You won’t often find me down at Turn 1 right at the start of the first session, not for a race meeting nor a test. And certainly not when it kicks off at 08:45 in the morning and after I’d crawled off a transatlantic fight the previous afternoon. But early on Saturday morning I couldn’t think of anywhere else in the world I would have rather been than the first corner at the Sebring International Raceway.
I stood there with the sun on my face and a knot in my stomach. I had the same feeling somewhere deep down inside of me as I do at the start of a motor race. It’s always the same, whether I’m reporting on a sportscar event somewhere in the world, listening to a grand prix on the radio or perched on the bank at Paddock Hill Bend at Brands Hatch for a winter clubbie.
It’s a creeping tide of expectation and excitement that sets me on edge and makes me feel slightly queasy all at the same time. There’s something addictive about it, which probably explains why I reached my favoured spot on the entry to the first corner at Sebring a good 10 minutes early on Saturday.
I knew the kick-off of the World Endurance Championship’s official Prologue test at Sebring that leads into the season-opening 1000-mile fixture this coming Friday wasn’t going to yield anything particularly exciting. The opening session of the Prologue was more about knocking out the laps than putting in a quick time.
But it was important to be out there watching to see the cars in the flesh. It somehow wouldn’t have been right to be holed up in the press room or pounding around, notebook in hand, at the back of the pits trying to grab a word with a driver or two as they scurried to their cars.
The new golden era of the WEC has finally arrived
Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images
This was the moment I’d been waiting for since that day on the eve of the 2020 Daytona 24 Hours when what we have all come to know as convergence was announced. That process of bringing together two different rule sets is the cornerstone of the bright new age of top-flight sportscar racing that lies ahead of us. It explained why I was going to see cars from five major manufacturers out on the track in the first of the Prologue’s four sessions, as well as a couple from what I like to call the garagistes.
The significance of the green light coming on at the end of pit road at 08:45 was that it ushered those marques out on track as a group for the first time. Porsche and Cadillac had been on track together already, not just at January’s IMSA SportsCar Championship opener at Daytona but also at a series of official or sanction tests leading up to it.
As I saw a couple of Toyotas, then the two Porsches, a Peugeot, the Vanwall buzz past (I had to wait for a Ferrari, the Cadillac and the Glickenhaus), I knew that the era had finally began. I no longer have to pinch myself that this is really happening
But here they were joined by their sparring partners in the 2023 WEC: Toyota, Ferrari and Peugeot, together with Glickenhaus and Vanwall. I wanted to see it and hear it to make sure it was actually happening. The process leading to it has been so drawn out — and with so many twists and turns — that it didn’t seem real at times.
As I saw a couple of Toyotas, then the two Porsches, a Peugeot, the Vanwall buzz past (I had to wait for a Ferrari, the Cadillac and the Glickenhaus), I knew the era had finally began. I no longer have to pinch myself that this is really happening, that we are going to have 20 or more cars battling it out for honours in the WEC and even more at the Le Mans 24 Hours.
Porsche, Toyota, Ferrari, Cadillac, Peugeot, Glickenhaus and Vanwall will all do battle for the top honours
Photo by: Porsche Motorsport
I wasn’t alone in understanding the significance of the moment. As I leaned over the fence as the clock ticked down towards the start of the session, up trotted Alex Wurz, here at Sebring in his role as a special advisor and ambassador for Toyota.
The Austrian, of course, made his mark on sportscar racing during a career that came to an end more than six years ago. He’s not only a Le Mans 24 Hours victor, but he also made his mark at Sebring. He won the 12 Hours, then a round of the American Le Mans Series, on debut with Peugeot in 2010.
I’m glad someone of Alex’s sportscar standing unexpectedly turned up to join me at Turn 1. It solidified my belief that I was in the right place at this super-significant moment in history.
Watkins was in good company trackside at the start of the Prologue
Photo by: Gary Watkins
original source: The first impressions from trackside of WEC’s new era