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12 Hours of Sebring celebrates its 60th anniversary

This is a year of big numbers surrounding the 12 Hours of Sebring, Saturday's annual sports car classic. This is not only the 60th anniversary of the race, it's also the 70th anniversary of Sebring International Raceway's establishment as an Army Air Forces training base and 100 years since the city's founding. The race includes a 64-car field in both the American Le Mans Series and the World Endurance Challenge. The ALMS cars race in five classes: Le Mans Prototype 1, LMP2, Grand Touring, PC and GTC. The WEC races in four classes: LMP1, LMP2, Le Mans GTE Pro and Le Mans GTE Amateur. Manufacturers include Audi, Nissan, Ferrari, Porsche, Aston Martin, Chevrolet, Honda and BMW.

History in a flash

In 1942, early in America's involvement in World War II, Hendricks Field opened as a pilot training base. It was deactivated in 1945 and turned into a 5.2-mile race course. Sebring International Raceway held its first endurance race in 1950, a six-hour event. Two years later the 12-hour race began, with Harry Gray and Larry Kulok winning in a Frazer-Nash. In 1959 the track held the first Formula One race on U.S. soil. The 12-hour race was threatened in 1967 when promoter Alec Ulmann said he would move it to a course in West Palm Beach, but he decided against it two months later. In 1972 Ulmann again said the race would end, but it was saved and run under International Motor Sports Association rules. The event has been stable since.

One race, two series

Sebring this year again opens the 10-race American Le Mans Series schedule. But for the first time it also is a part of the FIA's World Endurance Championship (WEC). The WEC calendar includes eight races of at least six hours and includes the crown jewel of endurance racing, the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June. Sebring is the lone WEC race in North America; other stops also visit South America and Asia.

Party all the time

The parties at Sebring are part of the lore of the track. Their wild reputation is perhaps best explained by the 1974 race — or nonrace. That year the race was canceled because of the energy crisis, but several thousand fans showed up to party anyway.

Memory lane

The Cunningham CR4 that won the second 12 Hours of Sebring, in 1953, with Phil Walters and John Fitch driving, will be on display this weekend. That is one of only two times an American car has won with an all-American driving lineup. The other was 1965, with Jim Hall and Hal Sharp winning in a Chaparral.

A toast to Sebring

The 60th anniversary celebration will include a red wine called, what else, Redline. It's a cabernet sauvignon-zinfandel-syrah blend produced by Adobe Road Winery in Sonoma County, Calif. Kevin and Debra Buckler, who operate the TRG team that races Porsche 911 GT3 Cup cars, own the winery. The wine will be available online at adoberoadwines.com and sebringraceway.com, and at the track during race week.

By the numbers

4 Indianapolis 500 winners who have won at Sebring (Mario Andretti, A.J. Foyt, Bobby Rahal, Arie Luyendyk).

5 Formula One world champs who have won at Sebring (Andretti, Mike Hawthorn, Juan Manuel Fangio, Phil Hill, John Surtees).

5 Victories for Tom Kristensen, the race record.

8 Track configurations since 1952.

16 Years since an American manufacturer won the overall title (Riley & Scott, 1996).

18 Victories for Porsche, the most successful manufacturer at Sebring.

28 Starts by Hurley Haywood, eight more than anyone else.

111 Drivers who have won an overall title in the race.

1,416 Miles covered, a race record, set in 2009 by Tom Kristensen, Rinaldo Capello and Allan McNish.

Information from sebringraceway.com was used in this report.

.fast facts

12 Hours of Sebring

When/where: 10:30 a.m. Saturday; Sebring

International Raceway, 113 Midway Drive, Sebring

TV: Tape-delayed, noon Sunday, Ch. 28

12 Hours of Sebring celebrates its 60th anniversary 03/15/12 [Last modified: Thursday, March 15, 2012 11:22pm]

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