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My Tour du Florida

April 1, 2013

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Chrysler 200 Limited convertible at its final stop in St Petersburg – Anne Proffit photo

You’d be exhausted, too.

Leah the hearing dog and I just completed a near two-week visit to Florida that encompassed three races and one race shop visit. Of course all of these venues were miles upon miles apart and required early morning wake-up calls and late evenings. it’s the nature of the beast.

We arrived in Orlando on Wednesday the 13th and headed, early the next morning for Sebring, where the 61st annual Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring was taking place. In addition to the racing, it was time for the announcement of the merged sports car entities’ new name and class structure. So we had United SportsCar Racing unveiled as well as on-track activities.

The racing at Sebring was excellent, with pre-ordained Audi taking the win with their brace of R18 e-tron LM P1 entries. Level 5 Motorsports finished first in the LM P2 category (with my good friend and new father Marino Franchitti part of the winning trio). Mathiesen Motorsports got the gold in LM PC, Corvette Racing won the GT category and Alex Job Racing won the GTC category. A good show by all.

Audi also bid farewell – for now – to American sports car racing as USCR won’t include the LM P1 class in 2014, only the LM P2 prototypes will compete so it can retain some semblance of a relationship with France’s ACO and the Le Mans 24-hour race. Prior to the Sebring classic, Audi held a presentation delineating its history in prototype racing on the historic airport circuit – it was an emotional farewell for them, something I’d rarely seen from Audi motorsports chief Dr Wolfgang Ulrich.

Before the checkers fell on Sebring’s half-day race, we were off to Gainesville, a three-hour tour so that we could take in eliminations at the Gatornationals, NHRA’s third stop on their drag racing tour. One highlight was seeing Antron Brown win the Top Fuel category after his extraordinary crash at the first race of the season in Pomona, CA. A dandy comeback for the 2012 champion, to be sure. As Brown crossed the timing lights, he gave team owner Don Schumacher his 200th win in the professional drag racing ranks; Johnny Gray provided No. 199 just a few minutes earlier when his Dodge Charger won in Funny Car. An emotional Schumacher celebrated at the starting line and later in the media center.

We stayed the night in Gainesville and then were off to Melbourne to do laundry at friend Steve’s house, eat a great dinner, stay in a fabulous Hilton property next to the Melbourne Airport and then off to Coral Springs the next day for a Wednesday visit to SpeedSource, home of Mazda Motorsports’ lead team in the GRAND-AM GX class that’s opened up this year. SpeedSource are running a Mazda6 with clean diesel propulsion. If you want to learn more about that engine, we’ll have a report in Race Engine Technology very, very soon, but I can’t say more until it hits the magazine racks (or until you subscribe).

Wednesday afternoon we drove from Coral Springs (hope you’ve got a map handy) to St Petersburg, where the IZOD IndyCar Series finally opened its season after a six-month lull. I sure hope this is the last time the Indy cars are out of action for such a long spate of space – it’s hard to remember if a series has been absent from the public’s eye for so long – and still survived.

At St Pete, it was neat to see the Mayor of Hinchtown, the great James Hinchcliffe, finally take his first Indy car win, becoming the first Canadian to do so since Paul Tracy won the night race at Cleveland’s Burke Lakefront Airport in 2007. Glad to say I was there for both of them. Additionally, it was wonderful to see Takuma Sato take AJ Foyt’s Honda-powered Indy car to the front row of the grid – maybe he’ll become the next Kenny Brack at Foyt – someone AJ loves and respects – with some victories in 2013?

The weather cooperated during the Indy car race – although it looked hazardous – and all of the races went off with nary a hitch. I couldn’t believe the errors in judgment made by Dario Franchitti and JR Hildebrand – Dario crashed on his own coming out of the pits and JR managed to explain to everyone in the world why distracted driving is dangerous.

And poor Will Power? The guy wins his fourth straight pole at St Pete, appears to be running away and hiding before the first caution (his lead was about 8 seconds!), only to be passed by teammate Helio Castroneves and then run over by distracted driver Hildebrand. Guy couldn’t buy a break if his life depended on it. My advice to Will is to get his wife Liz pregnant – that’s what happened with 2012 INDYCAR champion Ryan Hunter-Reay and 2012 season finale winner Ed Carpenter – it brought them success and it can probably erase the onus on your head, dear Will!

We drove back to Orlando on Monday after the race (gorgeous weather but quite windy) and then flew back home to Los Angeles. We put more than 1000 miles on the 2013 Chrysler 200 convertible in the space of 13 days! With all the winds, the flight was quite late but it sure felt good to sleep in our own bed again. Now to edit the 12 gigabites of photos shot, listen to the five conversations and write all about it. Life is never boring when you’re addicted to racing, is it?

By Anne Proffit

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