SEBRING, Fla.—If you are or ever have been a car person; if you ever thumbed through a copy of Road & Track or Hot Rod magazine; if you wondered which would be faster on your favorite track, a Shelby Cobra or a full-race Jag XKE; if back in high school you lusted after 427 Vettes, Z28 Camaros, Boss 302 Mustangs, or Firebird Trans Ams;
If you ever wished you could have seen Can Am or Trans Am racing in their heydays; if you remember the later version of Trans Am, with Willy T. Ribbs battling Scott Pruett; if you miss GTP racing, or if you missed GTP racing; in short, if you have ever had any interest in automobiles besides commuting, you need to check out an Historic Racing event.
Looking at cars in a magazine is fine, if a bit sterile. Seeing cars at cars shows in fun, but static. Some cars are made to be seen in action—in furious, loud, tire-smoking action. Some cars are meant to be seen fishtailing out of tight corners under hard acceleration, or rushing into corners under heavy braking.
Some cars are only in their elements when they are racing. Historic Sportscar Racing Ltd. provides that element, while putting on a great show for the spectators as well.
HSR’s annual Sebring Fall Classic is great event, offering a day-and-a-half of practice and a day-and-a-half of racing, including a night race and two one- and one four-hour multi-class endurance races, plus two half-hour sprint races for each group of classes.
It is also a great value for race fans or even just car buffs. Between races spectators can wander around the paddock, talk to car owners about their incredible machines, peer into engine compartments and interiors, and during the racing, pick just about any vantage point around the whole 3.7 mile track. [etssp 447]
On Friday, the first day of the event, dozens of campers and motorhomes dot the trackside, filled with friends and families cooking, chatting and enjoying the show. As the weekend progresses, the fans multiply, but there is always plenty of room to set up a sunshade and a few lawn chairs.
Night Race—Audi Tops Lola in Race-Long-Battle
There were two races Friday: the Klub Sport Porsche Challenge, and the night race. The Klub Race was an all-Porsche affair, with Over- and Under-2.5-liter classes.
The night race was multi-class: Two World Sports Car-class prototypes, a GT Ferrari 430, a double-handful of Porsches from GT3 Cup cars to Caymans to a 944, plus a 1965 Shelby GT350, a 1967 Camaro, and a 1992 Mazda Miata.
The night race started just after sunset and extended into full dark—it it was very dark. The track was unlighted, unlike when the Twelve Hour runs here. Drivers had to maneuver at top speed depending on memory and headlights, but no one slowed down.
The Le Mans-winning 2005 Audi R8 of Travis Engen started on the pole as the fastest car in practice, followed by Johnny Reisman’s Lola 2002 B2k40. This pair fought for the lead from the green flag to the checker.[etssp 449]
Reisman passed the Audi on the second lap, but he couldn’t hold the lead for long. Engen, with a larger engine, passed Reisman a few laps later, but could not get away from the smaller Lola.
Six laps from the finish, Reisman took advantage of lapped traffic and snuck past Engen but once the big Audi cleared the traffic, Engen retook the lead. Engen kept the Audi ahead for the final five laps, to take the win.
The ongoing Audi-Lola battle was only part of the excitement. Jerry Vento in the old ALMS Extreme Speed Motorsports Ferrari 430 took, then lost, then eventually retook third, fighting past Jim Norman and Daniel Isaia in their Porsche Cup cars, while Jerry Lofton put on an impressive show in his 19654 Mustang, skittering around Turn Seven with the tires chirping lap after lap. Graeme and Oliver Bryant were equally entertaining in their 1967 Camaro.
The Lofton Mustang finished seventh behind the two WSC cars, the ex-ESM Ferrari, and a trio of Porsches. The oldest car ahead of him was 35 years newer than the Mustang, a testament to both the design and the driving. The Camaro came in 10th, but the roar of its 302-V8 was itself worth the price of admission.[etssp 446]
Saturday is half a day of qualifying and half a day of competition, with almost five hours of racing including four sprint races, two one-hour endures (one for vintage and classic GTs, one for historic prototypes,) plus the International/American Challenge which pits pre-1975 American muscle cars against international sports and GT cars over 1500 cc displacement—except for Porsches. This will get the XKEs, the Shelbys, the big-block Corvettes, even the old Datsun 510s out on the track together to thrash out all the high-school debates about which was really faster.[etssp 448]
Sunday is all racing, all day: four sprint races in the morning and the Four Hours of Sebring in the afternoon.
The Four Hours is a true multiclass endurance race, with all classes on track simultaneously, and pit stops for fuel and tires.
The Four Hours is always non-stop excitement. Not only are the cars amazing, the action is worthy of the cars, with lots of traffic and cars fighting for their own class wins, not always willing to move aside for the faster classes.
Tickets are available at the gate, parking is plentiful, the weather is absolutely beautiful—sunny with enough of a breeze to keep the heat down—but really, the cars are the stars. Where else can you see Jaguars race Mustangs, Porsches race Ferraris, while three or four classes of sports racers weave through the mix?
If you have read this far, you owe it to yourself to head to Sebring and check it out.