The Corvette Racing Ace Seeks a Fifth Victory in the Twelve Hours This Weekend
By David Phillips
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Few race drivers know more about winning the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring than Antonio Garcia. After all, the native of Madrid has four class wins in America’s oldest endurance race on his resume, not to mention an equal number of podium finishes.
“There’s a lot of things to think about at that race,” he says. “You start right after warmup when conditions are perfect, it’s cooler than almost any other moment in the race and the car goes through all sorts of different performance scenarios during the race, so you need to adjust to know what you actually need for every single moment.
“That racetrack, for some reason I like it and I always feel strong there. And the last hours it always has something, too. You are in the dark, there’s traffic and, yeah, that’s when you need to perform at your best and it always seems that I can be very strong. I feel very comfortable in the last hours of the race, so when you put together everything, that’s part of the success we’ve had there.”
Never has Garcia felt more comfortable in the last hours of Sebring than in 2017. Although it was long planned that he would be behind the wheel of the No. 3 Corvette Racing C7.R for the finish of the race, a full-course yellow “accelerated” the last driver swap and resulted in an ironman stint for the Spaniard who took the ensuing restart in fifth place.
“2017 was a classic,” he says. “I was set up to get in the car with two or two and a half hours to go, but there was a classic yellow with three hours and 20 minutes, so I actually jumped in the car with more than three hours to go. So that was a cool one, especially because it had a ton of drama. There were three or four Ford GTs racing with us, the Ferraris, Porsche; everybody was there and I just remember I had to pass two Fords, one Ferrari and somebody else to get in the lead. It’s fun when the car runs the way you want and you are faster than the rest.
“So that one in particular stands out. I wasn’t in the lead and I finished in the lead and I had to work my way up. I had a stint where my windscreen was covered with oil; I couldn’t see anything literally – I was driving on the taillights of the car in front of me. That’s what happens when you do this race. I did my first one in 2007 or ’08, so I’d done the last stint many times and I know what to do.”
Shooting for a Sebring Repeat
His most recent win at Sebring – last year – was accompanied with considerably less drama, as Garcia and co-drivers Nicky Catsburg and Jordan Taylor led 247 of 323 laps in the No. 3 Corvette C8.R GTD. But it was no less satisfying given that it was Corvette Racing’s first win in the new GTD PRO class after ruling the GT Le Mans (GTLM), GT1 and GT2 class roosts for going on two decades.
What’s more, the win came on the heels of a disappointing GTD PRO debut in a 2022 Rolex 24 At Daytona in which the No. 3 Corvette was never a factor.
“The race was pretty smooth; it was one of those races where we didn’t make a single mistake and just stayed up front there and didn’t have to pass anybody. Our pace was pretty good in that regard. … I remember we had some full-course yellows, and that probably made for an easier win. But for sure it was a good turnaround after our Daytona debut in the GTD PRO class. Unfortunately, it was our last win in the class, so we’re looking forward to getting back to Sebring.”
The good news is the No. 3 Corvette was in contention for much of the 2023 Rolex 24 before losing two laps to repair damage resulting from a flat tire. Despite that setback, Garcia, Taylor and Tommy Milner clawed their way back to the lead lap and ultimately finished in second spot. Garcia is optimistic about Corvette Racing’s chances to add another notch to their belt at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring this weekend.
“We were way closer this year and able to run close to the front in the last hours of the race and fight for the win at Daytona,” he says. “We ended up short and didn’t have the ultimate pace to beat the Mercedes, but in a way, it was a good race for us. Daytona is the only race where you definitely don’t want to finish second; all that matters is to win that one. But thinking about the season, we had a pretty good start, so yeah, Sebring has always been kind of a ‘unicorn’ race for us. For some reason, we are always competitive there.”
And if anyone knows more about winning at Sebring than Garcia, they probably work for a Corvette Racing team that has a dozen victories to its credit there.
“Corvette has been racing (at Sebring) forever,” Garcia says. “How many years we did there between the C5, C6, C7 and C8? So that’s knowledge. That’s experience. And when you take that, as a team, we’ve had a 20-year development for that race, and there is not many things we don’t know about every single condition you can get. So, if it is cold, if it is warm, if it is warmer, if it rains … I think we have raced in every single condition there.”
Corvette Racing has collected a dozen wins at Sebring since 2002. Garcia has been part of four of the last six victories. So it would come as no surprise to find the No. 3 Corvette making another visit to Victory Lane at shortly after 10 p.m. Saturday.