For a long time, I was asked about the finish of the 1986 Twelve Hours of Sebring more than any other race.
I was 25. My copilot at Roush was Bruce Jenner – yeah, that one. The Olympic champion. No pressure, right?
I had plenty of experience on my own. I'd been driving go karts since the age of eight – but in 1986, I was just writing the first page of my driving career with Ford.
To say the finish was "talked about" is probably an understatement. To this day, it's still one of those wins that just stands out in the memory. That race came down to the last turn of the last lap to beat our Ford Racing teammates Bill Elliott and Ricky Rudd. I was driving for those last laps, basically taking qualifying laps for the last two hours trying to catch our team car. It was a no give up situation and it paid off. That was my first win for Roush, and we did it in a Mustang. (Here's a trivia question for you – which Ford model has started more years than any other at the 12 Hours of Sebring? The Mustang. Bet you didn't know that).
The last time I raced at Sebring was just a few years later. For drivers, this track is rough. Literally rough. It's historic, without a doubt – but everyone knows it's one of the roughest tracks in the U.S.
From a driver's standpoint, there's nothing different you can do to prepare. There's 62 years of history on that track surface and with the prestige comes bumps and bruises. It's just part of the game.
Our EcoBoost Rileys will be the 67th different type of Ford-powered vehicles to start the 12 Hours of Sebring. We'll join Fords like the GT40 and the Cobra Daytona Coupe on the list of cars to compete there.
I'm excited to go back. It's been at least 25 years since I've raced there.
We haven't been there as a team with Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, so this is new. I've spent thousands of miles testing IndyCars on the short track there, but really haven't raced there since the 1980s. I'm excited to go back there with the EcoBoost program and the new prototype car. It's all new and fresh.
I'm excited to see the fans at Sebring. Just the passion you see from fans there – they're always full of energy.
Since the Rolex 24, we've had a lot of discussions within the Ganassi organization, and with Ford, on how to make improvements because the EcoBoost program is so new. We've had so many changes with IMSA and how that affects the cars…we've just been flat-out on all levels. I spent a good five-six hours in the car at the Sebring test (last month), and we're not done testing yet.
We're excited to have the No. 02 Comfort Revolution/Big Machine Records Ford EcoBoost Riley back out with us for the 12 Hour. Having two cars is always a benefit. You just get twice the amount of information. Especially with our program and the newness of it all. There's so much to learn in such a small amount of time. Everything takes time, and our EcoBoost program is just at the beginning.
We're ready for Sebring.