Many married couples like to do something special for their anniversary. But David and Andrea Robertson did something no other husband and wife have ever done — on their anniversary or at any other time for that matter — when they reached the podium with a third-place finish in the GTE-Am class of the 2011 24 Hours of Le Mans.
"We went over thinking if we could finish the race we'd be tickled pink," Andrea said. "As the morning hours went I remember getting called that I was up in the car. I remember walking into our little garage and looking up at the monitor and I was astonished at our positioning — we were fourth at the time — and I remember thinking one more position."
Robertson Racing's No. 68 Doran/Ford GT MK VII made up that one position and was sitting in third place when it came time for the final driver change and it was Andrea back behind the wheel.
"I went out there with tears in my eyes and said to myself, 'Don't think about it, just go out there and do your thing and be calm,'" she said. "I wiped the tears and went and got my helmet and we finished the race and took third.
"After the checkered flag came the people were swarming the fences and people were hitting the car and screaming our name. People were so excited for the little guys. It was very overwhelming."
The team might have not even finished the race if not for some smart thinking by their crew. Regulations allowed paddle shifting, which is faster than the traditional sequential shifter, and the team changed to the new paddle shifter.
"It started failing a couple hours into the race, but our guys were smart enough to leave all the stuff in the car for the old style sequential shifting, so when the paddle shift failed we came in and they disconnected it and hooked up the other stuff and we only lost two laps," David said. "I know of one car that was put out by that, they were out of the race. The fact that we finished the race was because of their foresight. They thought, 'It's new, it might fail, and let's have a plan B.'"
David said he thought a podium finish was possible, but everything had to fall into place, as they didn't have the fastest car in their class.
"We don't have anywhere near the resources of the factory teams and the other cars running in that class, although they have to look like they're not factory teams, they are and we're not," he said. "We're Dave and Andrea with a shop in Georgia and a barn in Michigan. We are not the fastest car, but if you can just (not) make any time-consuming mistakes you're going to get a result."
While the middle of 2011 was definitely the high point of their racing careers, the end of 2011 was a tough time for the couple, as it became clear that it wasn't financially feasible to remain in the American Le Mans Series.
"Winding down through 2011 we had never been able to attract a sponsor with enough money to keep it going," David said. "We were funding it ourselves and you cannot do that forever and that was getting extremely obvious at the end of the 2011."
The couple made one big effort to try and attract sponsors and when none materialized decided to compete in the vintage races.
"We love the car, we'll never sell it," David said. "We'll drive it until we're too old to climb in, so we want to keep it and we can run it in these races and have a good time. Now it's more about having fun and keeping the cost at a sane level, so we can do it for a long time.
"I'd love to get back to that level, but it's going to take somebody else's money. I don't think that's going to happen, but you never know. Now we're here with about five guys instead of 30 and we're here with one semi instead of two, so it's a little different deal."
David said they originally decided to compete in the ALMS because the series encouraged technological advancement more than GRAND-AM, which appeared to be about cost containment. He is optimistic the merger between the two will lead to good things.
"If you combine them and take the best of both, you'll have a neat deal," he said. "The ALMS has fans — you see how they pack Sebring. Their series has fans at Daytona, because it's Daytona, but not so much anywhere else.
"The strengths are different. We have technology; they have a lot of entrants. If you put the two together you'll have a pretty big event."
Andrea said there was no question the couple would love to compete in the merged series.
"I'd like to gather all the boys back together and go run in it," she said. "At dinner the other night we were talking about if we were lucky enough to get sponsorship and run a full-fledged season they would quit what they're doing now and come back. We tried to treat everybody fairly."
Regardless of what the future holds in store the couple knows they have plenty of accomplishments to be proud of, including winning the pole at Petit Le Mans in 2009, their podium finish at Le Mans and watching Anthony Lazarro and Dave Murry place third in their No. 04 car at Lime Rock in 2011, winning the Michelin Green-X Challenge in the process.
"For a mom-and-pop team, we did a lot," David said. "We went as far as we did because of clever people."
David said that Murry was a huge help and he was delighted to see him on the podium in Le Mans as the team's third driver.
"He is a good, decent intelligent guy and we would not have got nearly as far without him," he said. "We were really lucky to get somebody that smart who was willing to do it."
Even though France is the scene of the team's greatest racing accomplishment and they are based right next to Road Atlanta, Sebring is a very special place to the couple and it was with some mixed emotions that they arrived in town for the SVRA Spring Vintage Classic.
"Sebring's great, but when I got out of the airplane the other day I had tears in my eyes," Andrea said. "I said 'I wish it was the 12 Hours.'"
David said the history of Sebring is amazing and he is in awe just thinking of all the people who have been at the track over the years, as well as everything that has occurred on the site, including its days as Hendricks Field in World War II.
"You have to love Sebring," he said. "I don't know if everybody who lives in Sebring realizes how special Sebring is, but it is."
David said Sebring is the one race in the United States that the rest of the world follows with great interest and he was hopeful it would remain that way even after the ALMS and GRAND-AM join forces.
"It might change with the merger, but for 25 years this was the race that mattered, more than Indianapolis," he said. "If you're Asian or European, you follow this, not Indianapolis. I hope Sebring maintains its prominence, but I'll bet they focus a lot more on Daytona, but a little effort down here might prevent this from diminishing because it's still Sebring.
"You still get 300,000 people here — 150,000 to party and maybe watch the race and 150,000 who really know what they're seeing in the race. Those are interesting people to talk to and the others are interesting people to watch."
Both David and Andrea will be competing in today's Historic GT/GTP/ALMS Enduro as part of the SVRA's Spring Vintage Classic at Sebring International Raceway. The 90-minute race is expected to begin at 12:50 p.m. and will be followed by the first Trans-Am Series race of 2013.
"It will be fun; I just wish it were two weeks from now," David said. "But we have nothing to whine or complain about because we got to do it."