Tag Archives: Grand-Am

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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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finding Places

The Sage of Charlotte is back, considering the the 911’s early years and the dilemmas faced by those crafting the rules for the USCR.

 

When Porsche’s 911 made its public debut at Frankfurt’s 1963 Auto Show its promise as the foundation for a new era in the economic fortunes of Zuffenhausen were obvious. Less obvious though was its motorsport future, for while the era of Ferdinand Piech would not arrive for another two years, the factory’s engineers were already gearing up for a new generation of sports racing prototypes; an effort that precluded the necessary transformation of the new six-cylinder coupé into a serious GT racer.
Not until 1969, and after the aborted lightweight 911R program had been consigned to the dustbin, did Porsche start the at first slow progression of making the 911 into the dominant player it would become in the production-based side of the sport. The delay in the acknowledgement of the 911’s competition potential centered around two words, “mission statements.”
Arguably, in the latter part of the 1960’s the mission statement for Zuffenhausen’s motorsport program focused on developing and building ever better prototypes that would transform the company from a supporting role on the sports car scene into its headlining star, and with it Piech to the overall industry leader he has become today as the chairman of Volkswagen AG.
Indeed, the 911 played little or no role in the Piech’s ego-centric universe because fundamentally he had virtually nothing to do with its conception. Put another way, it wasn’t his “baby,” and in those days he had little interest in other people’s offspring. For him, his mission statement was one of self aggrandizement. So while he pursued his own objectives, the 911 languished in motorsport hell; not released from its purgatory until Ernst Fuhrmann took the company’s reigns in the beginning of the 1970s, when, as its new President, he pushed the prototypes aside for the firm’s long neglected marketplace best seller.

 

On its 50th birthday year, the story of finding a mission motorsport statement for 911 resonates in the upcoming debut of the NASCAR-owned United Sports Car road course tour that will open its doors with the Daytona 24 Hours next winter. Created from the amalgamation of the Grand Am Rolex and American Le Mans Series championships, their new replacement has, as yet, to release its details of its technical regulations, even though testing is little more than three months away as this is being written.The problem, like that of the 911 is in defining its “mission statement.”

 

For the Grand-Am’s Rolex tour, even though everybody on the NASCAR side will deny it, the mission statement was pretty clear: coral the pool of “gentleman” drivers so necessary to the success of any North American road racing series in order to put the ALMS out of business. Given that essentially the NASCAR folks bought out the Don-Panoz title chase, it was a strategy that worked. But now, having “won the war,” what does NASCAR do with the peace? More specifically, what does it do with the Rolex Daytona Prototypes?

 

 

Given the hundreds of millions it takes to field a headlining sports racer these days, the Grand-Am emasculated their prototypes in terms of the technology, thus cutting cost to the point where the rich gentlemen participants could come and play without worrying about their financial security. Ironically this approach has since its 2003 introduction produced some of the best, closest racing in the sport’s history. On the other hand, it has drawn little more than collective yawns from its audience base: the world inhabited by sports car enthusiasts.

 

Collectively, unlike their stock car counterparts, they prefer high technology overt tight, equalized competition, and so far, to a huge extent, they have eschewed the Grand Am and the Rolex series. Up to now, their lack of enthusiasm has not been that much of a problem, given that the ultimate Rolex consumers weren’t the fans, but the participants. Now, however, if new championship is to prosper, the mission statement will have to be refocused on the techno savvy audience which up to now the NASCAR camp has ignored.

 

In light of the fact that NASCAR wants to keep the Daytona Prototypes as the foundation for its top ranked category, there are some hard, but simple choices to be made. Do those behind the new championship dumb down the performance potential of the present LM P2 prototypes and possibly of the Le Mans GTE production contingent scheduled to race next year far enough so as not to overshadow the DP community? Or, do they bring the DP’s performance up to a level where they’re not embarrassed by those surrounding them on the grid?

 

The first will please the “rich kid” gene pool, the second will satisfy United Sports Car Racing’s larger, and perhaps more necessary, audience base. At this point the time to make the decisions is growing ever smaller. And, while someone is going to be disappointed, there will be chaos and true disappointment if something isn’t do soon. In the end, like the case of the 911, it’s all about the necessity for mission statements.

 

Bill Oursler, September 2013

In The Old Days When Life Was Simple

HDK 4904

At the age of seventy I find myself thinking and talking like my parents before me, which something I swore I would never do, but have done nevertheless. In short I find I’ve become an “old fart” who is not necessarily willing to accept the world as it is today. Clearly then I need to get out of the rut I find myself in, for the world has changed and I need to deal with it as it is, not as it was.

So what has any of this to do with sports car racing?

Just like the genetically engineered foods we now eat, my sport – pardon me, our sport – has been engineered to produce the results its organizers want to see rather than letting chance and nature dictate the final random outcomes of the past. Yes, there remains the element of chance, but it has been reduced substantially by maneuvering the regulations so that there will be no boring finishes.

For those of you who are non believers I would suggest you examine the NASCAR’s Grand American Rolex championship whose scriptures seem etched in sand because they appear to change on a moment’s notice, as was the case in last month’s season opening Rolex 24. There, in the name of equalizing performance, the officials decided to reduce what they saw as a perceived advantage the Corvette Daytona Prototypes enjoyed over their rivals, only to give the Chevrolet sports racers some of it back when it became obvious they –the officials – had been a bit over zealous in their approach.

I’m not for such actions, but I recognize why they are taken. After all, racing – at least here in the United States – is more entertainment than it is sport. Yet, in this case the changes were made in a matter of days, not years or months, but in days. Moreover, there will be further performance balancing changes for the next two Rolex rounds, after which the Grand-Am will review things again.

Even in the relatively low tech Grand-Am universe, this imposes unnecessary costs on the participants, just as it does when Formula One and others make regulatory revisions throughout the season in an effort to enliven the show. It is as if the rules makers want to wipe out their mistakes on an ongoing basis rather than trying to get things right in the first place. Indeed, about the only other comparable such situation is in the mortgage industry with its variable rate loans, and we all know what they’ve led to.

But, those in charge of the Grand-Am haven’t stopped at performance balancing. At Daytona, they instituted new full course yellow flag regulations that made it easy for those who had lost laps to make them up. In fact the loosening of the scriptures was such that one of those prototypes that was in a position to win in the final stages had been as far as seven laps in arrears – not once, but twice.

No one can argue that the Grand-Am’s actions made the Rolex 24 far more exciting than it otherwise might have been. But, is that what the sports car fan wants? Certainly the NASCAR spectator does. However, I’m not sure that certainty applies equally to the world of road racing.

In my day, what sports car spectators seemed to desire the most was to watch excellence and to dream about that excellence. Consider the 1973 Can-Am where Mark Donohue and his 240 mile-an-hour turbocharged Porsche 917/30 dominated the proceedings. Despite the lack of close competition, the 1973 Can-Am was the most successful season at the gate in the history of the series; something that can not be said about its subsequent years when the turbo Porsches were not present, leaving in their place equally matched, but largely uninspiring lower performing substitutes in their place.

With Grand-Am and its NASCAR approach to the sport about to take over the North American sports car scene in 2014, there are many worried about the future. And, in my mind, they have more than a little justification for having those concerns. Not only did the Can-Am fade away into history after its competitive playing field was leveled, but in the decade since the Grand-Am debuted its techno restricted Daytona Prototypes, it has not been particularly popular with its intended audience.

It appears that even now there is a desire for excellence rather than engineered mediocrity. And that gives this “old fart” hope for the future.

Bill Oursler, February 2013

 

 

 

 

 

The Inauguration

2000 Rolex 24

It’s late January and a familiar yearning comes over me, there is a 24 Hour race about to happen but I am on the other side of the Atlantic. There are, of course, good reasons for this, mainly financial, as revenues fall and costs rise, so my current involvement with the Rolex 24 is confined to looking back over the years……………….

2000 Rolex 24

Now undisputed master of motorsport in North America, NASCAR entered the endurance arena just over a decade ago setting up the Grand-Am organisation to sanction and run its Blue Riband endurance event, the Daytona 24 Hours. This was of course the 2000 edition of Rolex 24 Hours held at Daytona International Speedway.

2000 Rolex 24

For most observers the first race was one of the high points in the whole story of Grand-Am, starting the project at the top level. There were big battles everywhere, in the various prototype and GT classes but nothing was more keenly anticipated than the fight in the GTO category between the Dodge Vipers and the Chevvy Corvettes.

2000 Rolex 24

Two full factory outfits pitted three French ORECA run Viper GTS-Rs against two American Pratt & Miller C5-Rs, each with top line drivers, it was a Detroit Heavyweight Championship of the World Contest. An automotive “Thrilla in Manila” – Beretta/Wendlinger/Dupuy/Donohue/Amorin/Archer/Belloc/Duez versus Fellows/Bell/Kneifel/Pilgim/Collins/Freon – enough to keep everyone on the edge of their seats.

2000 Rolex 24

That would be more than enough excitement for most races but there was more. After a gap of some 50 years Cadillac was back in competition running a Riley & Scott built prototype with victory at Daytona, Sebring and Le Mans the aim. Why, did this conservative marque feel the need to return to the tracks? While other automotive brands were at that time heading towards nostalgic retro-style designs like the Beetle, the Mini and Thunderbird, Cadillac had decided to march to a different drum. Under the rallying cry “Art & Science” the brand was launched on a path to develop their range to be the equal in every respect of the likes of Lexus and the German trio, Audi, BMW and Mercedes Benz.

2000 Rolex 24

Another point of view expressed to me at the time was that Cadillac had to change and aim at a younger market, their existing customer base was dying off………..and fast.

2000 Rolex 24

The 2000 Rolex 24 also witnessed the debut of the customer version of the Porsche 911 GT3-R, there were 23 examples that would take the Green Flag at the Rolex, all that dot.com money was burning holes in pockets, or so we speculated. The 996 GT3-R would be the car that would carry GT Racing forward around the world for the next few years. It had the first water cooled engine in a Porsche 911 based racing model.

2000 Rolex 24

Another GT3-R was in the hands of of the youngest driver in the race, 17 year old Gunnar Jeannette and the oldest, Paul Newman. Newman was utterly charming as long as you confined the talk to racing, when at the tracks he just wanted to be another driver and not the movie superstar. Newman won the GTO Daytona 24 title on his last attempt in 1995 and he said at the time, “When we won it in 1995, when I was seventy, well, I’ll give it another five years and come back again.” When asked why he would enter such a gruelling contest of speed and endurance, the 75 year old actor responded, “Just for the hell of it.”

2000 Rolex 24

There were five classes of cars that were eligible to run in the 2000 Rolex 24, two prototype and three GT. The prototype rules were based on John Mangoletsi’s Sports Racing World Cup and had SRP and SRP 2 categories depending on power, engine size and budget. One of the most popular models with the fans was the Ferrari 333 SP, here the Risi Competizione example with Allan McNish on a bus-man’s holiday from Audi duties. There were three 333 SPs on the grid, the howl of the 4 litre V12 was worth going a long way to hear.

2000 Rolex 24

The Ferraris were outnumbered by six Riley & Scott MKllls powered by either Ford and Chevrolet V8 engines. This is the Philip Creighton Motorsports entry.

2000 Rolex 24

Also making a first appearance was Johansson Matthews Reynard 2KQ Judd. This advanced customer programme was a new departure for the then world’s biggest race car constructor. The year before Reynard had acquired Riley & Scott who, aside from providing the MKlll cars, also built and ran the Cadillac programme. A tangled web.

2000 Rolex 24

The prototype scene was finely balanced in 2000, the workhorses of the past five or six years, the Rileys and the Ferraris, were getting long in the tooth but were expected run reliably at the notoriously tough combined infield and banking layout of Daytona International Speedway. Both models had success in the past and would form the foundation of plans to run combined Grand-Am events with the Sports Racing World Cup. The plan was for John Mangoletsi to bring the cream of European prototype racing over to create a set of world class events. A truly Cunning Plan worthy of Baldrick at his finest.

2000 Rolex 24

In the background however was the the American Le Mans Series, running to ACO Le Mans rules, that allowed full factory participation, specifically outlawed in SRWC land. Well, not so much outlawed as price capped. The top class of the category, SRP, had an on the track price limit of $640,000 including engine, SRP 2 was pegged at $201,000. The logic being that no constructor such as Lola or Reynard would sell cars at a loss. However a  manufacturer like Cadillac could just factor any excess costs into their overall project budget and still sell cars under the price limit to any customers well heeled enough to afford them. A bit of a hole in the rules then.

2000 Rolex 24

After a promising first season in 1999, the ALMS was set to expand with Audi due to bring their latest car, the R8, to the tracks of North America to take on BMW and Panoz. Would that prove to be a bigger draw than watching privateers in Grand-Am? The attractions of keeping onside with the ACO, organisers of Le Mans, and the halo effect of the top class factory battle meant that both Viper and Vette would direct their attention to the ALMS.

2000 Rolex 24

Mention of the SR2 class? Well only the Pilbeam of Martin Henderson turned up, a bit disappointing but given that these cars were not originally designed or engineered to survive 24 hour races it was not wholly a surprise.

2000 Rolex 24

There were three GT classes, GTO translating roughly to the Le Mans LM GTS class. Top of the list were three Chrysler Vipers from Oreca, full factory supported entries. Based on the Viper GTS the GTS-R was one of the most successful GT cars in history. Oreca had achieved back to back domination in the GT world during 1998 and 1999, winning the FIA GT Championship, and taking class wins in the Le Mans 24 Hours plus the American Le Mans Series Drivers’ and Manufacturers’ titles in ‘99. The French team were going to be very difficult to beat.

2000 Rolex 24

The Viper had first appeared on the tracks back in 1994, powered by a V10 8 litre engine, which not surprisingly produced power and torque in abundance. The chassis had originally been massaged and built by our old friends, Reynard, but by this stage in the project, Oreca had taken things in house.

2000 Rolex 24
The main competition would be two Corvette C5-Rs run by Pratt & Miller on behalf of General Motors. During the 1999 season the Vettes had gradually got closer to the Viper squad, going into the Floridian classic they were quietly confident of coming out on top. The Corvette, first raced in 1999 at the Rolex 24, had 7 litres of Detroit V8 muscle to propel them along, it would be a mighty contest.

2000 Rolex 24

But if some disaster befell the factory squads then the out-gunned but still fearsome Porsche 911 GT2 would be around to pick up the pieces but that outcome was not expected.

2000 Rolex 24
The second rank of GTs, GTU was expected to be a walk over for the phalanx of new Porsches but they would face determined opposition from the successful PTG BMW M3 squad, previous class winners at the Rolex.

2000 Rolex 24

The ‘Run What You Brung’ brigade were catered for in the A-GT class. They were tube framed, home built specials, regarded by the leading lights as mobile chicanes and not expected to feature in the grand scheme of things.

2000 Rolex 24
Practice and qualifying dragged on through Thursday and Friday, giving everyone a chance to get back into the groove after the winter break and especially to get used to running in close proximity with 79 other cars.

2000 Rolex 24

Traffic on the banking was manageable but on the infield and at the Bus Stop chicane at NASCAR Three great care had to be taken to avoid problems arising out of speed differentials between the quick guys and the not so quick.

2000 Rolex 24

During the night sessions the problem was even more acute. Somehow the drivers sorted it all out.

2000 Rolex 24

Meanwhile down in the garage areas the teams were racing against the clock to prepare their cars for the struggle ahead. Here Dick Barbour and Tony Dowe try to fettle what was widely regarded as the leading Porsche GT3-R.

The European teams are always pleased to find that the strict curfew regulations enforced at Daytona International Speedway meant no all-nighters, no matter what sociopaths who tend to run teams wanted. The Shark Lounge and Molly Brown’s had their Siren Call……………

2000 Rolex 24

Pole position went to James Weaver in the old faithful #20 Riley & Scott MK lll Ford who rattled round in 1:41.002. Actually the Dyson team entered their No. 20 car as being Lincoln powered. The team’s Ford engines were prepared by Lozano Brothers Racing Engines. “We’re just trying to work with our engine builders and engine developers to see what we can create, and maybe we’ll create something,” said team owner Rob Dyson. “You never know.”

2000 Rolex 24
This was trying tempt the Ford owned brand to come and fight with their American rival, Cadillac. Perhaps Dyson should have painted that car black with gold piping and called it a Cartier Town Car………white-walled Goodyear slicks please for P Diddy Weaver……….Yo!

Dyson had run one of the new Reynards at the early January test sessions at Daytona but reverted to their Rileys for the race itself. “We were planning to have two Reynards,” said Dyson. “Due to a number of problems, we were not able to get even one chassis working. Right after our test here we had to make the decision to run the Riley and Scott. Our objective is to win races. We just felt that we had a better chance of winning the race with the Riley & Scott rather than the Reynard. This is the Super Bowl of sports car racing. This is a race where we’ve been fortunate to win it, and that’s our objective this time.”

“We’ve got high hopes for the Reynard, I think any new car takes three or four months to get sorted out. I think Cadillac need a little more time as do Reynard,” Weaver added.
The Ferrari of Alex Caffi was second on the grid just a tad slower than Master James. A battle royal was in prospect.

2000 Rolex 24

The Italian, nicknamed “The Disco Kid” during his F1 days was typically lyrical about his prospects, “This is a big event, I raced in Formula One, the top of racing cars, but this is a beautiful day in my life because Daytona is very famous, also in Europe. Especially in Italy, nobody forgets the finish of the three Ferraris in the late sixties. This is one of the most famous races and I’m very happy to be here.” A local newspaper reporter’s dream.

2000 Rolex 24

Also pretty content with the way things were panning out was the Reynard team, lining up fourth on the grid. They were confident of being on the race pace and felt that they could be dark horses in the hunt for victory.

2000 Rolex 24

The lead Cadillac was one place down on the Reynard, it was clear that there was plenty of work to do on these elegant cars.

2000 Rolex 24

GTO pole and first blood to Ron Fellows and the Corvette with a lap of 1:45.889. Ron, one of the smartest drivers you will ever meet, was pleased. “This is our first pole with the Corvette so we’re pretty happy. We really didn’t do much since the test. We found a pretty good set up there. This morning we made one little change to the back and off we went to qualify. Right at the end of the second set of tires, I had a perfectly clear lap. The guys sent me out exactly at the right time. I was able to maximize the grip we had with the tires for one or two laps right at the end.”

Corvette 1, Viper 0 but still all to play for.

Fellows was still realistic about the race, “We’re still the underdogs here at the Rolex 24, these guys have won two straight Le Mans’ titles and we’re still chasing them. But we’ve got the package together to race for 24 hours. It’ll be a long race and the fastest car doesn’t necessarily always win, anything can happen. You’ve got to be smart with so many cars. It really won’t thin out until 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning. The biggest thing is traffic, just staying out of trouble.”

Prophetic words, indeed.

2000 Rolex 24

1:52.028 was good enough to secure pole in GTU class with Dirk Müller on qualifying duties for Dick Barbour Racing’s GT3-R. The loudspeakers were ringing out Friday at 6.30pm telling the faithful all to leave “The World Centre for Motorsport” for the day and head off to get rested in preparation for the race day. What would the Green Flag bring?

2000 Rolex 24

Saturday morning and the Sun punched its way West across the Atlantic, for those of us with business at Daytona International Speedway it was time stop admiring the colours over the ocean and head to the track. The weather was forecast to remain dry but it would get cold, even by European standards.

2000 Rolex 24

There were three clear contests in prospect, SR1 prototypes would head the field and all things being equal win the race. GTO would be a vicious bar brawl between the Detroit duo but if the boys up front did not watch it the Viper-Vette combo could get close, a podium for the fast and reliable GTs was a distinct possibility. GTU was almost certainly a Porsche walkover, numbers and speed would see to that.

2000 Rolex 24
There were, and possibly still are, two schools of thought about how to approach competing in the Rolex 24 Hours. The question is simply, is this a race or an endurance? Flat out racing or stroke it round looking after the car and hope to finish?

Some driven by bitter experience favour the latter approach.

2000 Rolex 24

Take Mike Brockman, Paul Newman’s teammate in 1995, who was back to help his friend attempt to win again. “I’ve done this race a lot of times, I led it once for 13 hours, unfortunately it was the first 13 hours. It took me 15 attempts before I won it, and that was in 1995. Jack Roush, who we drove for in 1995 said it best, we were talking in the morning before the race, and we were talking about race strategy, he said, ‘there will be no racing here until the sun comes up, and not until I say so. ‘If we make it, and the sun comes up, and we’re still alive, then we’ll talk about racing.'”

Well that’s one way of going about things.

2000 Rolex 24

The other strategy is go flat out and devil take the hindmost.

James Weaver, who was as hard and fast a driver as ever graced the tracks, expressed it this way.

“The top sports cars, they’re more than strong enough to race flat out for 24 hours. There’s not much you can do to nurse one of these cars along. If you’ve got a good driver in it, you might as well drive it as fast as you can because you won’t break it. When you’ve got to race against people like Alex (Caffi), they’re going to be going flat out, we’ll take the fight to them, and they’ll be coming after us. It’s just a question of, don’t get too hot headed in traffic. That’s always the game here.”

2000 Rolex 24
Anyhow all the planning in the world usually goes out the window as soon as the Green Flag drops and the field of prototypes were soon flat out on the banking. The initial pace was set by the Lista Ferrari 333 SP driven forcefully as ever by Didier Theys. Almost from the start one of the main contenders for victory, the Risi Ferrari, ran into problems, Caffi spinning to the back of the field on lap 2, then within the hour there were transmission issues and fitting a new gearbox was the time consuming cure. Scratch one top prototype from the race victory.

2000 Rolex 24

With 79 cars starting from the grid, traffic, and how the leaders managed it, was always going to be a major factor. Given the disparity in speed and performance between the classes especially into the braking zones it was vital that the top drivers balance out ultimate pace with due circumspection. The best drivers really embrace the challenge of threading their way through the maze of cars in front of them.

Once again, James Weaver, explains things in his own, unique way. “Personally, the traffic element at Daytona, I find tremendously exciting and a real challenge. It’s like a high-speed video game or racing back from the pub through Piccadilly Circus in the rush hour. It’s just tremendously exciting. You try to judge all the closing speeds, what the other guy is going to do, see if you can recognize the helmet, determine who it is. When a car goes off line in front of you, you see if it’s throwing up dust, so you can tell if you can go off line. There are a thousand and one tricks you can do to make the race work for you.”

2000 Rolex 24

The battle raged up front between the Lista Ferrari and the Lola Ford of Konrad Motorsports with the evergreen Jan Lammers leading the charge. This conflict continued for the first three hours until an oil leak delayed the Lola. The #20 Dyson Riley & Scott took up the challenge shadowed by the leading Cadillac.
The gradual erosion of the lead prototypes propelled the GTO class battle into the the top ten positions overall. The #3 Covette of Ron Fellows, Justin Bell and Chris Kneifel pushing the #91 Viper of Olivier Beretta, Karl Wendlinger and Dominic Dupuy very hard and in case they stumbled there were the three support cars from the the Detroit duo in close attendance.

2000 Rolex 24

The only sign of weakness in the ORECA camp was that Olivier Beretta was ill with the after effects of chicken pox, which meant that Wendlinger in particular would have to take up the slack. He rose to the occasion in a champion’s style.

2000 Rolex 24
GTU was, as predicted, a walk over for the Porsche 911 GT3-R armada with the head of the pack being the Barbour Racing example with Lucas Luhr, Bob Wollek and Dirk Müller behind the wheel.

2000 Rolex 24
Around 6.00pm, just before sunset the leader slowed up with smoke coming from the engine bay. The Doran-Lista Ferrari limped back to the pits but their race was run.

“We had an air box fire,” said team manager Kevin Doran. “It’s kind of a documented problem with the Ferraris. It’s happened six or eight times before with different teams. It happened to us once before, at Portland last year. In a downshift deceleration mode you get an over-run of fuel in the air box, and for some odd reason, you get a backfire out of an air trumpet, and it ignites it, and all that excess fuel burns, and it takes out the injection wiring harness.”

The engine had ingested some of the debris so even re-wiring would be in vain as there was damage to the pistons. Didier Theys reflected on a race win that had got away. “The engine caught fire. We had a backfire and the backfire burned the wire harness, it melted a couple of trumpets, it even melted one of the butterflies. Too much fuel was going into the engine. I don’t know what happened. We’ve had one problem like this in the past, but that was after a pit stop. When you do a pit stop and you don’t clean up the engine properly, too much fuel goes into the engine and it starts to burn.”

2000 Rolex 24
The misfortune that had struck the Ferraris meant that the #20 Dyson Riley & Scott Ford of James Weaver, Rob Dyson, Elliot Forbes-Robinson and Max Papis assumed the lead but the big surprise was the pace of the #5 Cadillac.

2000 Rolex 24

Indeed at the 6 hour point the #5 car was at the head of the field with a 30 second advantage over the Dyson Racing Riley & Scott but it was not to last. A series of problems with transmission, brakes and suspension blunted the Cadillac challenge, but the team just kept repairing the cars and sending them back out, retirement was not even contemplated.

2000 Rolex 24

The head of the field was not the only place that problems were found. Porsche was having something of a nightmare with their new GT3-Rs. Water pumps and consequently engines were failing and in numbers. This was not the way that Porsche does things, “Excellence was Expected” was something of a company motto right from the early days, so to introduce the first water cooled 911 based racer and then have water pump failures caused extremely red faces throughout the paddock.

Bob Wollek summed up the situation ” There was no warning, no light, no temperature going up, it just went ‘BANG’ on the straight.”

2000 Rolex 24

The explanation was simple enough, sand that had been used in the engine block casting process had not been fully cleaned out and the residue was clogging the water pumps causing them to seize and then the engines to fail. In short order entries from Dick Barbour Racing, Larbre, MAC Racing, Racers Group, Skea, Seikel, MCR, PK Sport, Reiser Callas and Haberthur all retired as a result of engine problems. Not good.

2000 Rolex 24

During the long hours of darkness the race stabilised with the Dyson Riley & Scott having a ten lap lead over the chasing pack of Vipers and Vettes.

2000 Rolex 24
The 2000 Rolex 24 was run under unusually cold conditions with the temperature hovering just above freezing for most of the night. This put extra strain on the already exhausted crews who would take whatever rest they could between pitstops.

2000 Rolex 24

A routine stop for the leader, EFR out, Rob Dyson in. Behind the Dyson car and the factory Vipers and Vettes the privateer Chamberlain Vipers ran strongly, moving into the top ten overall as the Porsches failed.

2000 Rolex 24

The Corvette #3 ran flat out to keep up the pressure on the leading Vipers but could not quite close the gap. Here Justin Bell heads out for another stint in the dark.

2000 Rolex 24

Around 3.00am point the race changed course again. The #20 was 13 laps up on the #93 Viper but trouble was on the way as the leader started to slow. A pitstop to investigate led to the team removing the valve covers in order to find what has become a persistent but slight misfire. No broken rockers or valve springs were discovered but the restriction in pace and the unscheduled time spent in the pits cut the lead over the pack of GTO cars to 8 laps.

2000 Rolex 24

Another strong performer was the #6 Cadillac of Butch Leitzinger, Franck Lagorce and Andy Wallace. Early race problems had dropped them down the order to 69th but by 5.00am they were up to second place overall. They were seven laps down on the Dyson lead car and were scrapping with #91 and #93 Vipers. Then problems with the gearbox meant a complete change of transmission which cost them around 30 laps and any chance of victory for Cadillac.

2000 Rolex 24

The sun came up to a sick Riley & Scott up against a charging pack of Vipers and a lone Vette, would Dyson make it to the finish line and score a third win in the Rolex 24 Hours?

2000 Rolex 24

GTU class was firmly in the grasp of the G&W Motorsports GT3-R but shortly after 18 hours they too suffered the dreaded Porsche engine failure. Uwe Alzen was not happy, “We were more than 10 laps ahead and the car was running perfectly. The only problems we had were with a broken seat and something wrong with the jacking system.”

2000 Rolex 24
A surprise at sunrise was to see the Johansson Matthews Reynard still running. Four gearbox changes plus numerous other repairs had seen the crew exhaust themselves. However the warming rays of the Sun gave fresh hope to the survivors still running.

2000 Rolex 24

For the Dyson team the agony continued as the leading Viper and Vette chipped away at their lead till they slipped behind with just two hours of the race to go. The team could see this fate coming as they lost around ten seconds a lap to the GTO pursuers. Rob Dyson was philosophical about the situation, “Specifically, what happened was an exhaust valve had a crack in it starting about one in the morning. We had a high-speed misfire that was due to a crack in an exhaust valve, and those things don’t heal themselves.”
#91 held an advantage over #3 of around a lap but Pratt & Miller were not done yet. There would be a sprint to the finish.

2000 Rolex 24

The #3 Corvette got back on to the lead lap with an aggressive pit strategy and was really pushing in the final hour. Ron Fellows rung the neck out of the Vette but Karl Wendlinger was up to the task in hand and was 32.7 seconds in front when the Chequered Flag dropped at 1.00pm Sunday. Victory, the closest margin in the race’s history, for Viper and Oreca.

2000 Rolex 24

The team had remained calm even during the late onslaught from the #3, “Before I left the pits for the last half hour of the race, I knew the Corvette could be very fast, and that Ron Fellows was a very fast driver,” said Wendlinger. “But I also knew that throughout the race we’d learned how fast our car could run, and that we could win the race with the pace we’d set.”

2000 Rolex 24
Celebrations then in Victory Lane for the French team and much later in the Shark Lounge………………….Hughes de Chaunac, Team Principal of Oreca, was ecstatic, “It is hard to imagine you can win a 24-hour race by 36 seconds. The entire Oreca team did a fantastic job all weekend, Dodge gave us a tremendous racecar and it was our job to perform. The Corvette proved to be a tremendous challenge to the Viper and we respect their programme. It sets up an epic battle for when we race Le Mans.”

2000 Rolex 24

Beaten by the narrowest of margins, the Corvette team was disappointed but rightly proud of their performance, it was the first of many such displays in the following seasons.

2000 Rolex 24

Surviving the carnage in the Porsche GTU ranks was the Haberthur 911 GT3-R driven by Fabio Babini, Luca Drudi, Gabrio Rosa and Fabio Rosa. They finished 8th overall and were worthy class winners.

2000 Rolex 24
Adding to joy in the Dodge camp was the top ten finish for two of the customer cars run by Chamberlain Motorsport.

2000 Rolex 24

The top brass at Chrysler were very pleased, John Fernandez, Director of Engineering and Speciality Vehicles, had this to say. “This is a historical moment. An outright win in one of the world’s most prestigious endurance races by a production-based car like the Dodge Viper GTS-R is rare and hard-earned. In fact, the Dodge Viper GTS-R – now a Le Mans and Daytona 24-hour race winner – is remarkably like the Vipers that you can buy from your neighborhood Dodge Dealer. Not only does it look the same, but it uses the same basic engine, chassis, transmission and suspension. If push came to shove and we needed to, we could have gone out to the Viper Owners’ Club Parking Paddock in the Infield and swapped parts with our customers’ cars. The only significant differences are a full roll cage for safety, a carbon fiber body (versus composite plastic bodywork on the street cars), a dry-sump engine and racing slicks. But having a great production car to start with gives us the edge on the track. And conversely, having a great racing car makes our street cars better.”

2000 Rolex 24
Grand-Am had kicked off their existence and what a way to start.

Grand-Am President, Roger Edmondson and his team were overjoyed with the first event, ” The Rolex 24 at Daytona was not just a great first race for Grand-Am, it was an outstanding motorsport event by any basis of judgement.”

Those of us who had shivered our way through the cold Floridian night would agree whole heartedly. Grand-Am was on its way.

John Brooks, January 2013

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

To Sleep, Perchance To Dream

The news from Baltimore leads to the conclusion that ALMS is being taken over by Grand Am, so maybe we will once again see proper sportscars on the Daytona banking. It is a seductive thought…………..ten years gone.

John Brooks, September 2012

Money Counts

It all comes down to the money. With it, almost anything is possible. Without it; well, one might as well just stay home –if, of course, there are a few pennies in the pot to keep the lights on and the hearth fires burning. And, nowhere is money more needed than in the techno-end of today’s high speed, highly integrated, technology driven world.

Right now the rules makers at the FIA and ACO are in the process of writing new regulations that are intended to make international sports car racing a showcase. For what you say? A showcase for promoting and developing the advanced technology necessary for the global automotive industry to be able to build products that meet the demands of a greener, leaner, more efficient energy driven planet.

It is a noble pursuit. It is also horribly expensive. Moreover, it is horribly expensive at a time when the world is in an economic crisis, something particularly true for a Euro Zone whose very existence has been threatened by its fundamentally crippling lack of money and worthless amount of debt.

In the end, it is why Peugeot announced earlier this month it was pocketing its marbles (the ones shaped like pumpkin seed prototypes) and staying home. This decision should, if it doesn’t already, cause the movers and shakers to re-think what the role of the sport should be when it comes to not only its long-term future, but its long-term survivability.

P.T. Barnum, the great circus showman once said that if you want to send a message, “use Western Union”.  Today the telegraph has been replaced by the Internet, but the truth of his words remains as relevant now as it did a century ago when he first uttered them. Peugeot’s withdrawal will hurt the ACO and the new FIA World Endurance Championship, not to mention the American Le Mans Series’ Sebring season opener, which is also the debut of the FIA WEC, at the gate and in the pocket.

Until Toyota arrives, the Audi boys will essentially be unchallenged, something which will obviously diminish interest and revenues. Indeed, even with Toyota, one has to wonder how many Frenchmen will reach into their wallets to purchase a ticket for Les Vingt-Quatre Heures du Mans now that their hometown favorite won’t be there. It is time, perhaps, to remember that racing is not a viable venue for testing new theories, or being politically correct. All the major manufacturers have their own facilities to do that far better than they can on a public race track. Whatever motorsport might have been in ages past, it is now is purely entertainment, just as every other professional sport is. If the dog refuses to eat the dog food, no matter how much the producer might want it to be so, it isn’t going to be a best seller. Let’s face it, the revival of the Franco-German contest for superiority, in the form of the war fought between Audi and Peugeot at La Sarthe, was riveting; and riveting sells tickets. Put another way, it is the dog food which can make, and keep racing healthy, and prosperous.

Ironically, the very presence of manufacturers such as Audi and Peugeot, has created problems for the sport by pushing its privateer base out into the cold. The cost of trying to beat the factories has become prohibitive, even for the deepest pockets. All too often those in charge of motorsport forget that car makers are fickle; they don’t participate out of largess, or love of racing, but rather to meet their own perceived goals. In short, they come and go with a distressing regularity, leaving those behind blowing in the wind.

There are no easy answers here. Just ask the folks running the NASCAR Grand Am Rolex sports car tour which opens for business this weekend with the Rolex-backed Daytona 24-Hour show. Grand Am has solved the pesky issue of manufacturer involvement by banning them from doing so, and limiting high cost technology in the process. The Rolex championship is the poster child for a privateer oriented pro-racing title chase. Unfortunately, so far it has failed to gain any respect, or attention, from the bulk of its desired fan base.

When I was growing up in New York City I could watch the New York Yankees play for something under $10. Today, that same ticket costs in excess of $50 because of the salaries paid to the players. When I worked for Volkswagen of America’s Audi Trans-Am and IMSA GTO racing programs at the end of the 1980’s, the costs were but a small fraction of what they would be now.

There is no way to go back to the good old days. But, we can be careful and prudent, and even realistic about how we approach the future. If we do that, if we work at giving our customers what they want, instead of what we think they ought to want, then that future will be bright. If not; if we put agendas ahead of everything else, then, as they say, who knows what will be.

Bill Oursler, January 2012

 

– Bill Oursler

 

 

 

The Heavyweight Champion of the World

Battle Scars

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.

The Bell Tolls

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.

Rolex Seeker

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.

Wayne’s World

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.

Daybreak

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.

Blue Streak

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.

Tres Amigoes

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.


Ten Years Gone

Hi, Guy!

January 3rd 2002, I was in Florida. Why? Well somehow I had convinced myself that it would be cool and profitable to shoot the Grand Am pre-Daytona 24 Hour Test. Profitable? I don’t need to tell you about that.

Handy Andy

Cool? It was bloody freezing…………I recall ice on the inside of the windows at the flea-pit motel I was staying at…………….it was warmer back in Surrey.

Mad Max

And if that was not enough, I had camera failure on my DSLR, less than a year old………..and no spare………….so two days of shuffling about………clients grumbling (no change there then)……..OK maybe more from Florida tomorrow.

John Brooks, December 2012

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