Debauchery and Lamborghinis at the 2024 12 Hours of Sebring

2024 twelve hours of sebring
Infield Action at the 2024 12 Hours of SebringJamey Price/Lamborghini

Around 7 p.m., the PR guy from Lamborghini was doing pushups in the dirt near Turn 9. This was about an hour after Pipo Derani in the leading No. 31 Whelen Cadillac GTP car went upside down on the tire wall one turn away (he was okay, but their race was over) and maybe two hours before someone set a couch on fire farther infield. There truly is never a dull moment at the 12 Hours of Sebring.

Sebring Raceway in Sebring, Florida, has been hosting endurance races since it transitioned from an air base to a racetrack in 1950. Bruce McLaren won his first F1 race at Sebring. John Morton scammed his way into a Shelby Cobra drive there with just a handwritten note from Ken Miles and the confident declaration that he knew the track ("I had been there before," Morton says, if you ask about this. "I just hadn't ever driven there"). Steve McQueen (partnered with Peter Revson) nearly won there with a broken foot, coming in second to some guy named Mario Andretti. And every year, something gets set on fire in the infield.

Alligators and Espresso

The day started for me just after sunrise. It was already warm, and a low-hanging mist blanketed the neighborhoods around the track, making every dark spot on the grass into a possible alligator.

"There are definitely alligators here," said my driver, squeezing a Lamborghini Urus into the line of cars waiting for track entry. "Did you know they can climb fences?" I pulled my arm back inside and rolled up my window.

A C6 Corvette slipped into line behind us. A C8 Corvette was ahead of us. In fact, there were so many Corvettes attending the Sebring race, they really should have had their own entry lane. Once we were inside, reps from Lambo plied me with espresso. One thing about endurance racing: you can always count on the Italian teams for the best coffee.

Properly caffeinated and as yet uneaten by an alligator, I muscled my way through the crowds to join the grid walk before the green flag. Barring any disaster that might bring it in early, the grid walk would be my only chance to get a close look at the new Lamborghini SC63—Lambo's 2024 entry in the hybrid prototype GTP class—before it started its sunup-to-sundown race.

a crowd of people around a car
The crowd at Sebring was enormous, the cars all crowded around with fans.Elana Scherr - Car and Driver

Like other entries in the GTP class, the SC63 pairs a gasoline engine (a 3.8-liter twin-turbo V-8 not shared with other Lamborghini models) and an electric motor over the rear axle. This car's World Endurance Championship (WEC) twin made its first appearance at Qatar in early March, but Sebring was the first showing in an American series. Most of Lamborghini's competitors in GTP (such as Porsche, Cadillac, Acura, and BMW) have a season under their belts already, so the SC63 team is figuratively, and possibly literally, playing catchup.

Lambo is at a disadvantage not just from the later start, but also because it is only campaigning one car in each series, which means less data and no teammates to share with. Adding to the pressure, Lamborghini's head of motorsport, Giorgio Sanna, left shortly before the WEC season opener. Taking over is CTO Rouven Mohr, who assured me that's he's up to the task technically, if somewhat overwhelmed by the logistics of it all.

Even with all of that, the Italian bull team seemed cheerful, and the car looked fantastic, combining flowing curves and broad shoulders in a recognizably Lamborghinish shape—a challenge for cars in the prototype class, which can fall victim to a simplified design more focused on downforce than brand identity. "In this car for sure, the aero was leading," Mohr told me. "Usually in a race car, you stop at this level. And then the shape is what the shape is. But you can fine-tune the surfaces without changing the aero concepts, and we put that extra effort into making the radiuses a little smaller, the whole design a bit more edgy. It's not usually what you do in a race car if the function is already there, but for us, it's important to be recognized."

2024 twelve hours of sebring
I’m gonna go up there.Elana Scherr - Car and Driver

I can never figure out how IMSA clears the mass of fans with all their signs and morning beers and inflatable dinosaur costumes from the narrow pit lane when it's time to start the race, but somehow it happens. At 9:41, the green flag dropped and the race began. At 9:42 there was the first spin as the No. 62 Ferrari took an off-road approach to Turn 3. After watching long enough to be sure the Lamborghini made it through the first lap, I headed off to the infield, in search of the soul of Sebring. For that, of course, I'd need a good view, which I found at the end of the front straight, at the top of a scissor-lift roofing truck parked along the fencing with a flimsy aluminum ladder leaned against its dump-truck bed.

I couldn't get the attention of anyone in the truck, so I asked the nearest ground dweller if I could go up. He looked at me doubtfully and said: "I dunno. How drunk are you?"

"It's not even 10 a.m.!" I answered, but he just shrugged and pointed to his companion, passed out on a grubby couch. "Well, he's drunk at 10 a.m.," he said. "Or dead." I assured him I was neither and that I'd be careful, and then made my way up the ladder where a bearded fellow sat atop the cab roof, drinking coffee out of a mug labeled "Russell." Russell, for indeed that was he, has been coming to Sebring every year since 1987. In a conversation punctuated by long pauses to let the field pass by beneath us in a cacophony of high-revving howls broken only by the Cadillac GTP cars' bass notes and the Mustang GTD's noticeable muscle rumble, he explained that his gang meets up every year, that one of the guys owns a roofing company, thus the truck, and that their loyalties to the teams change with whim, "It's not like NASCAR," he said, "where you always root for the same driver or car brand." Currently, they were all feeling favorable to Penske, because he'd seen their vintage bus in the pits and said, "Nice bus." It's as good a reason as any. I said my goodbyes and made my cautious way down the ladder and deeper into the campgrounds.

2024 twelve hours of sebring
Up there! Russell has been attending Sebring since 1987.Elana Scherr - Car and Driver

Russell's crew had a pretty spectacular view of the straight, but I wanted to see the corners, so I found a spot just inside Turn 1, where the cars accelerate out of the turn over a patch of pavement rougher than a Detroit city street in springtime. The GT cars had a visible rear bounce, and the prototypes did a full bodywork shimmy like a burlesque dancer in a cold breeze. It's said that lasting 12 hours at Sebring is equivalent to 24 anywhere else. I hope all the drivers have insurance that covers chiropractic alignment.

If you want to give someone directions at Sebring, the usual "by Turn 2," or "middle of the straightaway" doesn't work like it does at most racetracks. The 3.7-mile long course is shaped like a pincer, with an astonishing number of places to watch on the insides and outsides of its 17 turns. It's a labyrinth, and I quickly found it was better to give directions by notable landmarks, like, "Go past the Ford GT parked in front of the '50s GMC bus, cross over the bridge, make a left at the green Toyota truck with a giant penis on the roof, keep going until you see the moose crossing sign (Those are some Canadian fans, say hi, they are of course, very nice), and then you'll see where we are sitting, right by awning with the hanging curtain made of empty tequila bottles." Along that route, we also saw an RV decorated with several airbrushed murals of big cats and met Pierce, who brought a '71 Superbee and a '70 Dodge Demon out to the track, just for the pleasure of showing them off, and who recommended I stop at the Wild Turkey Tavern back in town for the "best gator tail you'll ever eat." Such conversation made me hungry, so I abandoned my explorations among the natives in favor of lunch, and a place to catch up on the actual racing. Scott Dixon was leading GTP in the No. 01 Cadillac, the Lamborghini had just refueled and was still running on the lead lap, and in the hospitality center they were serving bbq shrimp and a chance to interview Lambo president and CEO Stephan Winkelmann. I took advantage of both.

2024 twelve hours of sebring
The SC63 is a big step for Lamborghini.Jamey Price/Lamborghini

The big question for Winkelmann was why Lamborghini has comparatively recently gone in on motorsports. Historically, Ferruccio Lamborghini thought motorsports was a waste of resources, so it's really within the past 20 years that Lambo has joined the fray on track. "Ferruccio was not like other founders, he'd always tell you he didn't need to go racing to prove our cars are the best," answered Winkelmann. "This was his mantra, but things need to be adapted from time to time. The trends are changing, and there is a technical reason too. We're in the midst of transition from ICE to plugin hybrid. Endurance racing gives us a chance to test materials." He added that the visibility of electrified systems in motorsports is also making electrified production cars a sweeter pill for customers used to V-8 and V-12 offerings.

Mohr joined us, pointing out that while the exact components of the GTP are unlikely to move directly into the Lanzador or hybrid Huracán, the philosophies and software learnings most definitely will. "The LMDh [GTP] is still very specific because it's really super sophisticated. But the newer damper technology, what we find today in a high performance car, you have seen some years ago in the race cars: multi way adjustability, friction optimization. This is, by the way, is something that we learned also on the LMDh cars, to minimize every friction in your suspension. This is something that you can use for the street car, even if you are not carrying over the suspension itself."

Another journalist asked why the SC63 didn't carry the name of a famous bull, and Winkelmann said they went back and forth on the idea and finally decided against it, choosing instead to combine the "Squadra Corse" of the motorsport division and the "63" out of 1963, the year of Lamborghini's establishment. "I was a bit in between," he said, rather wistfully. I asked what bull he would have named it after and he laughed and said, "I would never tell you! There are very few left, this is one of the secrets we have."

2024 twelve hours of sebring
Slicks have little wear check divots, but they get covered by melting rubber, so the tire crew has to clean them off before treadwear can be checked.Elana Scherr - Car and Driver

Properly chastened, but also well fed, I sweated through the afternoon at various corners around the track, genuinely impressed by the obvious challenge of keeping anything together over half a day of such rough going. Not even a six-year-old full of birthday cake in a bouncy house could maintain such a pace of boinging and sproinging. It took its toll, with regular cautions as cars lost tires and fenders, or drivers lost concentration, and took their nearest competitors with them. In the hot pits, crews took naps in camping chairs, or curled up against tire piles, somehow shaking off sleep in fractions of a second if the call comes to pit. Tire techs clanked with extra centerlock nuts ziptied to their belts in case of wheel-change emergencies. Generators hummed in the background. The fuel tanks gurgled and the prototype cars dropped silently to the ground under electric power, then kicked on the engine as they raced out of pit lane. It was very hot, everyone was frizzy and damp. But we were more than halfway through, and the Lambo was still running.

The SC63's driving duties were shared at Sebring by Matteo Cairoli, Andrea Caldarelli, and Romain Grosjean. We caught Grosjean in the pits, and had a short, shouty conversation about the car, and if the second half of an endurance race requires a different strategy than the first. "It's all about staying out of trouble for 10 hours, and then you're on," he said. Soon after, Derani demonstrated exactly how easy it is to get into trouble at Sebring when his Cadillac had a massive get-off and ended up stuck upside-down with Derani still inside. He was not hurt, but it looked terrifying.

2024 twelve hours of sebring
The bad decision being to spin the wheel.Elana Scherr - Car and Driver

To celebrate Derani's close call, Lamborghini's product and motorsport rep, Francesco Colla, commandeered a golf cart and took a group of us on a tour of a section of infield known as Green Park. Here, among three-story scaffoldings and a home-made western town with a fish tank and "Hank and Sheila's Big Freakin' Tent" which is indeed a big freakin tent and also a bar and a dance venue and there are some mildly upsetting smaller tents with beds in the corner, we enjoyed free beers and enthusiastic conversations with Sebring regulars. Everyone had something they thought we should see, which is how we ended up at Kip Sebring's "Wheel of Bad Decisions," where Colla spun "Feats of Strenth," thus leading to the pushups. Most of the rest of the group got "Free Shot," which was a mini dixie cup of Fireball. I got "Be Insulted," but Kip said they don't insult women, so I got a Fireball shot instead, most of which I spilled while trying to take video of Colla doing pushups. Probably for the best. Kip said there's a whole group of fans who line the same section of the infield every year, some of them coming weeks in advance to claim their spots. "If you get a fence spot, you have to provide something for everyone walking by," he said, adding that Fireball is pretty cheap, and even a weekend of free shots only costs them a few hundred bucks. It pays off in entertainment for everyone.

2024 twelve hours of sebring
Rexy, a 911 GT3R, is a crowd favorite, proving that you should race seriously, but have fun with it.IMSA

It's dark by the time we leave Green Park, the cars recognizable only by their sounds, and their white or yellow headlights. Back in the pits, both Ford Mustangs are missing bodywork. All the glossy wraps from the morning are greasy with rubber and bug guts. It was well past the 10-hour mark, and, as Grosjean predicted, it was on. Cadillac and Acura had been doing a fair amount of lead swapping, but the No. 01 Caddy really seemed to have the edge, until just about five minutes before the end of the race, when Louis Deletraz in the No. 40 Acura squeezed past Sébastien Bourdais in the Cadillac and kept ahead until the checkered flag. It was fabulous to watch, although later, Scott Dixon, teammate to Bourdais, told me he doesn't think there's any place worse than a second-place podium that just missed out on being a first. Lamborghini was plenty happy with its seventh place. "For our second time out with the car," said Mohr, "we're ahead of where I expected we'd be."

The brand nabbed a podium too, in GTD Pro, where the No. 19 car finished third. As much as it may be a cliché to say, the real winners at the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring were the fans. That is a fun race, with a friendly atmosphere, incredible views, and lots of free, if not exactly top shelf, libations. Just don't bring your good couch; someone might burn it.

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