By David Phillips
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Here’s a strange concept to wrap your head around: the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts is the finale to the 2020 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
Ever since promoter Alec Ullman staged the first 12-hour endurance race on the runways and taxiways of Hendricks Field in 1952, Sebring has been a harbinger of spring. But in a year turned upside down, this season’s version of the classic endurance race will be dressed in the russet hues of Thanksgiving rather than the emerald green of St. Patrick’s Day.
But for all the upheaval, race fans will find much that is comfortingly familiar about watching the 2020 edition of the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, particularly wandering ’round the 17-turn, 3.74-mile circuit to take in the action from any number of fine vantage points.
For my money, there’s no better spot to watch a race at Sebring International Raceway than from drivers’ left on the approach to Turn 7 (the Hairpin). It’s a classic overtaking spot, coming at the end of the long full-throttle blast that commences upwards of half a mile away in the ultra-fast Turn 6 (Big Bend) and requires heavy braking down to 35-40 mph to negotiate the 135-degree right-hander. A fine place to watch any time of the day, this spot is downright spectacular after dark when the cars’ brake discs glow cherry red and sparks fly when the slightest misjudgment sends a car bouncing over the curbs.
By all means, make sure you spend time watching from the infield around Turn 5. There’s a spectator mound that affords an entertaining perspective of the cars as they carve their way around the carousel-like corner. What’s more, several other good vantage points are just steps away, offering good views of the action not only at Turns 3 and 4 but, thanks to the fact the circuit doubles back on itself, Turns 11, 12 and 13 (Tower Turn) which launches the cars onto a sizable chunk of straightaway.
You’ll also want to position yourself to watch the action in Turn 17. Sunset Bend, as it’s known, is arguably the most daunting – not to mention physically demanding – turn on the course thanks to the combination of its high speed and ferocious bumps. Plant yourself on the outside of the corner exit to see the cars bound across the concrete slab pavement as they pop out under the vehicle bridge, then come ever so close to the wall entering the start/finish straightaway.
Did someone say sunset? Sure, it’s a long race and nobody (well, almost nobody) will fault you for not watching every single moment of the 12 hours. But shame on you if you aren’t trackside in the gloaming of a central Florida evening, watching as the cars head into – or drive away from – the setting sun. FYI, sunset is at 5:37 p.m. ET Saturday.
And no race at Sebring would be complete without a trip to the Midway and Vendor Village to comb the stalls for new and used books, racing videos, scale-model race cars or to score a hat, T-shirt, jacket, decal, pin or poster honoring your favorite driver or marque of today … or from days gone by. Speaking of bygone days: Although IMSA has suspended its spectator-friendly pre-race grid walk in the name of social distancing, fans would be remiss in not catching some of the racing action along the start/finish straightaway while bearing in mind the competitors are racing on the very concrete traversed by the likes of Juan Manuel Fangio, Stirling Moss, Phil Hill, Dan Gurney and virtually every other legend of the sport for nearly 70 years.