The 65th edition of the Sebring 12 Hours is in the books. It was more of an interesting race then an outright thriller. The dominant cars during the day gave way to the superior night machines. Once again proving the old Sebring adage, to win you must be right at night. Despite the wide variance in machinery the 4 class champions had one thing in common. They were all powered by big, thunderous, V8s.
In the top-tier Prototype class Wayne Taylor Racing took the victory beating the Action Express #5 by just over 13 seconds. 21 years earlier Ricky and Jordan Taylor’s father Wayne completed the Daytona Sebring Double affectionately known as the “36 hours of Daytona”. Cadillac dominated the race, sweeping the podium. All 3 cars are powered by a 6.2 liter V8 that usually calls the Cadillac Escalade or CTS-V and when compared to its competition it is a veritable dinosaur in engine technology. Nissan and Mazda use high-tech turbocharged units while the global spec LMP2 cars use the purpose-built Gibson direct injection 4.2 liter V8.
In the early stages of the race Corvette Racing’s lone remaining #3 car appeared lack the pace required to keep up with their competition. But then the sun set and Antonio Garcia got behind the wheel. Suddenly Corvette’s prospects didn’t look so bleak. In what many have considered the drive of his career Garcia began passing rivals. Suddenly finding the grip and the pace that eluded the team during the day. The Ford GTs had dominated the day but even they found it tough to keep up with Garcia.
Garcia’s Corvette was powered by a very similar engine to those found in the Cadillac DPi’s. Both are based on Chevy’s legendary small block. Corvette’s rivals from Ferrari and Ford use the latest in engine technology. Ferrari utilizes an ultra modern 4.0 liter turbocharged V8. The Ford EcoBoost engine uses a 3.5 liter turbocharged V6 that makes a funny noise on the over-run. That noise is the overboost function kicking in to make sure the Ford power plant doesn’t fall off boost under deceleration. Both engines utilize 4 cams and 4 valves per cylinder while the Corrvette has 1 cam, pushrods and 2 valves per cylinder.
The Prototype Challenge Class may be on the way out after this season but all of those cars utilize LS power. Lower in output than the DPi or GTLM engines but utilizes the same architecture.
Last but not least the second Pro-Am class, GT Daytona which was won by the Mercedes AMG GT3. Surely the ultra modern European sports car utilizes the most modern power plant the Germans can get their hands on. The AMG GT road car uses a 4.0 liter turbocharged V8. We’ve gotten the chance to drive the GT and we can report the engine is a masterpiece. It sounds like Thor gargling chainsaws while providing all the trust you could ever want. It would make the obvious choice to power a AMG GT race car, yet Mercedes has opted to go in a different direction. Mercedes has opted for something a little older, the same 6.2 liter naturally aspirated beast they used in the old SLS.
Yes, the 6.2 Mercedes unit utilizes overhead cam technology and is more modern in design than the Chevy V8s. However it was ditched for their production cars because it just didn’t fit in with the times. Everyone is downsizing and turbocharging and so has Mercedes. Everywhere you once saw the 6.2 you now see the 4.0 turbo. Except in the race car, where fuel efficiency isn’t a problem. Where there is no morning commute to navigate where max mpg is the priority.
So why would Mercedes opt not to use their newest engine in favor of something a little older? Why would Cadillac utilize older technology when they have a race proven 3.6 liter twin turbocharged engine? Why has Corvette stuck to the same basic engine design? Simple these engines are known commodities. These engines have been through the wars and won their fair share of races. In racing you are constantly searching for that advantage over your rivals. Sometimes that is with a clever new piece of technology. Sometimes its using the old warhorse you know won’t let you down.
These engines make more than enough power to be competitive against their more modern counterparts. Plus the older design means the kinks have been worked out. They’re likely to be more reliable than the more modern offerings from other teams. The Pushrod Chevy’s have another advantage, weight. Pushrod engines keep the weight lower in the engine block. The more modern overhead cam engines have more weight at the top of the engine. This means an old school pushrod engine has a much lower center of gravity, which helps the cars handle better.
Today’s sports car racing is a sea of technology. Exotic materials and advanced aerodynamics are everywhere you look. Most cars feature engines based on the newest street engine tech. Yet despite it all the class winners at Sebring showed that sometimes the old way is the best way.