Saturday, Dec 20, 2014
Local News

Raceway, drivers, fans warm up for 12 Hours of Sebring

BY PAUL CATALA
Highlands Today

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SEBRING - It wasn't a race to win or place, but more of a race of logistics, situating and fine tuning.

Although the green flag and official start to the 62nd Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh from Florida auto race won't drop until 10:30 a.m. Saturday, activity around the Sebring International Raceway was in full-gear Monday. Gates open to the public at 6 a.m. Wednesday.

As semi-trucks carrying racing team equipment and cars rolled onto the paddock throughout the morning, driver team members were already busy cleaning and polishing cars, setting up tools and unloading cars.

Around the area, Jaguars, Ferraris, Porsches, Corvettes and other speedsters were getting personalized attention, like a pet at a grooming salon.

Between the speedway and the paddock, a host of caterer tents were set up, with catering staff already in action serving crews, teams and even drivers breakfast, lunch and dinner. Outside, crewmen were diligently focusing their duties.

"Man, it's super busy already," said Brandon Bruewer, crew chief for Wright Motorsports' driver Kristen Treager. Along with crew members Rob Gambrill and Art Arredondo, he carefully watched as Treager's 997 Porsche GT3 was dropped by a hydraulic lift onto the paddock grounds.

"We're getting everything set up. Some of the cars need updates for the next day and we do a lot of mechanical work today," said Bruewer, in his third year at Sebring from Batavia, Ohio. "There's a side of it that's work, but there's a side of it that's the passion we have for the cars and the industry. It's work and fun; it's a mixture."

Ken Breslauer, 12 Hours' media director, said including drivers, about 2,000 driver-affiliated staff members from 19 different countries are involved in this year's race.

While he sat with a laptop computer in the media center in the grandstand, he said each year, "logistically, it's a huge deal."

He said for the first time in at least 15 years, there was no driving activity on the track Monday because the sanctioning body, the International Motorsports Association, shortened the week.

Breslauer, in his 28th year with the race, said, in addition, this year is the first with United SportsCar Racing, a merger of the American Le Mans Series and the Grand-Am Road Racing series, which has resulted in car class changes.

Also for the first time, the 12 Hours of Sebring is part of the 2014 TUDOR United SportsCar Championship series, where drivers accumulate points in races from January to October and has four classes of competition: Prototype, Prototype Challenge, GT Le Mans and GT Daytona.

Over 60 entries are competing in 2014.

"This year, things are pretty much the same track-wise. Most of the changes are relative to the cars that run. It's just like any other major event of this magnitude; you're going to have frustrations," said Breslauer. "Every year, you have something happen like any other job, but in the end, it always comes together."

Breslauer said by Monday, there had already been a 5 percent increase in ticket sales from last year and each year the race attracts over 100,000 people.

"There's a lot of interest in the new series (United SportsCar Racing) and the weather is supposed to be really good," he said. "Some people come from two hours away; they'll get up on Saturday morning and decide what to do and we already have a very large fan base."

As crews were busy unloading, cleaning and maintaining cars, underneath a tent across from the track tower, Sandra Champlain, co-owner of Marion's Hospitality catering from Newport, R.I., helped her crew get plates, cutlery and food ready for Monday lunch.

Her company has worked the race since 1987, serving meals to the race teams and drivers such as Patrick Dempsey, Bobby Rahal and Alex Job in the Grand-Am and American LeMans race series.

"We're ready 24 hours a day. We're always open for them," she said.

While trucks continued to roll in, Breslauer said car classification rules and race body merger should make the 2014 more competitive.

He said for him the first day of race week can be "hectic" but he looks forward to it each year.

"I'm certainly looking forward to this year's race, it's going to be one of the most exciting ever," he said. "It will all come down to the last lap, I can guarantee that."

pcatala@highlandstoday.com

(863) 386-5855

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