41st Rolex 24
Certainly Was “Most Interesting”
Where Does Grand Am Go Now?”
was as wide open as anyone suspected, and the battle between
the Racers and Rennwerks Porsches and the genuine contenders
from the DP class was an absolutely fascinating one for hour
after hour, this class versus class struggle making the 41st
Rolex 24 into a thoroughly worthwhile endurance event, in our
view. It appeared on the surface to be the little guys against
the big guys, and seeing an ‘underdog’ perform
so effectively against the “premier” class made
it a race to remember. But was it really ‘little guys’ against ‘big
guys’, and what happens next?
when Racers Group Porsches were what our Janos Wimpffen might
call “OK midfielders” – usually likely to
fill out the top six in the GT class, but hardly prospects
for a class win? Numbers 67 and 68 probably continued to fill
Janos’s description at the 41st Rolex 24, but #66 was
wholly different – as we know from last year’s
run of success. With factory drivers Bernhard or Bergmeister
at the wheel, the car’s progress on the track was metronomic:
for hour after hour, #66 was setting remarkably fast and regular
times. In fairness to Kevin Buckler and Michael Schrom, it
wasn’t that much slower when they were at the wheel.
The Champion Porsche could have been expected to mimic #66’s
role in the race, but instead it was David Murry and Johannes
van Overbeek performing wonders in the Rennwerks car.
How the Multimatic
and Brumos entrants must have tired of seeing Porsche 911 performance
at its absolute (factory-supported) best.
Brumos Fabcars continued to perform as their opening hours
had suggested they might, this could have been a very dull
race for the lead. A Brumos 1 – 2 had looked on the cards
for a while, both looking as they could eke out an advantage
over #66 and #83. But it was the Multimatic (Focus?) that ultimately
helped to make the race, Maxwell / Brabham / Empringham proving
us well and truly wrong by coming back from seven laps down
and at least 32nd place to fight for the lead. We felt such
a comeback would be impossible, with such a small margin between
the classes. These three in #88 never could quite confront
that Buckler car (which upped its pace as and when necessary),
but the fight to the front from such a new machine was testament
to the skills of those at Multimatic. Fourth was a fitting
run from the Cegwa Toyota-powered Fabcar and a fast lap from
the so-new Doran were the only other highlights from the small
In four weeks
time, it will be Homestead, for Round 2. Brows must be furrowing
at Grand Am at the prospects for that race. How odd the sportscar
calendar is (has almost always been). The headline race in
one series takes place within four or five weeks of the start
of the year, and with a slight doubt about Watkins Glen, no
other race in that series has anywhere near the attraction
of the first. Teams contesting other series – on other
continents, in some cases – can race at Daytona and never
be seen in Grand Am again. And a good number of them didn’t
even bother with Daytona.
probably too soon to expect any other DPs to appear yet (who
will be next, do we know?), so six is the most that will race
at Homestead. Is there a top class GT team that now sees an
opportunity this year to regularly harry the DPs – to
perform the Buckler role, race after race, and receive due
attention as a result? Until there are a good number of DPs
racing (will there be?), a good little ‘un chasing a
good big ‘un is going to be the only significant appeal
of the GA races, isn’t it? Although shorter races could
see the DPs with a modest advantage.
brings us to the original grouse observers had when the ‘DSC’s
were announced a year ago: lack of power. With a decision taken
to make the Porsche engine one of the mainstays of the class,
there doesn’t seem to be much leeway to gain performance.
The BMW V8 runs in restricted form in the Picchio, but surely
that engine’s unrestricted level of power would have
been a better foundation? Yet there is a clearly stated intention
that there are no plans to increase performance levels from
And who decided
on that enormous cockpit area? Aren’t the Mosler and
the Saleen much more pleasing to the eye? Lack of power hauling
round a large frontal area equals 911 (and a little bit more)
performance – and poorer fuel consumption. Heaven knows
why they seem to have become slower since the first tests.
Do they have manufacturer appeal? Do they?
(never announced?) attendance at Daytona tells its own story:
many regular Rolex fans didn’t turn up. Fans don’t
turn up at Homestead anyway! And how many teams will?
going to be a long haul for Roger Edmondson, Dave Watson and
Mark Raffauf to turn this series around.
Wimpffen – who’s been observing the
scene longer than most of us – adds these remarks.
have said that comparing LMPs with DPs is apples with oranges.
A more correct metaphor would be that LMPs are apples while
Grand-Am has invented a whole new fruit. Is it edible though?
What we have
is the top (winning) class of GT being the former bottom class
and even then it is restricted. Just imagine what unrestricted
GTs and GTS cars would have done to the DPs, not to mention
the SRPII--which looked pathetic. Moreover, a car in the purported
top class of DP costs twice as much as the winning car.
I read one
comment on the Grand-Am forum about "it was so crowded
that you couldn't move"--not sure what race this guy was
at. Of all the commentators I was the most charitable at saying
that the crowds were down, but not drastically down. Every
veteran observer I spoke said it was “empty”.
it out, I got into conversations with five knowledgeable and
astute fans, two at the circuit, and the others at the airport
- plus my seatmate on my first flight home. These guys were
exactly the type of fans that sports car racing needs to attract.
They were all reasonably affluent and each considered themselves
fans of racing in general. They also had in common a mix of
interests covering the technical aspects of the cars and the
personalities. Closeness of racing (Grand-Am / NASCAR's mantra)
was not a high priority. Each of them attends five to six events
around the country and several were Daytona regulars. To a
man they found the DPs ugly, with an unpleasing sound, horribly
slow, and indistinguishable from each other (?) and from the
other cars (?). Moreover, three of these five guys were relatively
knowledgeable about sports car racing and said that one of
their reasons for coming to a race is to see the diversity
of car types and classes, teams from factories to amateurs--in
short, the attributes that the very non-sports car oriented
powers behind Grand-Am want to eradicate. The respondents in
this unscientific sample were unanimous in expressing that
they have no interest in seeing another Grand-Am race as long
as "real" prototypes were not allowed back in. To
a man they couldn’t care less if there were 20 or 30
DPs out there. They found them too unappealing to bother with.
I also had
a discussion with Dave Klym. He noted that he has had many
inquiries from important figures in the sport. When asked if
any of these appear to be heading towards firm orders, he admitted
that they did not. When I questioned him as to whether he thought
that Grand-Am would ever be able to draw fans, he answered
that IMSA was able to have crowds of 40,000 in the GTP days,
but this went away when WSC came in. He implied that DPs would
bring them back. I made the point that ALMS now routinely draws
those crowds for what are effectively WSC races. He seemed
genuinely surprised, as if he had not been to an ALMS race
of this indicates to me is that many in the sports car racing
world (to whom I would sometimes add us at DSC) exist in a
bubble. There is a tendency to not understand the economics
of factories, privateers, sponsors, promoters, and spectators
as it relates to the very specific niche of sports car racing.
Scott Atherton and his staff have proven perhaps the lone exception
to this rule. His counterparts at Grand-Am have far to go before
they are in a similar league. Oranges may have a different
botanical structure than apples, but they have to taste good
before they become agriculturally viable.
in my preview that one does not grant a student a degree even
he does exceptionally well on an exam, nor do you expel him
if fails the first time out. So to be entirely fair, neither
extreme is applicable to DP after Daytona. I believe that the
fairest grade that Prof. Wimpffen can assign is "C+".
The DPs moved toward accomplishing the goals set out by Grand-Am.
But are these goals for the good of sports car racing? That
remains to be seen. Again using the education analogy, the
introduction of DP represents what charitably can be described
as democratization vs. elitism, or from a negative connotation
can be described as dumbing down. Rather than raise the bar
and encourage innovation, Grand-Am is catering to the lowest
nothing in the results of the Daytona 24 Hours to indicate
that the DP concept is fundamentally flawed. However, there
was nothing in the results of the weekend to indicate that
the category has any viability beyond being a spec. series
for the competitors.