March 2019 was a big moment for me. After all the prep work, everything was good to go for my visit to the SuperSebring event in Florida, not only my first live endurance race, but also my first time attending an event that large. What I expected to get from this was 2 days of noise, cars and new experiences. Expectations were definitely met.
Just to recap, as I had mentioned prior, I chose to go to the SuperSebring event held back in March 2019. I went to Friday's 1000 Miles of Sebring, slept over at the track, then got up to catch the start of the 12 Hours of Sebring.
Getting to the track
I went over a lot of the prepwork I did for this race in my last post, so I won't dwell on this too long. Getting to the track was quite straight forward. A departure time was set, the car we were borrowing was refueled and a stop for snacks was made. This was my first time driving on the left side of the road for such a long period, but seeing as I have been driving around Fort Lauderdale a few days prior, just to get used to it, the highway miles passed by easily. I made only 2 stops, one to stretch and one to get sunblock and an aux cable (which I left in Jamaica). There was a slight discomfort in knowing that with each minute I was moving further away from family and help. After the first half hour of this 3 hour drive, the discomfort turned into a growing anxiety as I was getting closer to the track.
When I got to the track there was this indescribable feeling that I got upon seeing the track with my eyes and hearing race cars in the near distance. It was very much a "is this really real" moment. After getting my ticket and parking, I kinda waddled around as it was still about half an hour until the start of the 1000 mile race. My wayward waddling took me inside the paddock area (which was located between Ullman straight and the start-finish area) I only ventured into the IMSA paddock, where you could see them working on their cars for tomorrow's 12 Hours of Sebring race. The WEC paddock would have been empty at this time since all cars were on track for driver meet and greets.
While I didn't spend too much time in the paddock, from what I saw there, shows just how much prep is needed to get a car running a full race speed for 12 hours straight. If I were to drive my car for 12 hours straight, I woud probably check the tyres and fluids and that's it. But again these are race cars, running for 12 hours, at full speed and on a track known for it's bumps.
Moving on from the paddock I waddled my way to find a spectating area in time for race start. Turn 1 was obviously packed so after some more waddling, I found Turn 14. It wasn't very packed an the sun was ALL over me. After some waiting, eventually the cars got on track to first, move from the meet and greet area to the start-finish line, then start their warm up lap. Even at warm up speeds, the way these cars (in particular the Toyota TS050) cornered was mind blurring. I doubt I could clock a full race pace lap at the speed they were going at under warm up. Soon enough, the race went green and there was a whole lotta noise.
View from Turn 14 during the opening laps
And that noise, wow, I certainly got my ticket's worth. As the cars rolled on by class the noise they made increased peaking with the ghastly howl of the Porsche 991 R and ending with bombastic growl of the Corvette C7R (which was only in this race to rep for 'murica). I stayed at Turn 14 for a few more laps then began to walk around the track some more. I had a brief stop over at turn 3, where I got some good photos, then moved on to Turn 6, Big Bend, where I spent the rest of the afternoon laying on the grassy hill. The hill at Corvette bridge really is one of the best chill spaces and I would highly recommend it. It wasn't crowded at all, but had a nice view of the track and the grass was certainly conducive to sleeping despite the noise (which did not stop my father)
Racing at Night
As the sun set, I spent most of the night at Big Bend, eventually moving down to the hairpin at Turn 7. There you could see the brakes glow red hot as the cars slow down for the hairpin, then get right back on the throttle for Turn 8. It was more of the same as in the day, but my feet were past sore and I certainly felt the thin layers of smoke, brake dust and other oils building up on my skin. About an hour before race finish, I called it a night, took a shower and got ready for sleep. The race had quite a controversial finish, with a lot of upset people (mainly on Twitter) wishing that the race ended at the 1000 mile mark, rather than the 8 hour time limit that the race reached, but that's a whole different argument. I think what was interesting to note was that the fireworks, which usually goes off, at the race finish, went off a bit prematurely.
Before retiring to bed, I made a stop at the Michelin fan centre, where they had a large screen for watching the race.
Night 1, Day 2
Well, a Toyota Tundra is not the most comfortable bed, but it does the job. The major issue I had that night was, because of the rain (which contributed to the controversial race end), I had to keep the windows up and the car became a mini sauna. Not ideal sleeping conditions tbh. I could have left the car running with the A/C on, but that would have meant bombarding nearby campers (and the environment) with lovely CO2.
As the sun rose, it was still raining changing the dynamics of the track completely. I got out of the car to get breakfast, my mission was to go to a waffle place I had spotted the day before right beside the paddock area. However, after seeing that activity was taking place in the paddock, I decided to make a detour there. Now, before I left on this trip I was browsing the internet as to how best to enjoy my Sebring experience. One suggestion that caught me was to wake up early, browse the paddock and spectate all the crews waking up to get ready for the race. While it was never my intention to do this, this is exactly what I stumbled upon. As much as I have been watching racing since 2003, I have never been able to experience such an immersive behind the scenes experience like this. It really was surreal watching these beasts wake up in anticipation to go to work for half a day. I could continue to describe the occasion, or you could just watch my video of the whole thing.
While on my way to the paddock I started up conversation with a stranger, he told me he had been to the 24 Hours of Daytona, but after a friend recommended him to come to this on the grounds of it being "a whole other experience". After following we both did our own individual paddock walks, he came back saying "my friend was right" he also humorously lamented on how the weather followed him from Daytona.
Starting under Caution
After getting breakfast, I went back to the turn 3 spectators area where they had street sweepers, jet trucks and Corvettes trying to dry off the track in time for the race start. The race started under caution anyway and eventually went green. I journey back to Turn 3 to catch some green flag laps, but I didn't stay that long. After being exhausted from walking for what felt like 1000 miles, as well as being rain soaked it was decided the time came to head back to Fort Lauderdale. I did make a stop at the sponsors booth to get up close with the Ford GT, Corvette C7 ZR1, Porsche 911 GT2 RS and some other stuff.
I really didn't get as much footage on day 2, primarily because I didn't want to get the SLR wet. My phone camera also had a lot of condensation on the lens as the day progressed, making footage foggy. I had to resort to my GoPro, which isn't all that great of a photography device, but it did the job.
The drive back, felt much easier, even though I was more fatigued than before. I got in, showered and fell asleep before the start of the Australian GP (which I was hoping to catch)
Looking back months later, there are a couple things I would have done differently, but mostly I'd do the same thing.
1) Visit more of the track. I only ventured to Turns 2-8, Turn 14 and the paddock. Turn 10 looked like an experience in itself and I would definitely try to find myself there if I have the chance to go again. Turn 1 would also be great to spectate from at race start and race end, but beating the crowd is another issue.
2) Bring more friends. I did go with my father, but while he was down with the trip, he was not down with all the walking. He wasn't bad company, but definitely more company would have enhanced the experience even more.
3) Bring your car keys. BMW had a lounge for BMW owners, admission: show your key. My father, who owns a BMW, was upset because he left his key.
4) Don't be so shy. I didn't talk to much persons there, but the few who initiated conversation all seemed like fun folk who were just excited to be around people who shared their passion. Numerous people randomly commented on my camera stating "hope you get good shots" with one person even directing me to spot where you could line up the lens in between the catch fencing. I already mentioned the interaction I had during my paddock walk and I would definitely go for more of those.
5) Spend more time at the 12 Hour Race. It became quickly evident that the 12 Hours of Sebring was the main race and had the larger crowd by far. While the 1000 Mile race was great, it really did appear as if people having been planning for years to show up during the 12 Hour race and make the most of it. If it weren't for the rain, I probably would have stayed longer there (maybe not the whole thing).
6) Visit the rest of the paddock. By the time I discovered the paddock, the entire WEC and support race garages had packed up and left. I do think it's scale was quite intimidating when I passed by it at first on day 1, I looked up at the WEC paddock and swore it had no end, but now, with my better understanding of scale, I would definitely spend more time there.
7) Trying to follow the race trackside. While I did have the app to follow the race results on my phone, I do feel like having the crew from Radio Le Mans on going in my headset would have added to the experience. Again, there were big screens there to follow the race, but I feel the audio would have been easier to follow and a bit more digestible, especially the hourly updates they usually provide.
Well that's it, the end. Let's hope 2020 is as fun and I look forward to seeing some of you guys there as well (if I do choose to end up going that is)