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OK, Sebring Drivers and Fans, Pace Yourself

Twelve Hours Is a Long, Strenuous Time to Survive

By John Oreovicz

SEBRING, Fla. – Welcome to the party.

Yes, there’s a sports car race taking place this week in central Florida, and it’s a race with significant history and cache for automotive enthusiasts.

But the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts, which will be staged for the 70th time Saturday at Sebring International Raceway, is really about the party.

Florida in mid-March has long been America’s favorite Spring Break destination.

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Observing the massive camping crowd on hand at Sebring – a throng of all ages – it looks like many of them started coming to party when they were in their 20s, and they never stopped coming back. And they rub shoulders and mingle with the generations that have followed, making for an eclectic mix with gung-ho college students and suburban families.

The atmosphere even has an effect on the on-track action.

“It’s the only race where your track markers are parties,” said Gar Robinson, the defending Le Mans Prototype 3 (LMP3) champion in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. “You sort of judge your braking and turn-in points where certain parties are and go from there.”

Robinson is serious. The trackside parties at Sebring are truly elaborate affairs. Fans arrive in the area as early as the previous weekend to construct party sites, equipped with full bars and cheap second-hand couches occasionally left behind at the end of the event for someone else to dispose of.

Robinson, a 27-year-old Texan, is among those campers this week, though he has obviously chosen to refrain from partying until the conclusion of 12 punishing hours of racing from 10:10 a.m. ET Saturday until well into the night.

“I’m staying at the track, so I’ve been going around to just check it out every night,” Robinson said. “It’s so awesome. My friends camped and had a party at Turn 5 at Daytona, and I could see that from the track, but there are so many more here. It’s almost tribal, and it’s the weirdest, coolest thing ever.

“Whether we win or lose, after the race, I’m going to go find the biggest, baddest party that’s out there and have a celebration drink or two with them all!”

Truth be told, Robinson and the 158 other drivers who are part of the Sebring field will likely be more in need of hydration than libation after the race. The other factor that has defined the Twelve Hours over the decades is the intense heat and humidity.

Even temperatures in the 70s can feel extremely uncomfortable, and when the thermometer rises into the 90s – as expected for a significant portion of Saturday’s race – conditions can border on unbearable.

The heat, humidity and Sebring Raceway’s notoriously bumpy surface – some stretches have not been paved in more than 80 years, since when what is now the track functioned as a World War II-era training airfield – make the annual contest arguably the most physically taxing endurance race in the world.

“This race is brutal,” acknowledged Pipo Derani, a three-time winner of the Sebring Twelve Hours. “You’re in the middle of the Florida heat, so the 12-hour race here is actually more demanding than the 24 hours at Daytona. I’m not looking forward to the heat on Saturday, I have to say. But it’s part of the job, and if you make it to the night, it cools off and you start to speed up again.”

That’s a strategy that partiers in the infield should no doubt follow as well. Twelve hours hours is a long time, in or out of the car. It pays to pace yourself.

For those who can’t attend in person, complete coverage of the race is available on Peacock and IMSA Radio. Television coverage picks up at 3:30 p.m. on USA through the dramatic race to the checkered flag.

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