Half as long, but twice as tough?
Yeah, that’s pretty much what most competitors think about Friday’s Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge Sebring 120, the second event in the series’ 2017 race schedule.
The season opener was the BMW Endurance Challenge at the smooth Daytona International Speedway on January 27. It was a four-hour race, much longer than usual for the Continental Tire Challenge competitors.
Friday’s race is just two hours, but given the historically rough surface at Sebring International Raceway – which held its first race in 1950 – and how demanding the 3.74-mile, 17-turn road course is on cars and drivers, success will be dictated by the toughness of driver and machine.
Even so, the teams are prepared, and looking forward to the race, feeling that certain makes and models may be better suited for Sebring’s unique challenges than others.
“Certainly Sebring has been good for many of our BMWs in years past, and hopefully that holds,” said James Clay, team owner and driver of the No. 84 Bimmerworld/Optima Battery BMW 328i, who has raced at Sebring for 20 years. “I think there are enough longer, faster turns that are our forte, as well as the notorious bumpy surface that the BMW platform handles well.”
Multimatic Motorsports drivers Scott Maxwell and Jade Buford are entered in the Sebring 120, but they left the Multimatic car at home in Canada. The two will be driving the No. 60 Ford Mustang for KohR Motorsports, teamed with the No. 59 KohR Mustang driven by Dean Martin and Jack Roush, Jr.
The two Mustangs will be up against eight Porsche Caymans, led by the Daytona- winning team, the No. 12 Bodymotion Racing entry with drivers Cameron Cassels and Trent Hindman. The two Porsche teams owned by former major league baseball pitcher C.J. Wilson finished second and third at Daytona, and both those cars will be racing at Sebring.
So will Wilson, for that matter. His major league contracts prevented him from participating in all but the most benign motorsports competition, but he’s making his racing debut this weekend in the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA series, which kicks off its season with a 45-minute sprint race on Thursday evening and the second such race on Friday.
There are 17 entries in the lead Continental Tire Grand Sport (GS) class for Sebring, including five McLaren 570S GT4s and a pair of Aston Martin Vantages, so whoever wins the Sebring 120 will have earned it. And at the next race, set for May 6 at Circuit of The Americas in Texas, competition may be even tougher, as the newly approved Chevrolet Camaro GT4 is expected to debut.
In the Street Tuner (ST) class, there are also 17 entries, and crossing the finish line first won’t be any easier for those teams than it will for the GS competitors. First-time winners, the MINI JCW team, operated by Indiana-based LAP Motorsports, has three Mini Coopers entered at Sebring, including the Daytona-winning No. 73 with drivers Mat Pombo and Derek Jones.
But once again, the Porsche Cayman may be a factor – the ST version of the Cayman is less powerful than the Cayman GT4 that runs in the GS class – since there are five Caymans in the ST field, including the No. 56 Murillo Racing car that finished second at Daytona, with drivers Eric Foss and Jeff Mosing.
There are two Bimmerworld BMW 328is, a BMW 228i, four Mazda Miata MX-5s, an Audi S3 and a Nissan Altima entered in the ST class, so we have plenty of cars to watch as Sebring’s abrasive, bumpy surface does its part to help decide the outcome.
The Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge Sebring 120 takes the green flag at 3:45 p.m. ET Friday, March 17. The race will be streamed live on IMSA.com with IMSA Radio commentary and will be televised on FS1 at 10:30 a.m. ET on Sunday, March 26.