Few tracks on the North American continent have done quite so much for Porsche and endurance racing as Sebring International Raceway. Nestled among orange groves, chemical processing plants, and airplane manufacturers, this bumpy former piece of airstrip is one of the hardest testers of a vehicle. With fast corners, blind sections, nearby walls, and heavy braking zones, there isn't much time available to take a breath at this 3.74-mile circuit, and it's mind boggling that cars manage to run here for twelve consecutive hours at times. Truly, it's got a little bit of everything—except elevation changes.
It's one of those special races—a world event, really—which draws palpable enthusiasm out of the people who've experienced it. With the racing season put on hold for the few months, Hurley Haywood and Nick Tandy, two of the strongest drivers to ever race for Porsche, used some of their time off to share stories, and maybe get a mild twinge of overdue adrenaline from the exchange.
Among other things, Sebring is one of those circuits which attracts a party. No stern, serious faces outside the pits; the fans at the 12 Hours of Sebring are festive. It's something that a sensitive driver can smell among the wafting scents of the blossom, combustion engines, barbecue, and smoking brakes. For many, it's a half-day festival which happens to feature some of the world's greatest racers and cars in grueling action.
Tandy: “I must admit that I did ‘borrow’ a scooter my first year and sneak out during night practice. I reckon the Turn 7 to Turn 13 area is the place to be. There are couches burning and everyone’s on the top of their RVs having a beer. You hear these stories but you’ve got to get out there and experience it.”
Haywood: "Oh yeah. There sure is a certain flavor to Sebring. It has so many unique qualities about it, it would be almost impossible to replicate it anywhere else."
“I’ve driven several track configurations and back in the seventies, after the hairpin, it used to be completely pitch black at night. You were just able to see what your headlights were picking up. You had two really, really fast straights and you had a pole that stuck 50 feet up into the air, which you looked for to help with your turn in point. I remember one year I was leading a group of four or five 935s and we were all running together and I had the lead at that point. Because the lights were so bright, I was a little blinded and I missed the turn in point by the pole and suddenly I was in the middle of this knee-high grass, doing over 200 mph.
And the guys behind me had, I guess, been thinking “Hurley knows where he’s going” – so they all followed me off – also doing 200 mph plus! Suddenly cars were spinning, lights were flashing past but miraculously nobody hit anyone. When we finally came to a stop, pointing in all sorts of directions, none of us knew where to go to get back to the race track. We just got lost out there and it felt like it took forever to get back onto the circuit.”
Tandy (laughing): “You do tend to follow the car in front – you just follow their brake lights, don’t you? The last corner is the darkest one at night now, but it’s also not so good if you’re in the car for the four or five laps while the sun is setting.”
How some of these guys manage to keep their cars together for half a day boggles the mind.
For the full conversation between these two titans, continue reading here.