Narrowing Highlights from the Twelve Hours Is Impossible but Here Are a Few
By Jeff Olson
SEBRING, Fla. – The names grace the headlines of their time, legends of motorsport and winners at Sebring International Raceway:
Andretti. Moss. Fangio. Ickx. Gurney. Foyt. Brabham. Kristensen.
The Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts gets underway Saturday morning, carrying with it seven decades of history from a most unlikely scene for an internationally significant motor racing event.
The track came to life in 1950 from an airfield in the central highlands of Florida. A part of the world once known for oranges is now renowned for an endurance race that has been won by the greatest to conquer and control the fastest automobiles of their time.
Here are six of the many significant moments in the start-to-current history of the Twelve Hours of Sebring, which commemorates its 70th running on Saturday:
1952. A shorter version of the race was held in 1950, but March 15, 1952, marked the first official 12-hour running. After a lengthy rain delay, a Ferrari 340 America driven by Bill Spear led the first 51 laps before being passed by the No. 9 Fraser Nash Le Mans Replica owned by J.S. Donaldson and driven by Larry Kulok and Harry Grey.
Kulok and Grey completed 754 miles on what was then a 5.2-mile circuit. For comparison’s sake, the JDC-Miller MotorSports Cadillac DPi-V.R that won last year’s race on the current 3.74-mile layout completed 1,305 miles.
1966. It’s considered one of Sebring’s greatest races featuring one of its most memorable and unusual finishes. On the final lap, Dan Gurney was leading when the Shelby-American Ford GT40 Mk.II he co-drove with Jerry Grant broke down. Gurney got out and pushed the car across the finish line but was disqualified for doing so. The win went to Lloyd Ruby and Ken Miles in a Shelby Ford GT40 X-1 Roadster.
1970. The win went to Mario Andretti, Ignazio Giunti and Nino Vaccarella in a Ferrari 512S, but national attention was focused on actor/driver Steve McQueen and his left foot, broken days before in a motorcycle race.
“We put some sandpaper on and taped it to the bottom so I can keep it on the clutch pedal,” said McQueen, who finished second with co-driver Peter Revson in a Porsche 908/02.
1972. The race was known for its legendary names and their ease of victory. Andretti and Jacky Ickx (this year’s grand marshal) teamed in a Ferrari 512P for a two-lap victory over teammates Ronnie Peterson and Tim Schenken.
It was the third consecutive victory by the Ferrari in the world manufacturers’ championship. It also was Andretti’s third Sebring title and the final Twelve Hours of Sebring on the old 5.2-mile layout.
2012: It wasn’t the most exciting of finishes, but when the Audi Sport Team Joest crossed the finish line four laps clear of the competition, it delivered the sixth overall Sebring win for Tom Kristensen. It remains the most in race history.
Rinaldo Capello was among Kristensen’s co-drivers that year, and it gave the Italian the last of his five overall triumphs at Sebring. The third driver that year, Allan McNish, collected the last of his four overall victories. This driver trio combined to win Sebring three times together (2006, 2009, 2012).
2021: The most recent running of the Twelve Hours was a legend of its own. Battling a broken rear wing during the final laps, Sebastien Bourdais held off a challenge from Harry Tincknell to win.
“It looked like we were out of luck and all of a sudden we’re winning the 12 Hours of Sebring,” Bourdais said earlier this month. “It’s definitely right up there. For me, I’d say it’s in my top five.”