This past weekend offered a true orgy of delights for fans of sports car racing, with not one, but two, major races at the Sebring race course in central Florida, home of America’s oldest endurance race.
The IMSA-sanctioned traditional 12-hour race took place on Saturday, as is usual. This year the World Endurance Championship also ran a 1000 mile or 8-hour race on Friday, to get the weekend started.
As someone who still has cable TV, I was able to watch both races almost in their entirety. The whole 8 hours of the WEC race, including a half hour introduction, and a half hour wrap-up, was shown on Motor Trend TV, and I hope that they will cover the entire WEC season. The commentators were Martin Haven and Graham Goodwin, and they stayed at their posts for the entire race, as did Louise Beckett in the pits. They all did excellent work, reporting on the race, sharing anecdotes, and covering all of the on-track action thoroughly. The TV cameras showed the action and the atmosphere, as Sebring is as famous for its devoted, passionate fans as well as being the home of American endurance racing.
Right from the start, the two Toyota Hybrids ran away from the field, and were never threatened by any of the privateer P1 cars, the winning car driven by Fernando Alonso, Sebastian Buemi, and Kaz Nakajima. The race for first in P2 went on through the 8 hours, with Jackie Chan DC Racing’s ORECA-Gibson winning by just 20 seconds, driven by David Heinemeier Hansson, Jordan King, and William Stevens.
The racing in the GT classes was close as always, and with Toyota controlling the overall lead, the TV broadcast focused on the closer racing in the production-based classes. GTE Pro was won by the Porsche GT team of Richard Lietz and Gianmaria Bruni, with BMW Team MTEK second, and one of the Ganassi Ford GT’s third. GTE Am was also won by Porsche, the Dempsey-Proton team, with the Spirit of the Race Ferrari second, and the Team Project 1 Porsche third.
The overall broadcast experience was exceptionally good, and lots of fun to watch. One of my favorite things about the WEC broadcasts is the fact that, whenever there is an incident on track, possible safety car, or anything else, we are treated to the warm, dulcet tones of race director Eduardo Freitas telling us exactly what’s what, be it a black flag for a violation, or a safety car due to an accident or excessive rain. A special addition that is unique to WEC and adds a lot to the experience.
The IMSA 12 Hours of Sebring was broadcast by NBC Sports here in the US, and their broadcasters rotated among Leigh Diffey, Calvin Fish, A. J. Allmendinger, Paul Tracy, and Rick Allen in the booth, with pit reporting covered by my friend Kelli Stavast, one of the best in the business, and Townsend Bell, Parker Klingerman, Kevin Lee. Brian Till, and Jon Beekhuis rounded out the broadcast team. NBC’s coverage was not complete, at least not on TV. They covered the pre-race and start, from 10:30am to 1pm, with the next two hours only available on their streaming service. Live coverage picked up again at 3pm, and continued to the end of the race. I did not find the coverage quite up to the quality of the WEC crew, particularly tedious was Calvin Fish frequently citing the “lap record” set in qualifying by the Penske Acura team, ignoring the fact that the Toyota had qualified at the front of the WEC field more than 5 ½ seconds faster than the Acura.
The racing was, as always in IMSA, close, due to regulations controlling the two types of Prototypes, both the DPi and LMP2 cars, and the balance of Performance applied to the GT cars, different formulas for which are used in IMSA and WEC. Thank you for that, Stephane Ratel.
The 12 Hours started under yellow, due to rain, which had also affected the end of the WEC race. Fortunately for the fans, it did not rain non-stop from the end of the Friday race to the beginning of the Saturday race. The DPi cars, led by the Cadillacs, dominated the race, with the Acuras having a variety of mechanical problems. The Cadillacs swept the podium, with the Whelen Engineering Cadillac of Felipe Nasr, Eric Curran, and Pipo Derani taking the win, followed by the Konica Minolta Cadillac of Jordan Taylor, Ranger Van der Zande, and Matthieu Vauxiviere, and the Mustang Sampling Cadillac of Brendon Hartley, Felipe Albuquerque, and Joao Barbosa completing the podium. All three cars finished on the same lap, as did the 4th place Acura.
LMP2 was won by the Performance Tech Motorsports ORECA, which had numerous issues, finishing behind the first 7 GTLM cars, with that class winner also being a Porsche, as in the WEC race, this one the factory entry of Nick Tandy, Fred Makowiecki, and Patrick Pilet. Another Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT finished second, and fan favourite Corvette Racing complete3d the GTLM podium. GTD was won by GRT Grasser Racing Team, in their Lamborghini Huracan, followed by the Magnus Racing Huracan, and the podium completed by Scuderia Corsa’s Ferrari 488.
In terms of my overall assessment of the broadcasts, I’d give the WEC crew an A+ and the NBC crew a B.
The convenience of being able to watch nearly 20 hours of racing on the TV, with only two hours not shown there, was a treat for this fan. Nothing beats being home, except of course, being at the track, but having a fridge full of beer, and cabinets full of snacks, and not having to worry about the weather, or getting home afterwards, has its advantages.
I look very much forward to the rest of the season for each series, especially the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June.