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"A man has got to know his limitations” – Clint Eastwood
I want to help you find the fast way around Sebring in a Spec E30. The line below also generally works for a Miata or other rear-drive small bore car (I’ve driven this in a SE30, Spec Miata and a Spec 944, they all drive similarly), although the shift points will be different. This track is historic and fun, and probably the roughest track you will ever drive.
Any fast lap in any car requires ALL (not some) of the following:
As Clint Eastwood said, “A man has got to know his limitations”. If you’re a midpack driver, that’s fine, just know and understand it and don’t try to set a track record. Also, make sure you are working up to fast times, do not try to find three seconds in one lap, or the helicopter will come for you. I am sure some will differ with my approach, and I am equally as sure that some other lines may work and also be fast. All I know for sure is that the lines below work for me and my cars.
I have never been accused of being overly smooth in any race car, and I truly believe the whole “smooth is fast” bit is crap, especially in an E30, which handles like a trash can full of water that is tied to a tractor. Every fast driver I know is heavy on the controls. If you drive all smooth and nice like your HPDE instructor told you was the way, you are going to finish like 17th.
A fast lap at Sebring, like any other track, starts with the entry of the turn before the start finish. At Sebring, that means Turn 17, so I will start there:
My entry and line through 17 is different from a lot of people, and turn 17 is probably the scariest turn and best place to make up time. Before I tell you how to do this, do note that if you send it and get offline to the left, there are a bunch of marbles, dirt, rocks, etc., and you can quickly find your way into the wall. There is not nearly as much runout there as it looks. I set up about midtrack and drive it in deep, still at midtrack, turning in on the gentle right while full throttle in 5th gear (if you are not in 5th gear, you either did not get all of 16, or your engine is soft). I get hard on the brakes for just a second at about the flag stand, drop the car into 4th for a second, then 3rd, then make one hard, early move back right, aiming the car just past the inside wall. People frequently overslow the car here, but you can carry lots of speed. Do not overslow the car, as the straight is really long, and you want to carry as much momentum as you can. As soon as you make the hard move back right, you should be at full throttle. I take this line in part because I think it is fast, and in part because there is a huge bump in the track around midturn, and I want the car as straight as possible when I hit it, not turning. You won’t be straight no matter what you do, so learn where the bump is and prepare to make a correction if needed when you hit it. If you do all of this right, you will come flying under the bridge, and you will need every bit of track out. Track out has tires against a concrete wall, I usually wind up a foot or two from those tires, but then the track narrows and you have to get further right, so be ready for all of that. Done correctly, you will need to make the 3-4 upshift just before the end of the turn, but certainly while you are still turning. If you find that you get the whole turn done and are going straight and then you shift, you haven’t gotten all you can from the turn.
You will ride down the front straight in 4th. Get the car all the way to the right. I tap the brakes about 200 feet from the end of the pit wall (again, don’t over slow the car, the run down to turn 3 is still long), take a quick look at the corner worker (turn 1 is blind), and then make a single, hard move left through turn one. You should be at full throttle at the turn in point. Look for an orange cone jammed up in the fence, that is the apex cone, and you want the car about a foot off of the inside concrete wall at that cone. As the turn opens up, unwind the wheel, and be ready for another nasty Sebring bump that will move you over about half a car width. If you went in too early, or didn’t allow for this bump, it will move you off track to the right. Don’t panic, there is plenty of room out there in the grass, you will be going basically straight in the grass, and the reentry is smooth. I’ve done this move, too, at full throttle. If you get nervous right before the grass and hit the brakes or yank the wheel, or both, you can hit the inside wall.
Turn 2 isn’t a turn at all really. Full throttle. Keep the car to the right. This is a good place to pass, also, so if you are being tailed close, you might need to protect.
Turns 3-4-5 are a left right left sequence that you do in 3rd gear. It is preferable that you do all three turns correctly. If you just can’t manage that, make really sure you get turn 5 correct since the straight after it is long.
I turn into 3 in 3rd gear at what I believe is a normal (not early or late) point, and go full throttle until most of the way through turn 4. An early entry into 3 will insure that you have to get on the brakes midturn and fail the entire 3-4-5 sequence. Try to get it correct. If not, err on the side of going into turn 3 late. Hit the apex curb to the left at 3, and then tracking out I want the car about 3 feet away from the right edge of the pavement at turn 3 track out, which is really short. Turn 4 is a short right with a pretty good curb on the inside. I try to just miss that curb (if you are two wide here and on the inside, I believe you have to hit the curb to give room) and wind up setting up for the left-hand turn 5 at midtrack or just right of it. I do not try to muscle the car all the way to the right for the setup for 5, but some people do, and they have good results if they are alone in traffic. Please note that if you go all the way to the right here during a race with a car behind you, they will sneak under you for the apex. This is not something you do in traffic. In traffic, always follow my mid-track setup.
As soon as you turn left for 5, go full throttle again. There is a nice on camber curb at the exit of 5 if you overdrove the turn a bit, it will save you. I’m told by some that the drop-off over that curb is nasty enough to hit the oil pan if you get it wrong, so try not to do that. If you miss the turn, don’t yank the wheel left, as you will cross the track and hit the wall off to the left. Several folks have done this.
Turn 6 is a full throttle gentle right hander. Keep the car all the way to the right through turn 6 so you take the short way around. I’m always amazed by people that put the car to the left way too early so they can take the long way around.
Turn 7 is a hard, slow right hander that you will approach deep into 4th gear. Set up all the way to the left. I go for the brakes hard at around the 200 foot cone, and I usually take the turn in 3rd gear. If you have old tires, or if you are passing on the inside, you will need 2nd gear. If you just aren’t getting the turn right, you will need 2nd gear. Done perfectly, the car will come out of the turn at around 4400 rpm in 3rd. Look to your left before you turn in – when the grass to the left of the pavement ends, a semi flat curb appears. When most of the braking is done (you can’t hard brake on the curb, but you can finish off the braking), get your two left tires 3 feet onto that curb, then make one hard move towards the inside curb while going full throttle at turn in. You will be full throttle from turn 7-10. NOTE: The inside curb of 7 was redone a year or two ago, and it really is like a parking curb now. If you hit this curb, you WILL wreck something on the car. You can’t hit it. You’re going to run out of track at track out, that’s just how that goes, so muscle the car back right (still at full throttle) just a bit, straighten the wheel, run over the left rumble strips with the left tires, while still going straight, run over the next set of rumble strips on the right with the right tires. Sometime around here you need to shift into 4th. Keep the car to the right for the sweeping right hander, then cross over and stay to the left for the sweeping left hander. Keep the car all the way left for the setup for turn 10, a right hander that you will approach in 4th gear going fast.
I brake hard for turn 10 at about the 150 foot mark and drop to 3rd gear. Turn 10 is easier than people make it, and people frequently overbrake here. Turn in at a normal point, again at full throttle (you will be full throttle until you brake for 13), and make sure you use your entire track out. Now, turn 11 is a left hander that starts just about where the track out for 10 ends, but 11 is an increasing radius and increasing width turn so it is relatively safe. Turn left so you clip the left tires on the left inside curb at full throttle, and keep the wheel set in that place through 11. Set the wheel once and leave it there. Most of the way through 11 you will need to up shift into 4th, likely with the wheel still slightly turned left. Turn 12 is useless, once you get through 11, set the car straight, around midtrack, and head for the entry of 13, which you will be coming into at an angle at this time. The apex of 12, and I will use that term really loosely, should be 10 feet to your right. Get the car straight for the turn in to 13.
I brake hard and late coming into 13, and drop to 3rd gear. Turn 13 is on camber and is very important, since a long full throttle section follows. I also find that people overbrake here. Turn in normal (not early or late) and go full throttle, again. They just paved some more on the track-out, and use it all. A straight follows, you will shift to 4th somewhere on the straight and then bishops bend (some call it turn 14), a big sweeping left hander. All of this is done at full throttle. Get into bishops bend close to the inside rumble strips, let the car float out to midtrack, and then bring it back for the second half of the left hander, clipping the inside left rumble strips. The goal here is to get the car all the way to the left after bishops bend, to set up for the right left right combination that is turns 15-16. There are three distinct turns to turns 15 and 16. Just like the 3-4-5 sequence, try to get all of them right, but if you can’t manage that, make super sure you get 16 right.
I brake hard for the right hander into 15, and drop the car to 3rd gear. I then go full throttle and take an early apex into 15, which takes the car to the far left at track out. About that time, the turn immediately turns back left. Full throttle, yank it left and run over the curb. I try to get the left tires all the way over the curb, but you will be fighting the car to do this. Do whatever you can to get the car as far left as you can, because you want a big setup and big speed for the right handed 16, which leads onto the massively long backstretch.
You should be coming through the right left part of 15 at full throttle in third gear. I literally just tap the brakes coming into the right hander of 16, then yank the car right in one move and go full throttle. Turn into 16 a bit early, try to clip the apex curb with the right tires, and then use every inch of the track at track out, including the generous (4 feet wide) rumble strips. If you go in too early and/or too fast and can’t make the turn, don’t freak out, read my note from turn 1 and do it again. Take the car offroad to driver’s left, keep it there for a second, and then slowly transition back on track. It is relatively smooth and the re-entry, as long as you bring it back on 200+ feet down track, is smooth. If you hit the brakes and/or yank the wheel right when you realize you screwed it up, you will hit the inside wall. Many cars eat the inside wall here, but there’s nothing to hit on the left. If you do 16 correctly, you will up shift into 4th just as you straighten the wheel. Also, if you do this right, you will need to shift into 5th gear nearing the end of the straight. If you don’t do this right, forget 5th, you will run the back straight in 4th.
When you get to 17, repeat what I said at the beginning of this article.
With a lot of practice, you can be fast at Sebring. It is a very rough track, but fun when you learn it. Enjoy. I hope this helps.