reasonably ask for any more discussion points than the 42nd Rolex
24 offered up? In the middle of the off-season, it has certainly
given sportscar fans all sorts of things to mull over. Let’s
try and deal with the major talking points, one by one, with Janos
Wimpffen adding his views after the Editor’s.
Weather And So On
doesn’t seem to need any debate: when the rains really came
down, the event had to be red-flagged, there’s little doubt
about that. What did look dubious was the delay in getting racing
under way again, after both the extended caution and the red flag
period. Having the benefit of one of the dsc team listening in to
the officials on a scanner was fairly revealing. What isn’t
in doubt is that there was a tyre shortage. “We have one more
new set of full rain tires and that’s it,” Pat Smith
told Russell Wittenberg. “We are out of tires,” said
was Russell Wittenberg’s choice of word to describe the delays
in going racing again (after speaking to the GT teams). But what
else was Grand Am to do, with tyres for its headline class in desperately
short supply? You can understand the GT teams’ frustration:
they had ample, suitable Dunlops, and were ready to race to the
end. It was hardly their concern that the DPs might have had to
struggle on inappropriate rubber. Perhaps in the end, GA officials
found a solution that didn’t actually cause too much of a
stir. Had the DPs been forced to race on less than ideal rubber
(and been passed left, right and centre by the GTs), the series
would have been a laughing stock, and a GT win wouldn’t have
had the credibility it would have had if all classes had enjoyed
a more straightforward race to the flag.
all running at the end.
GT – only two cars failed to reach 100 laps.
DP – wheels, wipers and wetness.
With so many
new cars in the DP Class, it was inevitable that reliability would
be an issue, which was compounded by the rain (although perhaps
helped by the rain in other respects perhaps, because of lower stresses
on the cars). Bill Riley was at a loss to explain why wheels should
come off (a tried and tested component from the R&S Mklll),
and wheels coming off logically played a part in later problems
(the #2 Crawford).
a tubeframe, against elements such as those the teams faced in the
race, was a major problem, and a front radiator added to the problems
of misting. But even Porsches were in trouble with misting screens,
so it would be unfair to regard misting up as purely a DP issue.
Apart from wheels
and visibility, the #2 Crawford showed how it can be done –
for 23 and a half hours. The three Dorans all had very impressive
journeys, apart from visibility issues with at least two of them
and the engine troubles that were developing on the winner. So almost
top marks to Max Crawford and Kevin Doran.
Full marks to
all the SGS runners, but where’s the diversity?
was very impressed with the opening quarter of the race, when the
lead changed regularly, and a bunch of DPs were squabbling over
the top positions. One by one though, they met problems, and it
was the almost untroubled #2 Crawford that led for 345 laps of the
race. That kind of domination is no surprise at all in 24 hour terms.
Who knows how
the race would have developed had it stayed dry? As reliability
improves over the coming months, there is little doubt that the
DPs will be able to extend that period of close racing. Short term
though, they don’t need to. The sprint races that fill the
bulk of the season will inevitably see a bunch of cars in contention
for the win, but strategy is likely to be at least as important
as outright speed.
have to show an improvement on 2003, but how much of an improvement?
Will 25 or more DPs racing on rovals ever draw a large attendance?
Is it, as one driver has said, “just a sports car version
of restrictor plate racing”? If it is, will that draw in the
crowds? Will it attract the sportscar fans?
Are we so old-fashioned
here? Rather than label the cars Chevrolet Crawfords or Lexus Rileys,
we always call them Crawford Chevrolets etc.. The history of the
sport tells us that that is the way it has always been, and that’s
the way it will stay here. When Engine Developments ‘developed’
their association with MG just over a year ago, we could have named
Kevin Doran’s LMP900 ALMS entry an MG-Dallara – but
that would have been ridiculous. It was a Dallara Judd. If US fans
don’t know what a Dallara is, well, they’re probably
not sportscar fans.
winning car a Kodak Pontiac is just too daft for words. This is
– or was – sportscar racing, not NASCAR racing. Kevin
Doran’s team designed and built it, and that’s what
it should be called – a Doran.
the DPs surprise everyone in Qualifying? Suddenly there did seem
to be a decent performance differential between DPs and GTs –
which suggests that handicapping the GTs with ballast, smaller restrictors
and smaller fuel tanks was an unnecessary step. Ironically, a couple
of the penalties might actually have played into the hands of the
GTs in the conditions: more weight probably wasn’t much of
a handicap (if at all) in the wet, and neither was slightly reduced
At six hours
into the race, the top GT was seventh overall, six laps down on
the leader – perhaps that’s just about right, perhaps
the weather was already helping to stabilise that gap. At 12 hours,
the Orbit Porsche was 12 laps down, so perhaps it wasn’t the
weather at all. At 24 hours, Mowlem was only three laps behind Barber,
but put that down to the #2 Crawford having retired, the fact that
the Bell Doran was struggling, and it doesn’t matter how many
laps you win by as long as you win.
Logically, the GTs have been unreasonably handicapped.
did receive winner’s points and a Rolex watch, while the Policastros
received just their watches, while Fredy Lienhard didn’t win
either points or a watch. It all comes down to whether each driver
completed any green flag laps. Well done Forest Barber, choosing
the right moment to go out and join the event.
But it could
only happen in a GA event, couldn’t it? What is the ACO rule?
Each driver has to complete a minimum percentage of the race? Allowing
five drivers to race in each car does help to spread the cost, but
three is enough isn’t it? A maximum of three would prevent
anyone pitching in at the end, although you can hardly blame Forest
Barber for playing by the rules.
Not Le Mans
No, it definitely
isn’t, and it would be wrong to expect it to be. But the gulf
between the two 24 hour races is now greater than ever, in so many
respects. One similarity though – anyone who gets to the end
of any 24 hour race, never mind a wet one, deserves all the praise
going. The immense effort that every team put themselves through
to try to complete 24 hours at Daytona needs acknowledging by those
of us who have never done it.
Well done all
those who started – and most of them finished too.
Remember, this wasn't a true 24 hour race: 21 or 18, depending on
your perspective. I would venture an opinion that we could have
gone with a half hour less of the long yellow, and a red period
of an hour or so shorter.
The DPs did well, as long as it wasn't a Fabcar or Multimatic. Also,
as to visual appeal, none of them are Miss Universe candidates.
The best that can be said is that the best of them elicits a similar
reaction as does a bulldog--the ugliest breed of dog, but it soon
warms on you and you realize that it is ugly, but that it rounds
the corner to cuteness.
Bringing in the NASCAR stars was a largely good ploy. As I mentioned
in my preview, it has historical precedent. Also, with one or two
exceptions, the roundy-rounders did an honorable job and were lots
of fun to boot. However, the fleeting presence of the guests will
do little to bolster GA's stated policy of appealing to "non-traditional"
sports car fans. In reality, their marketing and the standard American
press that is in their pockets missed a golden opportunity.
Understandably, most of the standard press focused on the last minute
breakdown of the Crawford. But it was less so because of their dominance
during the last half of the race than the mere presence of Messrs.
Earnhardt and Stewart. Not coincidentally, the winning car had no
such high profile names.
I only half jokingly said earlier on that a victory by no. 2 would
lead to headlines in American dailies like "Dale Jr., Stewart,
and some other guy win Rolex." In the end it was even worse,
with headlines reading, "Jr. and Stewart's car breaks down."
Those scribes missed a chance to tell the world how accomplished
are the likes of Terry Borcheller and Andy Wallace. And no, he's
not Rusty's brother. The NASCAR guys won't be seen on road courses
for quite a while, while the people we care about slog away each
weekend. The typical NASCAR fans will simply stay tuned to the oval
stuff, still having no idea who Borcheller, Pilgrim, Wallace and
the others are.
I disagree wholeheartedly with GA's silly naming conventions. No
sports car fan, purist or not, takes it seriously. As for the supposed
"new fans", they might be fooled into thinking that Dale
Jr's Monte Carlo is really a Chevrolet, but even they realize that
Ross Bentley's "Focus" doesn't look like the Ford in their
My overall take is that Roger Edmondson, Dave Watson, Mark Raffauf,
Pat Murphy, and the rest should be congratulated. They've proven
to many sceptics, including this one, that they can put together
a quality show that has all the elements sports car fans love; a
well-mixed field of pros and amateurs, interesting cars (even if
not the most sophisticated), competitive racing, good atmosphere.
It has a place in the sports car pantheon and however long it lasts
it will be remembered.