Sebring 12 Hours>> Tommy Milner: The First Of Many Stints

We begin where I left off in part one of the 12 hours of Sebring through my eyes.

Here we go. Standing on the pitwall, preparing for a leap off the pitwall. I check to make sure my ear plugs are secured; the radio connector is stuck to the velcro on my helmet; and look to Chris who will help me into the car for a pound. He motions with his index finger and points down a few times. The car is in pit lane. Go time.

I follow Chris, just ahead of me, to the drivers side door, where Oliver is climbing out of the car. The opening in the Corvette is small, so there is a very specific procedure I have to go through to get in as quickly as possible.

Since no mechanical work can be done to the car while being fueled, we have about 30 seconds to finish the driver change to allow the left side tire changers an unobstructed run from the front to the back of the car. Right lap belt; left lap belt; lean back; right shoulder belt; Chris plugs in my left shoulder; I reach for the steering wheel hung just ahead off the top halo roll bar and slide it on.

In 7 seconds, the car goes up; four new Michelins are hammered on; and the car is dropped back to the ground. I’m hard off the pit lane launch limiter and spinning the tires up to pit lane speed. The second that limiter button is pushed at the end of pit lane everything changes and everything in my body is tuned to the race car and what info it is feeding me.

The #4 car guys talk over the pit stop. They’re just as amped as we are before stops.

The first stint in a long distance race is a great way to settle into the race. Get a feel for how the traffic is, who else in your class is quick, and starting looking for where our car is strong vs. our competition.

Race day at Sebring was the hottest day we saw all week so providing feedback throughout my stint to our engineers will help determine what tire we need to be on as the race progresses.

I also wanted to start the year off really strong. Ultimate lap time is a cool stat but out laps, in laps, and average green flag lap time per stint are just as important.

Meanwhile, in the pits, Oliver is talking with the engineers about the car in more detail. All of us drivers have a quick chat with our engineer about the car and then take a look at the timing screen to see how the race is playing out.

As fast as my stint started, it was over. Back in pitlane to hand over to Richard for his first stint in the car. I was feeling very good about our chances but it’s still a long race from this point.

We are able to do all 12 Hours on just one set of brake pads. Awesome shot from Larry here of the brake dust exploding into a cloud during a tire change.

I’m talking with Lee, our tire engineer from Michelin, about the tire performance over the stint and giving my suggestion for tire choices for the rest of the race.

Oliver is also an interested party in my thoughts of the car.

I don’t drink in the car at all. I find it distracting especially when I’m racing hard. I think in part because I associate drinking with taking a break. Now it’s time for a break so I’ll replenish a bit of fluids while I rest before my next stint.

P1 in class is always a nice sight to see, no matter if it is the start of the race or halfway through.

There were a few full course cautions sprinkled throughout the race. This one looks like one about mid day when an LMPC went up into the catch fencing into T10.

At this point in the race, just before halfway through, we were consistently running in the top three and often times leading for long periods. All of us drivers were happy with the balance of the car, and we were keeping out of trouble. Exactly what we needed.

We took the opportunity during the yellow flag period to pit for a full service pit stop. Tires, fuel, and driver. Oliver in.

The BMW just coming down pit lane now, meaning we were ahead at this point. Likely leading.

Oliver back out. Our pitstops all race were surgical. Precise and without any problem.

We are allowed to pass as soon as the green flag flies so both engineers are staring intently at the flag stand waiting for the green flag and relaying that as soon as possible to us on the radio.

At this point in the race, now I start thinking we may have a shot to win this one. We lead early, we lead at the halfway point, we continued to make all the right calls, and we stayed out of trouble.

I’ve yet to win in the ALMS. I’m sure I’ve said it before but that definitely needs to be fixed. That fire inside burns a bit brighter every race that goes by that I don’t get a win in the ALMS.

The car we had at Sebring gave me the feeling this would be the one.

I wanted to squeeze everything I could out of the car; every lap.

Visor down. Head down. Doing everything I could to maximize every lap. In laps, out laps, traffic or no traffic. Doesn’t matter.

My second stint in the car was longer than the first. A caution about halfway through brought me to pitlane for just tires and fuel and I would stay in for one more stint. About an hour and forty minutes total this time.

The race was looking good for us as a whole at Corvette Racing. Our teammates just ahead of us in 1st during the caution and for the first few laps after it went green.

The Porsche just behind us was pressuring hard in the early laps while we navigated through traffic.

I felt a bit quicker than Antonio ahead of us…

…and was able to make a move down into T17 while he was held up at the exit of 16. I was able to pull a gap then during the rest of my stint from those behind me.

The sun began to get very low, and I was due to pit soon. My last laps in daylight.

With this final shot in the final minutes of daylight, the battle with those two BMWs would only heat up. With every stint, I felt our chances were getting better and better. The close racing in the daylight would only get closer in the night.

To be continued…


Part One of the 12 hours of Sebring with Tommy Milner

More 12 Hours of Sebring coverage on Speedhunters