It's a question we get asked a lot and one we've never had a very good answer for, until now. For numerous reason, most of them obvious, teams don't want to talk about the money aspect of racing. The fact is, racing is expensive. Very expensive.
I'm sure you've heard the expression, "How do you make a small fortune in racing? Start with a large one!" There's a reason for that. Without factory support, private teams burn through money at an alarming rate. Tires, fuel, crew, transportation, parts, lodging, food, training, practice, etc. These all ad up, and fast. We talked to one private team that entered a single Porsche at Sebring this year (they do it right and don't skimp) and they said spending a quarter of a million preparing for, and participating in, This famous endurance race is easy (and that doesn't include the cost of the car). They emphasized that costs can go much higher depending on what happens in the race (blown engines, accidents, etc.).
$250,000 for one race for a private team? That's huge money! With those kind of costs, the purse for the 12 Hours must make it worth it, right?
Apparently not. After much searching and digging we finally found a copy of the 2012 Sebring Schedule and Supplementary Regulations. This particular document outlines some of the details not covered in other information supplied by IMSA. One of the gems is section 2A.3.26 Prizes and Cups. As you can see in the image above (you can click on it for a larger version), the entire Purse for all five classes totals $284,000. That's barely enough for a team competing with only one car and that's the entire purse. Those competing in LMP1 and GT can win the most with a 1st place podium position bringing $25,000 each. The top 5 positions, in all classes, put you in the money, but 5th place in any class is only good for $2000. That's not even enough to buy one of the three sets of tires you'll use during the race.
We all know that most racers don't race for the money. Hell, most of them pay to play. Still, are you as surprised as I am at how little the prize money is?