SEBRING, Florida - Slightly sunburned, Jim Campbell was beaming. "You treasure days like this," he said.
A long day: The 63rd running of the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring starts at 10:40 a.m. and ends in darkness 12 hours later. For some teams, it's a profound and dismal darkness, as the second race in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship - the first was the Rolex 24 Hours At Daytona - can virtually make or break your season.
With some of the surface dating back to World War II, the brutal track separates the dedicated professionals from the teams that came unprepared for the pace at Sebring. At one time, it was a strategy event, where you saved your drivers and your equipment for a late-race charge, but those days are gone.
"It's all-out, full speed ahead from the start to the finish," said Christian Fittipaldi, co-driver of the No. 5 Action Express Chevrolet Corvette Daytona Prototype. "Pace yourself, and you'll get passed."
Fittipaldi didn’t get passed. In fact, he and co-drivers João Barbosa and guest driver Sébastien Bourdais, the Chevrolet IndyCar® driver who joined the Action Express lineup for the longer endurance race, ended up lapping the entire field – quite a feat on a long, 3.74-mile track – on the way to the overall win and the Prototype class victory, marking a great start toward a second straight season championship.
So is that why Jim Campbell, the Chevrolet U.S. Vice-President for Performance Vehicles and Motorsports, is so happy?
Yes and no because Chevrolet success at Sebring extended far beyond the overall win. Chevrolet Corvette Daytona Prototype teams also took second (Wayne Taylor Racing), third (VisitFlorida.com Racing), and fifth (Whelen Engineering, a sister team to the Action Express car).
In the Prototype Challenge class, every car is powered by a Chevrolet V8, so add in sixth-place overall (PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports) and seventh (CORE Autosport).
But to Campbell, the sweetest victory may have been in the hotly contested GT-Le Mans class, where the No. 3 Corvette Racing team of Jan Magnussen, Antonio García and Ryan Briscoe won in their Corvette C7.R, finishing 10th overall. The win is especially sweet for Campbell, one of the Chevrolet executives who oversaw Corvette officially return to sports car endurance racing in 1999, because the GT-Le Mans class is where the factories battle it out on the track among themselves.
While Prototypes are built from scratch as race cars, the GT-Le Mans Corvette C7.Rs are developed from the Corvette Z06 that you can buy. The Competition for Corvette includes first-class entries like the Ferrari 458 Italia, the Porsche 911 RSR, the BMW Z4 GTE, and the Aston Martin V8 Vantage. If you beat those teams, you have something to be proud of - and the Corvette C7.R beat them all. Twice in a row, actually - the same car won the class at the 2015 Rolex 24 Hours At Daytona.
And we’d be remiss in not mentioning that the biggest race at Sebring leading up to the Twelve Hours, the 2.5-hour Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge Microsoft Visual Studio 150, was won by Andrew Davis and Robin Liddell in a Stevenson Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro Z/28.R. But they had tough competition from second place, which finished less than a half-second back – Matt Bell and Lawson Aschenbach in, yes, a Chevrolet Camaro Z/28.R, the team car to the winning Z/28.R.
To Campbell, though, the trophies are nice, the accolades nicer, "But Chevrolet races to learn," he said. "To learn how to make the cars and trucks we sell safer, faster, more fuel-efficient, more dependable. All of that matters on the racetrack, and all of that matters to our customers."