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This year, as you almost certainly know, marked the 60th anniversary of the 12 Hours of Sebring. One look at pit lane and the history of the race’s overall winners shows how important this event has been to sports-car racing. It was also the first round of sports-car racing’s first world
championship in 10 years. For me, in my eighth year in GT competition in the American Le Mans Series and my second year with Corvette Racing, Sebring was an important start to the year.
With or without its status as a round of the new FIA World Endurance Championship, Sebring is an event. Some 100,000-plus fans from around the world gathered to enjoy one of the Unites States’ greatest automobile races. When I look back at the drivers, teams and manufacturers who have competed at Sebring, it’s humbling to know that I can put myself in the same group as those who came before me.
For 2012, Corvette Racing has brought an evolutionary change to the Corvette C6.R. Now allowed to build a wider car for this season, the team at Pratt Miller Engineering and Corvette Racing have worked hard in the off-season to
develop a car to challenge our competition from Maranello, Munich and Stuttgart. There is no other class in sports-car racing more competitive and compelling than the GT class, and every year each manufacturer continues to develop and improve its car. This year is no different.
Sebring was especially important because it was the only real opportunity to gauge how we, as a team, stack up to our competition before the 24 Hours of Le Mans. We’ll have one more opportunity at the Le Mans test day prior to
the race, but Sebring is always a true test of the entire team and an opportunity to improve before the famous 24 Hours. As is always the case, while I was very impressed with Corvette Racing’s improvement in the off-season, the other manufacturers made an impact as well.
In qualifying, as Jan Magnussen and my co-driver, Oliver Gavin, threw everything they had at the bumpy 3.7-mile circuit in their respective Corvettes, each came up just a bit short of the quickest times, earning a third and fourth place, respectively. Still, those were a couple of great
starting spots for such a long race and a great result for a winter of hard work to improve upon the Le Mans-winning C6.R.
The grid size at Sebring this year was one of the major talking points. Sixty-three cars, more than any in recent history, would start the race; managing that traffic would be a huge key to a successful race in every class. Oliver would start for us in the No. 4 and we would cycle through
drivers at almost every stop.
As the race played out, we seemed to have the race pace to compete with the Ferraris and BMWs. All throughout practice, it’s very hard to gauge where everyone is in terms of speed. We seemed to be competitive in practice, and
I was happy to see that was still the case in the race when all of the cards were on the table.
In any long endurance race, the goal for the first three-quarters is to simply survive. Make no mistakes on the track or in the pits, and put yourself and the team in position to fight for the win. Oliver, Richard Westbrook and I all led the race at different points. We were keeping our nose clean and just focusing on running quick and navigating traffic as best as possible.
With the sun setting, lap times started to fall. With about four hours to go in the race, both of our Corvettes and both of the BMWs were right up front, with a Ferrari and a Porsche following closely. We continued to look strong
as the temperature cooled, a condition we struggled in last year. That was the only question I had about our pace, and things looked good.
As I hopped in the car for my final stint with about two hours to go, I knew we’d come out of the pits right with the others in our class-and now the race was on. After getting by one BMW early on for second place, I set my
sights on the next BMW for the lead. I was able to match the pace of Joey Hand in the BMW and was a bit better through traffic. Twice I was able to get past him but only just-and on the wrong side of the track to make the
pass stick. Finally, after two tries, I was able to get a run out of the last corner when he made a mistake; I got by him into turn one to take the lead with about an hour and 20 minutes remaining before I would pit and Oliver would get into the car for the finish.
As things shook out, we ended up fourth in the combined WEC/ALMS standings and third in the ALMS GT results. A win would have been sweet, of course, but third was still a very strong start to what will hopefully be another
fantastic year in the GT class and, from a selfish standpoint, a much more competitive year for us at Corvette Racing! Be sure to follow along all year!
Editor’s note: Autoweek Editor at Speed Tommy Milner, 26, of Lake Mary, Fla., joined Corvette Racing in 2011 as a full-season driver in the No. 3 Compuware Corvette C6.R He realized his potential quickly, winning the GTE Pro class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans with co-drivers Olivier Beretta and Antonio Garcia. Milner made the pass for the lead and then completed his stint in treacherous wet conditions before handing off to Garcia for the final laps in the world’s most famous sports-car race.
A second-generation racer, Milner is the son of noted team owner Tom Milner. He has competed in formula- and sports-car series with distinction. He has driven for factory-affiliated teams representing Panoz, Porsche and BMW, and he has competed three times in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. He finished third in the ALMS GT driver championship in 2010 and ninth in 2011. This season, he teams with full-time co-driver Oliver Gavin in the American Le Mans Series, as well as co-driver Richard Westbrook in select endurance races.
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