Tag Archives: Daytona Prototypes

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The First Steps

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

Most of you will know that Petit Le Mans runs this weekend, bringing down the curtain on the 2016 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. It is also the final performance in the career of the Daytona Prototype class.  Who could have imagined back in 2003 that we would still have evolutions of this class of car racing for victories and titles?

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

The DPs, as the more polite members of the racing community referred to them, made their début at Daytona International Speedway running in the 2003 Rolex 24 Hours.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

There were just six cars entered in the class with four chassis types and five different engine suppliers. Three of these were Fabcar FDSC/03s and two of these were entered by Brumos Racing and were, naturally, Porsche powered. #59 in the famous red, white and blue livery had Daytona 24 Hours legend, Hurley Haywood, leading the driving squad, with J. C. France and Indy Car hired guns, Scott Goodyear and Scott Sharp in support.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

#58 had David Donohue, Mike Borkowski, Randy Pobst and Chris Bye behind the wheel. Brumos had an air of quiet confidence having had an extensive test program and a recent 27 hour test that all went as well could be expected.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

Cegwa Sport entered a Toyota powered Fabcar for Darius Grala, Oswaldo Negri, Josh Rehm and Guy Cosmo.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

Lined up against this trio were the Italian built Picchio BMW DP2 for Boris Said, Darren Law, Dieter Quester and Luca Riccitelli, entered by G & W Motorsports.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

A familiar face at the Rolex was Kevin Doran and, although his team was not there to defend their 2002 crown, he had built the Doran Chevrolet JE4 for Bell Motorsport. It would be driven by Terry Borcheller, Forrest Barber, Didier Theys and Christian Fittipaldi. The team was on the back foot from the start as the project was late in completion and had virtually no testing, not the way to approach the Rolex 24.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

The final DP entered was the Multimatic Ford Focus MDP1 from Larry Holt’s Canadian outfit. He had regular  team drivers Scott Maxwell and David Empringham with David Brabham completing the line up.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

Just six cars in the “top class” and they were not even the fastest round the track at Daytona, that honour fell to Justin Bell and the Denhaag Motorsports Corvette running in the GTS class who posted  a 1:49.394, over a second faster than the class leading Multimatic.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

Let’s consider the situation, short of numbers, slower than the previous top prototype class, visually challenged and despised by legions of internet forum heroes, why did Grand-Am persist with this exercise in motor sport time travel? Tube frames in an era of carbon fibre, mocked as Proto-Turtles, what was the point? Indeed why did the mighty NASCAR empire devote time and resources to endurance racing when the core business was so successful and all consuming?

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

The final question is easiest to answer. Bill France Snr. had launched the Daytona sports car events back in 1962 and by 1966 that had morphed into a 24 hour that attracted a top international entry, Ferrari even had one their most famous Gran Turismos nicknamed after Daytona. So it has become part of the Daytona tradition to kick off the Speed Weeks with an endurance sports car race and by continuing the tradition it is honouring Bill Snr.’s legacy and memory. There is also the practical point that the Rolex 24 acts as a rehearsal for the Daytona 500 in getting the Speedway staff and other interested parties up to speed before the huge crowd arrives on race day for the opening event in the NASCAR calendar.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

OK, why did the folks on West International Speedway Boulevard take the route of Daytona Prototypes? The answer is simple; cost, control and safety. Grand-Am was born out of the vacuum created by the demise of IMSA as run by Andy Evans and the subsequent rise of Don Panoz’ American Le Mans Series. This was perceived as a threat to hegemony of Daytona Beach in North American motor sport circles. Don owned Road Atlanta and Mosport and had manufacturers such as Audi, Porsche, Corvette and Viper beating a path to his door. He was serious and had the resources to match his ambition. The link with the ACO and Le Mans 24 Hours gave him and the ALMS instant credibility.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

Something had to be done. In 2000 Grand-Am kicked off in the best possible manner with a great edition of the Rolex 24. Anyone interested in reading about that race might enjoy THIS

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

For the 2000 season Roger Edmondson, President of Grand-Am, attempted to forge links with John Mangoletsi’s Sports Racing World Cup from Europe to increase the number of prototypes available to populate the grid. This initiative failed, “Mango” could not deliver his side of the bargain, only a few cars made the trip across the Atlantic to the mid-season races at Daytona and Road America.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

The Audi R8 prototype was rampant in the ALMS and at La Sarthe and would run at astronomical speeds if let loose on the banking at Daytona International Speedway and the consequences of something going wrong were only too easy to imagine. The open cars also had a potential safety issue, highlighted by the fatal accident of Jeff Clinton at Homestead early in the 2002 Grand-Am season. The flurry of legal action that followed that accident focused minds in Volusia County.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

 

Cost was also a problem, even manufacturers of the size of Cadillac realised that they could not outspend Audi in the spiralling arms race that motor sport has always been. Detroit would not sanction such expenditure that had little return on investment and in the face of a declining financial situation that would eventually require a US Government bail out. There was very definitely a finite limit of what competitors could be expected to spend.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

The only realistic solution to the issues of cost for Grand-Am was to write the rule book themselves giving them total control over all aspects of their series and not being dependant on outside parties building cars to others’ regulations and also not having manufacturers dominate proceedings.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

The high tech and costly solutions involving carbon fibre, Kevlar and electronic wizardry were out except on bodywork and ancillaries. The traditional tube-frame construction would the basis for all the cars. Seven different chassis were approved, along with engines that were also tightly regulated. Another benefit to Grand-Am was to lock in those teams that invested in Daytona Prototypes, there was nowhere else to race these odd machines.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

Well that is how members of the media like myself and the fans that flock to DIS in late January first encountered the Daytona Prototypes in the flesh. They looked awful, especially compared with the Audis and Bentleys that would run at Sebring a few weeks later but they were affordable and a business could be made running them. In any case no one at Grand-Am was going to pay any attention to a bunch of whiny Europeans that only showed up once a year to enjoy some Floridian sunshine.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

 

Mind you it was not just us Aliens that did not care for the first iteration of the DP. I have been in recent correspondence with one of the drivers who lined up at the sharp end of the grid on February 1st. His verdict was “Damn, that’s an ugly car!”

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

The half dozen Daytona Prototypes were stationed at the head of the 44 cars that started the Rolex 24 in 2003. Flags were at half-mast around the track as news came in that morning of the loss of the space shuttle Columbia over Texas as it headed for for its base at Cape Canaveral, it was a sobering moment.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

The early laps were led by Maxwell in the Multimatic with the Brumos pair keeping a watchful eye.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

Then the problems began as the Doran headed for the pits suffering with all manner of issues, it was too new to be racing at a place as tough as DIS. Retirement was the fate after 67 laps.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

The Picchio ended up behind the wall with overheating issues that plagued it for the rest of the race.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

Then the Multimatic suffered a broken throttle cable which was repaired but cost the team many laps that they struggled to make up, the days of a big speed differential of the prototypes over the GTs were over.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

The Fabcars were leading as the sun set with the Toyota powered car following the Brumos entry.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

Disaster struck the #58 as the normally bullet proof Porsche engine suffered a failure, perhaps the bit that was most expected to last. Two DPs out as the long dark night arrived.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

More throttle problems for the Multimatic during the night ended their challenge for overall honors.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

The best of the DPs was the #59 but a trip off track to avoid contact with a stationary, stranded GT caused all manner of issues that dogged the car for the rest of the race.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

All of this misfortune handed the Rolex 24 to the Racer’s Group Porsche 911 GT3 RS, the hounds had outlasted the hare.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

The best result for the Daytona Prototypes was a fine fourth overall for Multimatic, always playing catch up after their unplanned pit visits. The drivers had the consolation prize of new Rolex watches.

2003 Rolex 24 Hours

The Daytona Prototype era had got off to a shaky start but they would assert their authority over the GT classes in the future and by the Gen3 they looked like proper racing cars. They have provided the foundation for Grand-Am and now the IMSA championships. Few would have bet on that back in 2003 but they have earned their place in the history books.

John Brooks, September 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

Keep Your Friends Close, Keep Your Enemies Closer?

GRAND AM AT LE MANS?

If you’re a sports car racing fan, you’ve most likely given little respect to the NASCAR owned, Grand American Rolex-backed, series led by the dowdy, less than pleasant looking Daytona Prototypes. And, while those at the Grand Am may disagree with your opinion, you’re not alone.

For the most part the DP concept was conceived as a cost containment exercise that would allow the rich gentlemen drivers in North America to indulge their desires to race in the higher, more exotic reaches of U.S. road course sandbox without having to spend the hundreds of millions of dollars it takes to win at places like Le Mans these days.

The problem for the Grand Am and its competitors is that the rules have so reduced performance that what emerged from the NASCAR kettle was something that no one other than the participants themselves cared much about. In short, while the Rolex series and its premier event, the Rolex 24, retained their prestigious names, that’s about all they kept.

Put another way, the Grand Am championship retained the bun, but threw out the meat. Well, boys and girls, get ready for a shock: the Grand Am may be going big time. Following on the heels of last week’s announcement that an upgraded version of the Daytona Prototypes will be merged with current crop of LM P2 cars to form the top division of the combined ALMS-Rolex successor title chase in 2014, came rumors that the DP set may well be headed to Le Mans.

What insiders have been saying quietly for months, namely that such talks between Grand Am officials and their ACO counterparts have been ongoing, peeked into the daylight with a report on SPEED TV’s website not long after the Grand Am-ALMS press conference in Daytona Beach.

Whether or not those supposed talk produce a substantive result remains to be seen. As with all things concerning the merger of the two American road racing camps, when it comes to the details there is only vagueness; vagueness that for the most part is justified given the disparity in the basic philosophies behind the Rolex and ALMS championships.

What is not so vague, however, is the major league problem facing the sports car segment of the motorsport industry. Put in a single word it is “cost.” Up into the early years of the 21st century, privateers such as South Florida’s Champion Racing, which won Le Mans with its non-factory Audi R8, could obviously play and equally obviously be successful at the highest levels. With the coming of today’s computerized, electronically dependent prototypes that require crews measuring in the hundreds that is no longer true.

The creation of headlining programs now rests solely with the manufacturers, some of whose resources have been stretched beyond the breaking point; as witnessed by Peugeot’s abrupt department in 2011. For The ACO limiting the pointy end of the finish order at the Sarthe is a desired intention. However, it is also one that pushes championships like the ALMS, and even the Rolex down a notch out of the so-called “Big Leagues” where, for promoters the money is.

Of course there is an answer to the dilemma, cheap horsepower and lots of it, which is readily available not only in the engines used by off shore powerboat racers, but in NASCAR’s stock car world as well. However, in the current “green” environment the horsepower solution is path not likely to be taken, even if most fans might like to see it become reality.

So, what does all this come down to? The answer is “dog food,” or how best to sell it. No matter how good the salesmanship, if the dogs don’t like, and won’t eat, the dog food, its maker might want to consider changing the recipe. Will the public flock to Le Mans to see the Daytona Prototypes scurry around for a class victory? Probably not. Would they pay more attention if those same DP’s had a chance at beating the sophisticated manufacturer prototypes? You bet.

Returning to America in 2014, if fans knew they were watching cars with such a potential, would they pay more attention, and perhaps more importantly for promoters pay to watch in person in larger numbers? That is the question. After all, car racing is a professional sport first and a testing ground second. Given a choice, one suspects that people will make their choices based on their preferences. One can only hope that those in charge read the tea leaves correctly.

Bill Oursler, January 2013

Where Have All The Windshields Gone?

Good Seats Still Available

They say the devil is in the details. If so, the Rolex Sports Car Series, NASCAR’s venture into the world of road racing, is indeed bedeviled by them. Or, perhaps it would be better to say by one of them. That particular pesky detail is the appearance of the championship’s Daytona Prototypes. A sports racer which many feel could well be at home as part of New York City’s taxicab fleet.

Eye of the Beholder

While not exactly ugly in the ultimate sense, their prosaic appearance does run counter to the traditional  prototype’s role of being the ultimate in automotive technology,- of providing the fan with the notion that he or she has witnessed their “dream” racer in the flesh. And, while those thoughts  can be attached to such cars as Mark Donohue’s more than 1000 horsepower Can-Am 917/30, or today’s 200 plus mile-an-hour Audi and Peugeot turbo diesel coupes, there is no such connection with the Rolex DP set.

The Right Crowd?

Rather the Daytona Prototypes, up top now at least, have been somewhat squashed versions of NASCAR’s American-bred Cup series stockers. Unfortunately, this has been bad news for a series that otherwise is more than good. Consider for a moment that the equality of the competition over the years has to so close that at the recent Rolex 24 Hour season openers the difference between first and second has more often than not been measured in just a few seconds – this after a full day of competition.

 

Style Is Timeless

In fact the equality of performance is a hallmark of the NASCAR owned tour, as is the quality of the drivers. But, in the end, like the late comedian Rodney Dangerfield, the Rolex has gotten no respect. And why? Because of the appearance of the Daytona Prototypes. Now, however, the Rolex folks are unveiling the revised Daytona Prototype which features more traditional, and better looking cabs, especially in terms of the widths of their original overly wide windscreens.

Journey's End

These new cars while a great improvement over their predecessors, are, unfortunately, still a long way from being the sleek NASA-like machines road racing’s audience has come to expect. And, it is this which leads us to the question of whether or not they’ll be enough to change the so-far lackluster opinion so many have of the Rolex series.

Fear And Loathing?

Perhaps, though, an even more important question is, “does anybody at NASCAR really care?” For all the talk about promoting the championship, there are some who believe that its main purpose in life is to coral the pool of “gentlemen” racers that have been the foundation of the sport for the better part of a century. Thus denying their presence to the American Le Mans Series, which until the addition of its spec Le Mans Prototype and all Porsche GTC production categories, had suffered from chronically small fields.

GT Charge

Regardless of the truth of that position, the fact remains that in terms of the “show” the Rolex has been on par, and sometimes better than that put on by the ALMS. Yet, the fact that it has been less than a hit with the fans has all come down to appearances, rather than substance. Obviously the “Second Gen” Daytona Prototypes are meant to change that. Will they? For that we’ll have to wait and see. Either way, as so many have found out; in today’s “five second sound bite world” appearances do count.

Bill Oursler, November 2011