For even the most optimistic Sebring race fan, the return of the World Endurance Championship seemed like a mere pipe dream. After all, IMSA had gotten rid of the LMP1 and the popularity of the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and the WEC made it impossible for the two series to compete in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts, as that would entail a starting grid of more than 70 cars.
Even those in the racing world didn’t expect to see the LMP1s back at Sebring, though they were hopeful.
Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich, the former legendary head of Audi Motorsport, was hopeful that a return to race at Sebring would be possible, but he settled on the next best thing, preseason testing at Sebring when the famous Audi R18 e-tron quattro could no longer compete in the 12 Hours after the 2013 race.
“Sebring has always been a special place for Audi,” Ullrich said several years ago during one of the testing days. “Hopefully we can race there again.”
Little did anyone know that was going to be as quickly as this year, however, and when the initial announcement was made in 2017 of WEC and IMSA competing at Sebring International Raceway on consecutive days, there was still some skepticism whether it could be accomplished.
That skepticism was alive and well during part of 2018, but as 2019 grew nearer, what seemed impossible just several years ago was slowly becoming a reality.
“There has been a lot of speculation surrounding the initial announcement of this combined event, but we always believed we could all find solutions to the many questions and challenges that needed to be addressed to host two world-class events on one weekend,” IMSA President Scott Atherton said. “And that’s exactly what we did.”
Gérard Neveu, CEO of the FIA World Endurance Championship, was quick to thank IMSA and Sebring International Raceway for their efforts in making this week come to fruition.
For the WEC, the opportunity to race in front of the most loyal and enthusiastic race fans in the United States will provide a bit of a culture shock to those who are making their first appearance at Sebring and even a driver like Fernando Alonso, who has raced all over the world, will see some things he has never seen at a racetrack before.
Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports driver Ben Keating said Sebring was the ‘Spring Break of Motorsports.’
“It’s not Spring Break for the kids, it’s Spring Break for the adults,” he said. “You have people dressed like Holstein cows, people dressed like monks and dressed like vikings and when I tell people they look at me like I’m crazy.”
Preparations for the event began shortly after the announcement and Sebring President and General Manager Wayne Estes and his staff have had their work cut out for them, with on-track modifications, such as the WEC pit lane adjacent to the Ulmann Straight, made even more challenging by virtue of the track frequently being used during the day, leaving the nighttime hours for much of the work.
Fans will quickly notice some of the changes, such as the new two-way bridge to Green Park, the massive tire tent between the WeatherTech and WEC paddock areas, the new media tent set up near the winner’s circle and plenty more.
“Sebring 2019 will rank as one of the greatest sports car racing weekends ever seen in North America,” Estes said. “To have the FIA WEC join our traditional race weekend is truly an honor for us and a bonus for our fans.”