By GREG AUMAN
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 18, 2001
SEBRING -- The American Le Mans series aspires to follow the lead of NASCAR's Winston Cup circuit, but they have an unfortunate bond: losing a legend.
French veteran Bob Wollek, one of the world's top endurance drivers and a former 12 Hours of Sebring champion, was killed Friday when struck by a car while riding his bicycle near Sebring International Raceway.
Wollek was remembered Saturday with 30 seconds of silence, and the No. 30 Porsche he was to drive withdrew.
Flags flew at half-staff, and above the main Porsche trailer in the competitors' paddock, a small black flag was raised. Several Porsche drivers wore makeshift patches reading "In Memory of Bob" on their sleeves, and six cars raced with a large black band across their hoods.
Wollek's co-drivers, Michael Peterson and Johnny Mowlem, had the option to race but declined.
The decision to race wasn't easy for several Porsche entries -- two drivers from the No. 23, Lucas Luhr and Sascha Maassen, were Wollek's co-drivers much of last season.
Wollek, 57, was a four-time winner at the 24 Hours at Daytona, a two-time class winner at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and won Sebring in 1985 with A.J. Foyt.
Bob Carlson, Porsche North America's media relations manager, said comparisons between Wollek and NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt, killed in a crash at last month's Daytona 500, go much deeper than just their recent deaths:
"He was a lot like Earnhardt, in that he was seen as kind of a tough guy, but inside, he was very warm and caring. He truly loved racing, and it meant a lot to him to do well."
TURN THE AC ON: With temperatures reaching 84 degrees, heat became a factor. During pit stops, the Corvette Racing team had officials taking temperatures of the air, car and drivers.
At 2 p.m., the temperature in two Corvettes was 133 and 136 degrees.
NOTES: Among the early dropouts was the No. 72 Corvette, which ran out of gas five minutes past midway. ... Don Panoz, the founder of the American Le Mans series and owner of the raceway, didn't have a good day. His two entries in the LMP 900 class were out by the seventh hour. One had alternator problems after 20 minutes, and during the other car's first pit stop, the refueling hose failed to shut off, spilling fuel on driver David Brabham. The car stopped later with electrical problems.