Skip to main content

Raging Bulls, Proud Elephants and Flaming Couches: Welcome to the 12 Hours of Sebring

In which we watch the Lamborghini SC63 make its U.S. race debut among a flurry of Americana

Lamborghini SC63 at Sebring
  • The No. 40 Acura ARX-06 wins the 2024 12 Hours of Sebring.
  • Lamborghini scores a development victory wth its hybrid SC63.
  • Meanwhile, Sebring's infield spectacle tops our sentimental podium.

Fireworks explode overhead and precariously close to the row of suites lining the paddock at the start-finish line. Louis Deletraz's No. 40 Acura ARX-06 just edged Sébastien Bourdais in the No. 1 Cadillac V-Series.R to win the 12 Hours of Sebring by less than a second. Cue the couch fires. An engine is en route to the infield already. They were waiting for this, after all. It's a Sebring tradition.

Lamborghini SC63 front

The hybrid bull

Lamborghini has one of the more notable storylines for this race. Having sat out the Daytona 24, this is the first IMSA race on U.S. soil for its new LMDh (Le Mans Daytona Hybrid) SC63. In un-Lamborghini-like fashion, the company opted for a non-bull-themed name with this car. Midrace, I'm sitting with Lamborghini CEO Stephan Winkelmann. Somebody else asks why the SC63 isn't named after a bull and he replies with a chuckle, "There are very few names left. We are running out of strong bull names." SC signifies Squadra Corse, Lambo's motorsports arm, and 63 is the year Lamborghini was founded.

Lamborghini's chief technical officer, Rouven Mohr, who is doubling as the head of motorsports following Giorgio Sanna's unexpected departure, also comes over for a chat. I want to get his take on how the team can be successful.

"The combustion engine is regulated [by the IMSA rule book]," Mohr says. "There isn't much we can do to improve there." All LMDh cars are built to the same spec, so Lambo's 671-horsepower, 3.8-liter twin-turbo V8 is where it needs to be, as is the 67-hp electric motor boosting it from the rear axle.

"But there is a learning curve," he continues. "The more complicated adjustments are to airflow management, tire maximization and controlling the torque-vectoring software," especially on a rough and uneven course like Sebring. "There is a disadvantage in not having the experience of the more established teams and also having less data. We only have one car in the class so we have fewer data points [to reference when making changes to the car]."

Still, Mohr ends confidently: "I feel we have a strong team and team spirit. We look for constant improvement."

The SC63 ultimately finishes seventh of 11 starters in the GTP class. Its best lap was only 0.653 seconds slower than the winning Acura and it was faster than the second-place Cadillac. This is a promising race for the newest bull to come out of Sant'Agata Bolognese.

Lamborghini SC63 action

The green flag drops

Pit row is packed and pre-race excitement is in the air as I gather ahead of the scheduled 9:40 a.m. start. Family members smile, girlfriends cling to arms, fans take selfies. There are grown men dressed as cows. A T. rex just walked past me, followed by a dragon. Some guy's shirt says, "Updog." He wants anyone to ask. I oblige. It's beginning to look a lot like Sebring.

Drivers and pit crew transition to game face and now seem eager for us to leave. Security herds the stragglers. I retreat to the hospitality suite to watch the start. Up here Halloween costumes and iron-on T-shirts are replaced by polos and Bulgaris. But it's just as lively. I pull up to the window and watch a few laps before the real fun starts. It's off to the infield.

Pile of beer bottles at Sebring

Elephants and couches

Sebring International Raceway came to be in 1950 and the first 12-hour race was held in 1952. Curiously enough, that timing coincides with Florida transitioning to the predominantly Republican state it is today. Bumper stickers in the day-use parking lots champion conservative ideologies, loud and proud. But the overnight campers catapult red-state promotion to a far more creative and entertaining level.

At the Cadillac bridge near Turn 1, a group of overnighters park a bus and stage a life-size Donald Trump cutout at the wheel. A "Trump 2020" flag waves high. As if on cue, one resident picks up a box and holds it high, "Free probiotics. Who needs probiotics?" An eight-piece sectional sprawls out behind him. Half-on, half-off one of the sections lies another campmate. He's out cold, belly hanging from his stained shirt. It's 10 a.m.

spectators at Sebring

Each campsite contributes its own vibe to the Sebring mystique. Common themes develop like the booze graveyards, meat smokers (some homemade) and viewing platforms (also homemade).

A boy, no more than 10 years old, calls up to his dad, who is perched 15 feet overhead atop a sketchy scaffolding. Overjoyed, he shouts up, "Hey, Pa! It's full. Pull her up." The boy dunks one last beer bottle into the bucket at his feet before climbing the structure himself. Pa struggles to pull the rope tied between his lookout and that bucket. Sure enough, it arrives safely.

spectators at Sebring

Uncanny ingenuity aside, there is a deeper link weaving these racegoers together. It's tradition. Near Turn 10, about an hour after Pipo Derani parked his No. 31 Cadillac upside down atop the tire wall, I meet Bill. "I'm retired," he tells me. "I come out early to save a spot so my family and friends can join me later. It's first come, first serve. I got in line three weeks ago. I've been coming to this race since 1971."

I keep walking. It's like a used La-Z-Boy showroom out here, each with a patina of uncertain and perhaps, better unknown, origins. A crumpled-up gorilla suit is tucked behind an outhouse. Fifty yards later I see Bobby, an older gentleman sporting a seasoned MAGA hat. He secured prime Green Park real estate. So clear is his view that a race spotter sits out front of his RV with him.

"I've been watching the race right here with Bobby for two years now," he says with a smile. Bobby is hilarious, cracking jokes about his neighbors as he happily shares, "This is my 60th year. I got here February 24 [three weeks ago] to line up at the gate. Then you have to dry camp 'cause they don't let you in until four days before the race." He sends me to "Dodge City," his neighbor a few camps down. "They've been coming for 40 years. You gotta check out their rooster," he tells me. "It's got quite a set."

Sunset at Sebring

Edmunds says

Firefighters extinguish the couch bonfire but the party still rages long into the final night of the 72nd annual 12 Hours of Sebring. Hours from any big city, the track is a community of its own, with longstanding traditions that, sometimes literally, ooze Americana. It's fantastic. Oh, and the car race is incredible, too.