The 2000 Rolex 24 Hours was without doubt one of the most significant races that has been sanctioned by the Grand Am organisation. Even if the race had been terrible it would have a special place in the hearts of those who live down International Speedway Boulevard, it was the first to be run under the new flag.
However the contest will go down in history as one of those that you were grateful to have witnessed. There was a titanic struggle between two motorsport heavyweights, ORECA with their armada of Dodge Vipers against fellow Detroit spinners, Pratt & Miller, fielding the mighty Chevrolet Corvettes. It went all the way to the finish and after 723 laps there was less than 30 seconds separating the Viper from the Vette. Compelling and hard fought by two great teams.
So a fantastic GT race then? Well no, there was a pretty handy bunch of prototypes heading up the grid, state of the art or so we thought. Well that theory was going to be blown out of the water in less than six weeks, when the Audi R8 would appear at Sebring. At a stroke the 333SPs and Rileys were all yesterday’s men, welcome to the 21st Century.
As if there was not enough Detroit goodness present in the GTO class, the race also saw the debut of the Cadillac LMP project. After 50 years away from the tracks there was new marketing thrust, “Art & Science” which would launch the brand on a path to develop their range to be the equal of the likes of Lexus and the German trio, Audi, BMW and Mercedes Benz.
Perhaps even more significant in the long term was the debut of 23 examples of the Porsche 911 GT3R. The Porsche 911 has long underpinned GT Racing and here was their latest effort, their first water cooled racer. It demonstrated, that despite withdrawing as a factory team aiming for victory in classic races, that motorsport was still a core element in the Porsche DNA. The presence of movie star, Paul Newman, added lustre to the Porsche contingent, pity that the motto “Excellence Was Expected” seemed to have been forgotten as one by one water pumps and consequently engines failed. Inspection by flustered representatives of Weissach revealed that the sand used in the engine block casting process had not been cleaned out and the residue clogged the water pumps causing them to seize and the engines to go bang. Entries from Barbour Racing, Labre, MAC Racing, Racers Group, Skea, Seikel, MCR, PK Sport, Reiser Callas and Haberthur all retired as a result of this issue. Not good.
The race unfolded as, one by one, the prototypes struck problems until there just the Dyson Riley & Scott holding the two Detroit GTO outfits at bay. Then this leader slowed as well and was gradually caught by the pack of Vipers and Vettes.
So that was how Grand Am’s first race played out, in absolutely freezing conditions by Florida’s standards, the combination of Gallic flair and American Muscle prevailed. Grand Am was launched in the best possible way.
John Brooks, January 2012.