Sebring is a divisive track. Some love the challenge the former airfield offers, and others can’t stand the incessant jarring they receive. However, their employers like it; manufacturers know how Sebring takes a toll on the machinery, and if their car can last twelve hours here, it can last just about anywhere. Perhaps the most visible instance of vehicular abuse takes place through Turn 17.
Punctuating the two long straights at Sebring, Turn 17 doesn’t reward one accepted line through the corner, but instead, it encourages drivers to try different approaches and find what works best for their particular car. The line which brings the least bump-related abuse is the preferred one. Some setup can help here, since “Sebring is notoriously bumpy, so the setups there tend to mimic street course circuit,” according to former Grand-Am racer and current Trans Am man Thomas Merrill, but getting the technique correct is just as important.
What is non-disputable about the corner is it features two apexes, the exit is much narrower than the entry, and there are three prominent bumps. The old concrete sections pop the car up in the air—seeing them bobble at triple-digit speeds is a remarkable sight—and so you need to approach them carefully.
The first two bumps are spaced closely; the first happening just before the bridge and the second directly underneath it. Those two can upset the car, but the most jarring is the third, which can spit the car off into the fast-approaching wall if you aren’t a little prudent. Having the right attitude while passing over this final bump is critical, since every driver tries their best to nearly graze the wall; it leads onto the front straight and a fast exit is important.
At the end of the back straight, the first blue-and-white-striped wall on the right is the first apex reference, and those black marks following shortly thereafter indicate where the cars begin to hop. Keep in mind stabilization of the car both on the way in and at the exit. “Turn in before you brake,” recommends Merrill.
Extending the straight as long as possible by turning in late helps capitalize on the high speeds—roughly 180 miles an hour for the faster cars—reached at the end of this section.
Braking Late and Changing Direction
“Carry a lot of speed in and brake late,” Scott Meadow advises. Meadow raced and coached with Skip Barber here, and spent plenty of time bouncing over the unyielding concrete curbs. “I used to make up a lot of time by braking late here; almost running into the wall under the bridge,” he notes with a hint of pride. It goes without saying that this corner rewards the courageous.
Courage isn’t enough, however—it takes foresight as well. As you’re approaching the bridge, there’s a large bump which can unsettle the car. While braking late here is crucial, it’s important to not brake too hard and snatch a front tire over the first bump, as that can lead to a spin. For this reason, as well as one other, Merrill suggests you “stay wide of the bump.”
This entails taking a wide line in, which also helps ensure a clean run through the tightening exit. Forgive the crude graphic below, but it does suffice to demonstrate the correct line through this daunting corner.
“The middle is a constant radius,” mentions Meadow, “so try to carry lots of momentum.” Depending on your car’s ability to handle the throttle over this particularly challenging section—plenty of lateral loading and a large bump underneath the bride—sometimes it pays to be tread gingerly with a little maintenance throttle. However, there’s not a hard-and-fast approach to throttle application here—the undulations sometimes reward those who are comfortable with busily dancing on the pedals.
Threading the Needle
Nipping the inside of the track as it passes underneath the bridge is basically the second apex—clearly, the specific apexes aren’t so clearly defined. This is important, but only because it shortens the distance through the corner. What’s more important is a clean, considerate, and early application of the throttle over the bumps, so whichever line supports that will probably be the best to defer to.
The exit narrows, and it’s quite easy to get greedy with the loud pedal and bite off more than you can chew. “If you get it right, you will carry lots of momentum and just barely make track out,” says Meadow. It’s like threading the eye of the needle, and for some of the daredevil drivers, it’s an inimitable thrill.
Photo credit: Porsche Club of America