12 Hours of Sebring – Rob Barff Diary
A new team, a new car, world class opposition and one of the toughest
races on the planet. It was going to be a tough baptism, but it
turned out to be a huge success for all of us on the Rollcentre
Better still, with live
TV coverage both in North America and across Europe, and with around
100,000 spectators at the circuit, we were being watched by fans
and backers on both sides of the Atlantic
After a week spent learning
what works, and what doesn’t, with the Dallara-Judd, we got
to raceday with a car that was comfortable to drive and as good
as it could be over the punishingly bumpy circuit.
lined up fifth on a bumper 44 car grid, with just the three Audi
R8s and a very quick Dyson Lola ahead of us. Joao Barbosa started
for us and soon got settled in to a really fast pace. While the
Audis battled it out, we were able to hang on to the Lola, as it
fell away from the steamrollering R8s ahead. He had a great dice
with James Weaver who really knows his way around this circuit,
and things were looking very good indeed. Joao double stinted very
comfortably and then it was my turn.
The car was fantastic
and the Dunlops were proving to be absolutely superb, we went far
further than we ever thought possible on them.
Dunlop was using a new
combination for the race and it was able to last a double stint
from the very start.
It was very,
very busy out there, the closing speeds are tremendous and it can
catch you out. I had a bit of a moment with one of the Corvettes.
I thought he had seen me but he clearly hadn’t, he turned
in for the apex and we made contact. It wasn’t a big impact
but it was enough to put the GTS car off the course on the outside
(he continued) and wiped off the dive planes on the left front corner
of the Dallara: it could have been much worse but it was a bad moment.
The times though
were coming quite easily. We were giving the Audi boys something
to think about. There were so many high points it seems almost churlish
to point to one but this one was a really great moment - I overtook
an Audi! I was going into turn ten and got inside Jamie Davies in
the #88 R8: we might not be quite on their ultimate pace over a
full race distance but we were way closer than most people ever
thought we would be at this very early stage in the programme.
just got better and better as the race went on. Joao and I were
double stinting throughout and Martin was getting some good
out of the car too. When the Dyson Lola hit trouble we climbed
to fourth. We then hit our first problem when the pins holding
left rear hub came out. It was bad but not fatal. We lost several
laps to the Audis but then the #88 hit trouble too and needed
go behind the wall for repairs. We got back all the time we lost
with our own problem - and more - and emerged several laps to
good on the chasing pack, in a fantastic third place.
It was time to get our
heads down and the Audi boys were doing exactly the same. The #88
car fell back to 7th place but that wouldn’t be good enough
for them – we would have a battle on our hands to the finish.
The times were
still coming in, the car was very quick and very consistent. Confidence
was high, but as always in these sorts of situations the nerves
were jangling. We were holding our own as the Audi carved its way
back up the order: it was making up time on us far too slowly to
catch us if we stayed out of trouble.
If only endurance racing
was that simple! Just as we thought we were relatively safe, the
same problem happened again with the rear hub, we lost all of the
advantage we’d held over the Audi and it was now a matter
of seeing whether we could stay in touch to take advantage if they
Sadly they didn’t
and we did. A freak failure of a throttle linkage costing us more
time in the pits and dropped us down to fifth place, behind the
It was time to go into
very fast cruise mode, stay well ahead of the cars behind (several
laps behind!) and keep going quickly enough to take advantage in
case one of the four fabulous cars ahead of us on the road faltered.
It was not to be. Martin
took over from me and got back into the car for the last session
and took the car to the flag.
It was a strange feeling.
If we’d have been told before the race that a fifth place
finish was on the cards, I’d have been very pleased, but having
held third place on pace somehow it felt like a failure. Seasoned
observers in the pitlane and the pressroom were amazed at our performance
and I’m sure when I wake up tomorrow I’ll feel quite
a buzz that we’ve finished so well in this beast of a race.
For the time
being though it’s good to remember that we came to race at
Sebring to do two things. To find out more about the team and the
car, and to make a big enough impression to ensure an entry for
the car at Le Mans. We learnt plenty about the team and the car,
almost all of it good, and here’s hoping that we impressed
those at the ACO who are responsible for choosing the 50 cars that
will take to the track in June for the Le Mans 24 Hours.