12 Hours of Sebring

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SEBRING, FL, MAR. 12, 2004 — Andy Wallace, Butch Leitzinger and James Weaver have driven sports cars together for a decade with Dyson Racing. They know each other`s strengths as well as how to negotiate hairpin turns in traffic.

They also know each other`s weaknesses,and no prodding is necessary to get the trio to reveal them. Leitzinger can not pick movies.

Five years ago, he convinced the two Brits that the late Chris Farley`s Beverly Hills Ninja was a good flick to see — over Madonna`s Evita.

Wallace can not navigate a rental car. “If I have a choice of going right or left, I always get lost,” Wallace admitted.

Weaver can not drive a rental car. It seems the man with unruly, curly hair has a tendency to run into trees and curbs when he is going less than 150 mph. “Did they tell you about the time I hit the oak tree in the [parking lot] when I was with my wife?” he said. “That was embarrassing.” Working well in n a world where co-drivers often back stab each other, the trio genuinely likes each other. And they like the same set-ups on cars. That is one reason they work so well together.

On Saturday, they will combine their extensive experience to try to win Dyson Racing`s first 12 Hours of Sebring. They will be driving the team`s top car, the No. 16 Lola MG. It qualified third Thursday behind two Audi entries, including Pompano Beach-based Champion Racing`s No. 38 Audi R8 that won the pole with J.J. Lehto driving.

“This is going to be very, very tough to beat the Audis,” Wallace said.

Sebring International Raceway`s grueling 3.7-mile, 17-turn circuit is bumpy, tight and packed with four classes of cars.

Add the Florida heat, and the course built partly on a World War II airport runway is abusive to car and driver.

“Driving at Sebring feels like you have been in a blender,7quot Weaver said.

In Sebring`s 51-year history, no driver has won the prestigious endurance race more than three times. And only four have done that: Mario Andretti, Phil Hill, Hans Stuck and Olivier Gendebein.

The Dyson trio has combined for 40 starts at Sebring, but only Wallace has won it. He accomplished the feat in 1992 and 1993, both times driving for a Toyota factory team. “It is the third victory that has been elusive,” he said.

Dyson Racing has come in second twice, in 1997 and 1999, and in third 1988.


7quotWhen you talk about holding a race in awe, we do with Sebring,” team owner Rob Dyson said. “It is the Holy Grail.”

Dyson got teary-eyed when he talked about the biggest heart breaker at Sebring. It was 1997. He was slated to drive the team`s second car, the No. 20, but he got a call from his sister that his 86-year-old father died.

Dyson rushed home to New York and watched the race on TV with his son, Chris, who now drives the team`s second car. Wallace, Weaver and Leitzinger ran a great race that year but finished second by 47.4 seconds.

Two years later, Dyson`s top team lost the closest race in Sebring history — by 9.2 seconds.

Wallace thinks this can be the year and said the secret might be in stopping set-up guru Weaver from tinkering too much with the car.

“I think sometimes he thinks it is a 12-lap race, not a 12-hour race,” Wallace said, grinning. 7quotLast night, we put him straight. We tied him up, sat him in a corner and said, “You are not fiddling with the car anymore!”

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