Driver Blog: Duncan Ende

The 2012 Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring

By Duncan Ende

I'm cutting right to the chase: our 12 Hours of Sebring was not the success we were all hoping for at Dempsey Racing, as we went out in a big crash around the six-hour mark. The race started out well enough with each of our drivers leading during their initial stints, but once electrical issues cropped up during my first stint the race fell back in line with what had been a challenging, if promising, week throughout testing and practice.

Our Dempsey / Silicon Tech Racing Prototype Challenge car at speed. We had plenty of speed, but unfortunately, plenty of bad luck as well.

Race week commenced with a full day of official testing on Monday, followed by another couple of hours on Tuesday, and our troubles began right from the start. On his out lap Monday morning, Dane Cameron (who is a total boss; 2007 Star Mazda champion, 2011 Sebring 12 Hour LMPC pole and race winner) touched a wet curb on cold tires while making way for a BMW GT car already at speed, lost the rear of the car, and got into the tires on the way to turn 3. The damage was largely limited to bodywork, but since the tire wall grabbed the car after what would have been a glancing hit, the bodywork damage was pretty extensive, costing us the majority of the morning session. The afternoon session was more promising, Dane going to P1 in class, but my initial run in the car was cut short when the power steering failed, halfway to the apex of turn 10, sending me on a brief agricultural excursion – but thankfully not on a return trip to the tires!

There are race cars somewhere in there. The fan walk during ALMS races is always a highlight, but this year the front straightaway was especially packed with fans there for the 60th anniversary of the race.
Tuesday thankfully did not continue the dramas of the previous day, but it highlighted what would turn out to be ongoing themes for the week: traffic and red flags. As the week goes on in Sebring, the sessions get shorter, the track gets more crowded, and getting a totally clear lap in the books becomes something you hope for but never actually expect. The first session of the day was particularly illustrative of this, as I managed exactly one time past the start-finish line before the red flags were flying for a stranded car on course, bringing the session to a premature close. Needless to say, this makes it hard to figure out how you stack up to the rest of the field. I did manage to get a decent run during the afternoon session, around 20 minutes, and one clear lap, so I at least had a reference point going forward.
Media events are a part of any race weekend. At Sebring, I joined my co-drivers Henri Richard and Dane Cameron, Dmpsey Racing team owners Patrick Dempsey and Joe Foster, and ALMS CEO Scott Atherton at a press conference announcing Patrick and Joe's new prototype program.
Traffic is part of racing, that being especially true in endurance racing, but working traffic in the PC class is especially tough. We have to negotiate past GT cars which are going anywhere from 4-10 seconds a lap slower than we are, along with GTC Porsches which could be 12-18 seconds slower, meanwhile keeping our eyes on our mirrors for P1 cars which can be another 10 seconds a lap ahead of us! Just in case this isn't challenging enough, the actual dynamics of how we can work our way through traffic makes it even tougher. GTC cars are easy enough to deal with since we accelerate, corner, and stop significantly better than they do, but GT cars are a different story.
The autograph session at each ALMS weekend is mandatory for the drivers, and is very popular with the fans. We go through stacks of hero cards each weekend.

A pro in a GT car brakes at effectively the same point we do, has us more or less covered off slower corners, and our terminal velocities are close enough that we can't simply drive by on the throttle, which effectively means we need to catch them where we can use our high speed handling advantage to the utmost or catch them when they are feeling generous enough to back off enough toward the end of a straight and get us past. I think this is generally enough to deal with, but then you throw in the World Endurance Championship Amateur class into the mix, in which only one pro driver is allowed per car, when you catch one you have to make a split decision whether you think the driver is more-or-less on the pace (say, a sub-2:03 lap) or potentially way off (anywhere from a 2:05 up), and whether or not you should actually go for that inside line. After all of that, there is still the question of whether the GT driver actually sees you, the answer of which seems to be “no,” approximately 15%* of the time, regardless of the fact you are fully along side him in the braking zone.

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