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Sebring 12 Hour
March 20, 1999
THE RACE - FROM MR. TOAD'S POINT OF VIEW
The day dawns brightly again...not a cloud in the sky. The forecast is for a high of 80 and partly cloudy. There's a 20% chance of showers on Saturday night. I hope they hold out until after the race is over. We're up and on our way to the track at 6 A.M. Warmup is at 7:30 and the traffic will be horrible.
Warm-up Saturday Morning: Again, not a very eventful session. The car is overheating and I hope we get that problem solved before the race. We're 4th quick in GTS and I think I got about 4 laps in the car. We "scrubbed" 2 full sets of tires, which means we only put them on for a few laps. Tires have a wax on the surface from the mold when they're made, and for the first lap they're quite slippery and not at all fast. So, we try to have about 4 to 5 sets of tires ready at the beginning of the race so that when they go on the car they're ready to go reasonably fast immediately. Of course they have to be warmed up, but they're reasonable at the start if they've been scrubbed. I'm much more comfortable with the car this year than last and the traffic doesn't bother me as much...and geez is there traffic! About 60 cars will start the race and 30 of them are quicker than we are. The best cars are not much faster on the straights but they get into and out of the corners far quicker than us because they have far more sophisticated suspension, they're much lighter and have 100 or so more horsepower. It makes for a lot of kamikaze passes in the turns.
The Race: Once again it's very warm. Jan Lammers designed a very trick water bottle which he intends to sell and we'll experiment with it during the race. The bottle is aluminum and fits in a neat little gadget that he spent yesterday mounting in the car. The bottle has a plastic adapter at the top and it simply snaps into place upside down in the holder. Thus, the bottle can be changed in a second or two. The holder has a small electric pump which is activated by pushing a button on the steering wheel. Each helmet is fitted with a hose that also has a snap-in plastic fitting. When we change drivers, the driver exiting attaches the seatbelts for the new driver and hooks up his two way radio and the driver plugs in his "drink machine". Voile'. It worked perfectly, except the water got hot in the bottle, but during the race even warm water was welcome. We also tried another bit of new technology in practice and during the race. Dave Davies and Michael Keyser have been working on a computer driven signage system that flashes a series of small lights in a fashion that leaves messages behind in the dark as it streaks through the night. Sounds complicated and weird, but it works. You can see a photo of it in action and greater description on Michael Keyser's web page where he discusses the SCROLL-FAST Display System
Prior to the race all the cars are lined up
on the grid and covered with the flag of the entrant's country. The flag
on our car was German as that's where our team owner Franz Konrad has his
We start the race in 35th place overall and 4th in the GT-2 class. Charles Slater takes the firt stint because he had the fastest time in qualifying. He did a great job in both qualifying and the race. However, because we've been having over-heating problems, we've turned back the advance on the spark, added more fuel so the engine will run richer and decreased the turbo boost. All of this results in much lower horsepower. So we're not as quick as we were in prtactice and qualifying. The Corvettes jump out to an early lead, then there's a loose pack of 4 Porsches (Snow, Schumacher, Roock and Freisenger) and the Saleen Mustang. The Corvette's strategy seems to be to run just hard enough to stay in front of the Porsches. They're a little faster than us anyway, and because we're down on power we have a hard time keeping up.
I get in the car for the second shift, and damn is it hot! We're very worried about the oil temperature. It's running at 250-265 degrees and that's far too hot. I tell many people during the afternoon that I don't expect the car to make it. We're shifting at 5800-6000 RPMs instead of 6500 where we'd be shifting if everything was running normally. That slows us further. Forty minutes into my stint there's a yellow flag and the team decides I should stop for fuel and do the equivalent of two sessions. When I get into the car we're 7th. The Mustang had been plagued with problems during qualifying and retires early. One of the Corvettes goes behind the pit wall for repairs after a few hours where it undergoes a lot of work. While I'm in the car we gain back some time on both Schumacher and Freisenger, mostly because of the timing of our stops. One of the Corvettes crashes and so does Schumacher. When I get out of the car we're up to 4th, but after an hour and 56 minutes in the car, I'm dehydrated and exhausted. The water bottle worked, but it wasn't enough.
Mike Hezeman's takes over for a double stint and does great holding ground. We also pass Roock, to take over third, until we make a pit stop during a full course yellow flag. One of the mechanics forgets to take the safety pin out of the fire extinguisher (it's mandatory to have one person running the extinguisher while refueling), so we get penalized. The officials hold us in the pits for an additional minute and that permits the safety car and the entire pack to gain a lap on us. We're now back down to 6th.
We're still 6th when I take over from Slater at about 5 P.M. The other Corvette has some problems, and the Roock Porsche has a crash. By the end of my stint (1 hour and 40 minutes) just after sunset, we're up to 3rd and that's where we'll eventually finish. During Mike's stint we have a problem with the car and are forced to change an electrical part (the throttle position switch). That costs us 10 laps, but we hold our 3rd place position.
Mike and Charles each drive before I get back in. Charles gets in the car at about 8:15, and with an hour or so of fuel in the car this means we should be able to make it on one more stop. I'll drive the last hour...if the car lasts. At about 8:40 Slater radios the pits that he's tired and wants to get out of the car. We hurry to get ready and Patricia and I stumble around getting the cool vest organized. Slater has to drive an extra lap. I get in at about 8:50 with 1 hour and 25 minutes to go to the 10:15 P.M. finish. It's now dark, and driving at night makes things even tougher, particularly at Sebring where some of the corners are tough to see. I run within about 2 seconds of my normal times, but I don't want to take any chances. This is perhaps the longest drive of my career. Out of energy and still hot, I press on. The Snow and Freisinger car are 13 and 10 laps ahead, and the Corvette which returned to the fray after much work is 13 laps behind. Not much to win or lose if we can just keep the car on the track. Be cool and don't get into an incident, I tell myself. That's the way it ends, almost. With 8 minutes to go I feel a tire going flat and cautiously drive the lap hoping to keep the car on the track.
I dive into the pits and get a full set of tires (sorry Dunlop) for the last 4 laps. It would have been a shame to stop on the course and not be able to finish. I drive the remaining time and I'm in the car when the checkered flag waves. What a relief! The Konrad guys did a great job and the car lasted. I've got to get the brand name for that oil we used. No regular stuff would have worked. I guess it was some special synthetic oil for high performance airplanes that Bosch makes.
We made the Podium: Martin
Snow wins GTS class driving with his wife Melanie and Patrick Huisman from
the Netherlands. Congratulations Martin. Good Drive. It is the first
time that a husband and wife team has ever been on the Podium at Sebring.
3rd in class and 16th overall, after starting 35th.
That's me on the right in the photo below, holding the trophy. The race
was very hard work, but very satisfying -- good practice for the 24 Hours
of Le Mans which takes place in early June.
On the podium they present the trophies and take the pictures, and even that's work. First a picture with the hats from the event. Switch caps. A second picture with the caps from the American Le Mans Series. Switch caps. A third picture with Porsche caps. It's interesting that all of the podium finishers in the two GT classes were Porsches. Switch caps again. Tire caps this time. The Snow team has Pirelli, while Freisinger and we have Dunlops. Switch caps again. Spark plugs this time. The final round of pictures will show us with Bosch caps.
Then the champagne...and boy was it cheap stuff. Andre with plastic caps! But it sprays quite well and the crowd goes nuts when we throw the caps and spray them with the champagne. That's Sebring, the only race of its kind in the world. If you haven't seen the photos from Fridays report on the Culture of Sebring, take a look at them.
So, that's it. Back to work and on to
the next race. Our goal at Le Mans will be another podium finish and that's
the toughest long distance race in the world. Tune in for a report on pre-qualifying
the last weekend in April and for the race in early June.