The Sebring International Raceway, the legendary airfield circuit in the heart of Florida, plays host to the 12 Hours of Sebring on 19 March. Last year, 140,000 spectators travelled to America’s oldest and toughest sports car race. The Porsche North America works team campaigns a pair of Porsche 911 RSR in the GTLM class at the 64th running of the classic on the storied and notoriously bumpy racetrack. With 18 overall victories and 70 class wins, Porsche is the most successful manufacturer in the history of the Sebring 12-hour race. Porsche tackles the second round of the IMSA SportsCar Championship as the points’ leader of the North American Endurance Cup, a competition encompassing the four long distance races at Daytona, Sebring, Watkins Glen and Petit Le Mans.
Immortalised on the winners’ list are racing legends such as Juan Manuel Fangio, Dan Gurney, Hans Hermann, Jacky Ickx and Mario Andretti. Hollywood stars Paul Newman and Steve McQueen, who finished second overall in 1970 with a Porsche 908, have also fulfilled their racing dreams in Sebring. Built on a former airfield, the circuit with its 17 corners is 5.954 kilometres long and hosted the inaugural race on 31 December 1950.
The Porsche drivers
Six Porsche works drivers compete for Porsche North America at Sebring in the GTLM class. In the cockpit of the #911 Porsche 911 RSR is the reigning IMSA GT champion Patrick Pilet (France), the outright Le Mans winner Nick Tandy (Great Britain) and Kévin Estre (France). Sharing driving duties in the number 912 racer is the other overall Le Mans winner Earl Bamber (New Zealand), Frédéric Makowiecki (France) and Denmark’s Michael Christensen, who has recently been elected “Driver of the Year” in his homeland. In the GTD class, factory pilots Jörg Bergmeister (Germany) and Patrick Long (USA) compete for Porsche customer teams with the Porsche 911 GT3 R.
The Porsche racing cars
The 911 RSR received not only a new factory finish for the 2016 season. The 470 hp winning racer from Weissach, which is based on the seventh generation of the iconic 911 sports car, received modifications to the aerodynamics to comply with the new regulations. The position of the rear wing was moved further to the back, with the rear diffuser now considerably larger. Moreover, the 911 RSR received a modified front spoiler lip as well as wide side sills. The new 911 GT3 R celebrated its race debut at Daytona mounted with the new ultra-modern four-litre flat-six engine with direct fuel injection. Porsche built the 500 hp customer sports racer, based on the 911 GT3 RS production sports car, for GT3 series worldwide. In developing the vehicle, the engineers at Weissach paid special attention to lightweight design, better aerodynamic efficiency, reducing consumption as well as improved handling.
The first outright victory for Porsche in Sebring came in 1960 courtesy of Hans Herrmann and Olivier Gendebien in the Porsche 718 RS/60; the most recent overall win in 2008 was clinched by Timo Bernhard, Romain Dumas and Emmanuel Collard with the Porsche RS Spyder. Porsche’s list of successes also includes no less than 70 class wins at this race. The most recent success was last year with the Porsche 911 GT America fielded by the Alex Job Racing customer team. In 2014, Jörg Bergmeister, Michael Christensen and Patrick Long scored class victory at the wheel of a Porsche 911 RSR.
The 12 Hours of Sebring takes off on Saturday, 19 March, at 10.40 hrs local time (15.40 hrs CET) and can be viewed live outside the USA on http://www.imsa.com.
Dr. Frank-Steffen Walliser, Head of Porsche Motorsport: “First Daytona – now Sebring: There are no other sports car championships in the world that start the season with two such classics. The fight for victory on this very special racetrack will very likely be decided shortly before the finish, especially the extremely competitive GTLM class. But as the most successful manufacturer in the history of this race we have our reputation to uphold. Our goal: We want to convert the twelve-second gap that relegated our best 911 RSR to third place at Daytona into a one-second lead at the flag. We’ll do our utmost to achieve this.”
Marco Ujhasi, Overall Project Manager GT Works Motorsport: “Sebring is a brutal challenge. The race is only half the duration of Daytona, but it’s tougher in some ways. The very bumpy track places high demands on the drivers and the cars.”
Sascha Pilz, Head of GT Customer Racing: “After the good performance of our new 911 GT3 R at Daytona we’re heading to Sebring feeling confident. Our customer teams have used the time to get to know the car even better.”
Patrick Pilet (911 RSR #911): “This race is something very special. Not only because of the great racetrack that is taxing for both man and machine. Typical of Sebring are the enthusiastic and sometimes slightly crazy fans. They create a very special atmosphere. And in the fight for victory it’s extremely tough from start to finish.”
Nick Tandy (911 RSR #911): “Sebring is the heart of American motor racing. It’s fascinating to see which legendary drivers and marques have already won there. It is the oldest sports car race in the USA and one of the highlights of the IMSA SportsCar Championship, not least because of the many spectators.”
Kévin Estre (911 RSR #911): “The Daytona race was a great start for me as a Porsche works driver. Now I’m looking forward to Sebring. The race poses extreme demands. As a driver, you can’t afford to make the slightest mistake, otherwise you have no chance.”
Earl Bamber (911 RSR #912): “Daytona was a great start to the season for us, even though we were missing a couple of seconds at the end. The competition in the GTLM class is incredibly strong. But we’re in a good position. I’m feeling confident that we can fight for victory at Sebring with the 911 RSR.”
Michael Christensen (911 RSR #912): “Sebring is a true classic. My victory here in 2014 was one of the highlights of my career. To drive at the limit for hours on this bumpy track is extremely demanding for the drivers, but it’s also great fun.”
Frédéric Makowiecki (911 RSR #912): “At Daytona we were able to underline the potential of our 911 RSR over the whole distance against very tough competition. The race on the rough Sebring track is bound to be even harder. But we should perform well there as well and be amongst the leaders.”
Jörg Bergmeister (911 GT3 R #73): “Traditionally, Sebring is one of the toughest races of the year. I’m curious to see how the new 911 GT3 R performs at its first outing on this challenging circuit.”
Patrick Long (911 GT3 R #540): “The new 911 GT3 R is simply phenomenal. It’s particularly stable and therefore doesn’t react as heavily to the bumps. And this will certainly benefit us, especially on this racetrack.”