the final event of the weekend. George Robinson and his Lola B0718 started the 2-hour, 3-pit stop test of endurance and stamina on the track that takes the energy right out of you. His co-driver was no other than NASCAR driver and commentator Wally Dallenbach Jr., son of former Indy Car pilot and CART Chief Stewart Wally Dallenbach Sr. Who by the way performed a great job at his position from 1981 until 2004. Wally mentioned it was fun and relaxing to race here this weekend…except for the bumps. Both drove very clean and fast gathering a 5-lap lead held toward the end for the victory over an almost local team from Miami Florida in a Porsche GT3 Cup car driven by Charles Scardina. Third was taken by David & Andrea Robertson co-driving their beautifully prepared ALMS Ford GT MKVII car.
This ended the weekend track activities as Indy Car testing takes over the Sebring track for the following week.
The SVRA remains in Florida as a support series for the 60th Mobil 1 – 12 Hours of Sebring on March 13-17, 2012. They will have special events during the weekend in conjunction with the anniversary celebration. Therefore, if you are going plan to be prepared for some eye candy navigating the Sebring track with sessions intermixed with the ALMS as the featured series.
As the weather becomes more summer-like, the next event will be up North a few miles at Watkins Glen, New York on June 7-10, 2012, featuring the Historic Enduro 200/ SAAC Convention Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Shelby Cobra. This should be a well-attended event with plenty of Ford products on display. So stop out and see some high horsepower cars blast down the long, fast sections offered by the Glen track configuration.
Hope to see you there.