Friday, April 1, 2011


Peugot 908 driven by France's second fastest man.
There's only one reason why anyone should go to Sebring, FL and that's the 3.7 miles of road racing paradise southeast of what I guess is supposed to be downtown. If you're not into racing, then there is zero reason to go there since "middle-of-nowhere" is a gross understatement. Actually, Sebring has a 24-hour diner, making for a second strike against my middle of nowhere. This year I made the trek south down Highway 27 to join another 150,000+ spectators in what was the best 12-hour period in recent memory.

I've been a fan of racing for as long as I can remember. I can probably attribute that to my dad, but at some point I deviated from his preference of perpetual left turns. NASCAR isn't my bag. I need right-hand turns and cars a bit more exotic than a Chevy Lumina.

Peugot 908 - Finished 3rd overall.
Sebring provides this. For 12 hours each spring, a variety of cars pound around the track from morning into the night. This year there were more than 50 cars at the start from five different classes of various capabilities.

Audi R15 being driven by Allan McNish
At the top of the food chain are the prototype cars. They're purpose built for speed, handling and endurance...and they're absolutely gorgeous. The Peugot 908's handily beat out the Audi R15's in what was the last of the R15's appearances. (Being replaced by the closed cockpit R18's this year for LeMans) There's nothing like having one of them sailing towards you at 170mph, brake to about 60mph in a couple of seconds, round the corner and then be out of sight down the track a few seconds after that. Unbelievably graceful for something so obscenely powerful.

And that's one of the marvels of Sebring...the intimacy with the racing action. I spent a large portion of my 12 hours there walking the footpath that closely follows most of the track. And in most areas you're less than 40 feet or so from the cars with only some Armco and a waist-high chain link fence in between. Of course, there's a lot more protection at the areas of the track that call for it, and unfortunately that's where the best photo opportunities are. And you only get there with the proper credentials.

The problem I faced was having to remind myself I was there as a spectator. I was there to enjoy the race, not cover it. It's hard to make that separation at times. I will admit that I hauled my digital camera along. For as much as I love my Hasselblad, and 4x5 and the rest, they are all but useless for shooting race cars being driven in anger. (I supposed they would be fine if said race car was not moving, and in a studio...) The weapon of choice was the Nikon D200 I picked up very used over the winter. The lens that spent the majority of the day on my camera was my manual focus Nikon 135mm f3.5. It seems like an odd choice but the optics are superb, the MF is great for prefocusing on pan shots, and the focal length was a perfect fit for the distance from the track. I had my 70-300 shitbox along, but it can't compete with the quality of the 135mm and without photo creds or scaffolding, there was no point that I could exploit the longer focal length.
These fans seem most comfortable near the left-handers.

And I'm not kidding when I say scaffolding. Apparently it's fine if you want to turn your campsite into a construction zone. A couch on top of three stories of scaffolding is a great way to watch the race, I suppose. And for the regular spectators like me, no one at the gate is going to stop you when you walk in with your camera gear and step ladder.
Ferrari 458 Italia

While the LMP cars are eyecandy, they're seriously lacking in the audio department. The
turbos diesel engines are, well...too quiet. They're like angry pickup trucks. Thankfully, the GT class picks up the slack. These actually look like their production counterparts but absolutely scream around the track. And each has it's own personality. The Ferrari's were all about high-strung Italian engineering and were not thrilled about slowing down. They sounded like they were standing on the rev limiter through out the entire lap and put up quite the protest under downshift. The opposite end of the spectrum was the Corvette. Deep, boomy, American. Also approaching the pain threshold on the dB scale.

Ford GT - Not particularly competitive but pleasant to listen to.
 My personal favorite, from a sound standpoint was the Ford GT. Deep, thrashy and constantly screaming "get the hell out of my way", which was actually unnecessary given their lackluster pace.

The worst was the Jaguar. I cringed every time I saw it headed for the corner I was standing at because I kept thinking, lap after lap, this it. This is the lap the damn thing is finally going to explode and kill me.

Jaguar XKR - Glowing brake rotors and exhaust. Near the point of detonation.
BMW M3 GT - Thought you would appreciate this, Wade.
I love the environment of endurance road racing. You spend some time at one turn. Watch the action, take some pictures. Maybe chill on one of the viewing mounds for a while. Take a nap. Drink a beer. Walk to the next turn. Hang out some more. Walk around the paddock for a while and watch the crews scramble to put their busted cars back together. It's especially interesting at dusk when the the brake rotors glow with the car's former speed and the flames being spit out the exhaust become visible. The whole experience actually manages to make central Florida a worthwhile destination.

1 comment:

  1. NASCAR winner, at the end of the day has nothing more than to say, "Yep, I sure did turn left better than everyone else today."

    Guess this makes me sound ignorant, but I didn't even know that Sebring was American. I thought it was European, like LeMans. Thank God it's F1 season...

    I guess what I want to know, aside from why there are no Acura LMP photos, is when you plan to use some of these for gum bichromate? :)