transition n. 1. change or passage from one state or stage to another……………..if one world encapsulates the 1999 edition of the Sebring 12 Hours it is surely transition.
Everything was changing and yet much remained the same. The race was the first of a new series and a new concept. The American Le Mans Series was born at Sebring in March 1999 and the radical idea of taking the rules that governed the greatest race on earth and applying them to North American sportscar racing was put into practice.
The circuit itself was changing as it had been recently acquired by Dr. Don Panoz who had ideas to try and drag the facility into the latter part of the 20th Century and to build on the traditions of its signature event. New pits and a hotel were planned, modifications to the circuit and the spectator areas were also envisaged. Would any of this come off or would this just another false dawn along the way after the end of the glory days of the 70s and 80s? No one knew at the time but there was much to be optimistic about. We all needed the ALMS to suceed.
The cars themselves were in a state of change and innovation. The ACO rules had three classes catered for, Prototype, GTS and GT. Somehow a field of 58 cars were shoehorned into one of those categories, though I am sure the process of scrutineering would have taxed the wisdom of Solomon. Nevertheless the Prototype class manged to accomodate the existing US based teams from the wreckage of PSCR, adding the European challengers in the shape the factory efforts of Audi and BMW plus even a GT1 Porsche refugee from the defunct FIA GT Championship. It all looked pretty good.
GTS and GT classes were broadly in line with what the ACO would come to call GT1 and GT2. Such cars are an essential part of endurance racing, providing diversity and sub plots of their own, many events have been saved from total tedium by the class wars.
So who was competing? The "locals" had at their disposal two main weapons, Ferrari 333SP and Riley & Scott MKlll mainly Chevvy powered. Here is an example of both cars with the Dolohite Racing 333SP (Bill Dolohite/Doc Bundy/Mike Davis) leading the Riley of Genesis Racing (Rick Fairbanks/Dave Dullum/Kurt Baumann)
The leading protagonists of these two brands were the Ferraris of Doyle-Risi Racing and the Riley & Scott MKlll Fords of Dyson Racing. Here the number 12 333SP (Max Angelelli/Wayne Taylor/Alex Caffi/Juan Manual Fangio ll) is on its way to 6th place. It leads the eventual second place finisher overall of Butch Leitzinger/Elliot Forbes-Robinson/James Weaver.
Other strong Ferraris were in the hands of Doran Enterprises (Jim Matthews/Tommy Kendall/Mark Dismore) and above the 27 car of Freddy Lienhard/Mauro Baldi/Didier Theys. Both of the Doran entries retired early on with gearbox failure.
Other members of the Riley & Scott fraternity included the garish Robinson Racing car for George Robinson/Jack Baldwin/Irv Hoerr.
Another was the Transatlantic Racing MKlll for Henry Camferdam/DuncanDayton/Scott Schubot.
Marching to a different and louder drumbeat were the two Mazda powered rotaries , 63 Kudzu DLY (Jim Downing/Chris Ronson/Steve Pelke) 62 Kudzu DLM (Rich Grupp/AJ Smith/Dennis Spencer). Motorsport owes Kudzu boss Jim Downing a great deal as he was the inspiration behind the development of the HANS device that is mandatory in all top line race series. Many lives have been saved as a result of this initiative.
There were a couple of new Lolas entered by North American teams, the Team Cascadia B98/10 of Ed Zabinski/Shane Lewis/Vic Rice did not take the start but the paint job alone makes it worth including.
And long time leading privateer in the ALMS, Jon Field, had his Intersport Racing Lola B98/10 along for himself and Chris Goodwin and Ryan Jones.
Also in from the PSCR scene were the two Panoz Esperante GTR-1 for David Brabham/Eric Bernard/Klaus Graf and Johnny O'Connell/Jan Magnussen/John Nielsen.
This was to be the last hurrah for the Esperante as the LMP1 Roadster was on the way. The rumbling noise of the V8 Roush combined with the dramatic styling made the cars a big hit with the fans.
And then there were the factory cars from Europe, Audi and BMW. The Tony Southgate designed R8R was conventional in appearance, observing the twin roll hoop rule and generally beaing a two seater.
The Williams designed and built V12 LMR benefited from some creative interpretation of the rule books by one Peter Stevens and thus was much more like a single seater in the aerodynamics and downforce department, giving considerable advantages over the conventional appoach.
The Audi's conventional cockpit layout is similar to the 333SP or the Riley & Scott
The Ferrari was also a Tony Southgate design.
The BMWs were optimised using the lessons learned the hard way at Le Mans in 1998. Changes to the Motorsport department saw Gerhard Berger come in and the old guard of drivers such as Hans Stuck and Steve Soper depart, the Austrian figuring that anyone older than him had to go. For Sebring the line up was Tom Kristensen/Joerg Muller/JJ Lehto and Yannick Dalmas/Jo Winkelhock/PierLuigi Martini, no weaknesses there. We will be running a full appreciation of the V12 LMR later in the year.
From the outset Audi knew that they were never going to outpace the BMWs with the R8R, so making the cars bombproof in terms of reliablity became an important target, the benefits of which were seen in the amazing durability of the R8 in the following years.
Backing up the factory effort was the Price + Bscher modified 98 V12 LM with Thomas Bscher/Steve Soper/Bill Auberlen on driving duties.
About an hour or so into the race Soper lost control on the bumps at Turn 17 and sustained a very heavy impact just out of sight of the pits. The radio exchange has passed into legend…………
Dave Price "Steve, careful there's been an accident and a full course yellow has been thrown"
Steve Soper "Dave, I know, it was me."
The European gang had other members, Franz Konrad brought his Lola B98/10 himself, Jan Lammers and Tim Hubman
Gabriele Rafanelli swapped a Judd V10 for the BMWs he had run in 1998 in his modified Riley & Scott. With Eric van de Poele/David Saelens/Tomas Enge on driving duties this new combination started from the front row and got the jump on the BMWs at the start, as with many others though the race finished early.
A real hybrid entry was the AutoExe from Japan, Based on a Riley & Scott this entry was the idea of Le Mans legend Yojiro Terada was joined behind the wheel by Franck Freon.
Final significant car in the Prototype class was the Porsche 911 GT1 of Champion Racing for Bob Wollek/Thierry Boutsen/Dirk Muller.
Anyone interested in this car should look at the feature we ran earlier.