Sebring International Raceway is experiencing an unprecedented run on advance ticket sales for this week’s combination IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and FIA World Endurance Championship event.
With the legendary 3.7-mile road course playing host to IMSA, North America’s premier endurance racing series, and for the first time, the WEC, the top international championship, from Wednesday through Saturday, Sebring president Wayne Estes says the demand for tickets, motorhome spaces, and parking is beyond anything the facility has received in the modern era.
“Right now, we’re up between 40 and 50 percent, both in dollars, and in units sold, over last year,” he told RACER. The standard Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring already brings in hordes of fans for its Thursday-Saturday action, and with the WEC added on to feature from Wednesday-Friday, culminating in its 1000 Miles of Sebring race, the spike in value has led to a rush on sales. As a result, free space to roam could also be in high demand.
“The numbers terrify me, because it changes the logistics needs so tremendously,” he continued. “You want to alert everybody and say, ‘I know you’ve been used to coming to Sebring and having a little bit more elbow room in the past. Not this year’. So we’re having to take some steps to be sure that people stay a little more organized, and don’t spread out quite so much. And we’re encouraging people to recognize that there’s going to be a lot of first-timers here. And we want them to come back.
“And be good to your neighbor. And be good to our security people when they say, hey park your car a little closer, so I can get another RV in here. These numbers are really surprising us. And we’re strongly recommending that people allow extra time to get in here both on Friday, and Saturday.”
Estes credits the arrival of the WEC for the box office boom.
“Clearly the big game-changer here is the WEC, but we were trending up anyway,” he said. “We have had… at a time when not just motorsports events, but sports events, and even entertainment events, have been struggling to stay flat, we’ve had an uptake at least the last three years. We got rain here in ’16. ’17 was a better bounce back, but it’s been a lot of positive things happen here in ’18.
“And now this year, with the additions, a lot of in-market promotions… we’ve got some new partners that are doing a lot more in-market; Yuengling, and Pepsi are both new to us. And are both doing a lot of promotions along the coasts. So we have more media activities going on in Orlando, and Fort Lauderdale then we’ve had in recent years. There is that, and then there’s a lot of European fans that are coming.”
To accommodate more fans, Sebring’s facilities team have made changes to some of the familiar spectating areas.
“We have increased some of the capacities in areas that people have been before,” Estes said. “Not just the viewing mounds, but we’ve flattened out the viewing mounds, so we can put some grandstands on top of them. So instead of having 50, or 60 people on the mound, we can have 500 people on top of the mound.
“When we built this new bridge to Green Park in the midway, there was an original plan to landscape these things with palmetto bushes to keep the fans off of them. Heck, you go up there and you say, why wouldn’t we want people to be on these things, because this is the spectator hill we’ve been looking for. Now we’ve got four of them. So we sodded it, instead of putting trees and palmetto bushes on it. And we’re going to let people sit up there, and I’m sure these things will be packed on Friday, and Saturday.”
Take the unexpected rise in sales and attendance, plus IMSA’s ongoing restoration as a series, and Estes is feeling bullish about where the event is headed.
“IMSA’s product clearly is better since they introduced the DPis, and these last couple years, things have just been going really well,” he said. “They’ve got more manufacturers, they’ve got a very positive image. They’ve been in growth mode, we’ve been in growth mode. And then we had this WEC thing come along. And good heavens though, what they’ve brought here…”