It had been yet another long week of cold 20-degree weather and snow. Spring and warm sunny days seemed to be a cruel fantasy. The cold had me stalking the house, grumbling and moody, to the point where the dogs just stayed out of my way. Then my savior came in the form of an email: “Hey, are you available to go to Florida for four days to attend Porsche and Hertz’s press trip to Sebring?” You’re damn right I was!
It was a system shock: leaving cold and snowy Cleveland, and two hours later deplaning in sunny Orlando. Hertz had provided a beautiful black 2014 Porsche Cayman coupe for my stay. It was my first time behind the wheel of the new Cayman. Like all Porsches, it was fast, drove like a slot car, and made me feel like a race car driver on holiday. I got several compliments on my car during my stay in Florida. I felt a bit guilty. After all, it wasn’t my car. Buy a shiny black Porsche if you want to be a mini-celebrity.
This highlights the Hertz’s Dream Car collection, where any citizen with a credit card can rent for the weekend a series of highly desirable super cars. Depending on the location, Porsches, Ferraris and even Lamborghinis are available for hire for the right price. Hertz has a long history of loaning out the era’s fastest cars. In the ‘60s, the famous Shelby GT350H “Rent-a-Racer” could be had for a weekend on the track. The Dream Car is a modern interpretation of that idea.
Of all the makes in the Dream Car collection, Porsche and Hertz seem to be the best-suited partnership. Porsches are driver’s cars that have a unique quality in supercars: they’re comfortable and practical, which make them great rental vehicles. Both Porsche and Hertz focus on the driver’s experience. Renting a Porsche for the weekend gives you a luxury car that’s designed to be driven, not coddled and babied like some of the Italian ilk.
The next morning, bright and early, I arrived at the Sebring International Raceway, a sprawling track of over three miles of winding curves and long straightaways. This is the place that my idol, Steve McQueen, nearly won the 12-hour race in 1970. Former winners read like a who’s who of motor racing: Mario Andretti, Stirling Moss, Dan Gurney, Phil Hill, Al Holbert, A.J. Foyt, Bobby Rahal and Tom Kristensen.
Our host for the race was the Hertz-sponsored JDX Porsche racing team. Jeremy Dale (the JD of JDX) was the perfect host; showing us around the paddock and introducing us to the side of racing you rarely hear about: the long days of preparation that goes into every event. JDX’s driver, Sloan Urr, was also on hand. He’s a young, quiet man; lanky and tall with the look of a surfer to him. But this kid is fast; he’d nearly gotten the pole position during qualifying, and stood a good chance to win.
Walking around the paddock, it seemed like the UN of racing: throaty Ford Mustang Boss 302Ss, sleek red Ferrari 458 Italias, gold-clad Lamborghinis, and purposeful Mazda Miatas. Sebring is actually a collection of races, from the 12-hour ALMS (American Le Mans Series) race, to shorter 45-minute SportCar Championship races. High-priced factory-driven prototype cars sat next to privately sponsored muscle cars.
Friday was race day for Sloan, the JDX driver. Cup Car racing is done with spec cars. All the cars in the race are the same model, with the same engine, and very strict rules about what can be altered. It’s all about the little things: air pressure in the tires, aerodynamic tuning and the shear guts of the driver. Sadly, his super-sleek Porsche GT3 Cup Car couldn’t get around the pole car and he slipped to third by the end of the race.
Saturday was the big race: the 12 hours of Sebring. The prototype cars were the star of the show. These expensive purpose-built cars aren’t race versions of production cars. These beasts are bred for racing. Unlike the Porsches and Ferraris, the prototypes are unique, such as the wedge-shaped Delta Wing. On the track with these monsters are the BMWs, Vipers and Corvettes of the GTD class. Up ahead were 12 hours of furious racing, long into the night.
In the end, the Ecoboost-powered prototype finished a mere eight seconds ahead of the Daytona 24-winning Corvette Daytona. The race had been a dangerous one, with lots of yellow flags. For example, the number 33 Viper caught fire early during the day. The chagrined owner was unharmed, but his $400,000 race car was totaled.
Sunday, I drove the Porsche back to the airport. It had been an eye-opening trip for me. American racing is nothing like the F1 series you see on TV; it’s a grassroots effort put together by regular guys that have a passion for cars and racing. Hertz’s sponsorship of small, privately-led teams is an example of this American spirit. I’m rooting for Sloan, Porsche and team JDX to win their next race.