February Editorial
Daytona

Could anyone 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.

The Weather And So On

One decision 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 Bill Riley.

“Contrived,” 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.

Reliabilty

SGS – 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).

Sealing up 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?

Spectator Appeal

Janos Wimpffen 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.

Spectator numbers 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?

Naming The Cars

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.

Calling the 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.

Pace

Didn’t 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 power.

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.

Points & Watches

Forest Barber 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.

It’s 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.
Malcolm Cracknell

Janos Wimpffen adds:
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 driveway.

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.

 

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