Daytona Prototypes – A Personal View
Mark Howson has been a regular at the Daytona
24 Hours for many years – but he missed the 2003 and 2004
races. Here he provides a personal view of his first experience
of the Rolex 24, DP-style.
In a sport as controversial
(within its own circle) as sportscar racing, few things have stirred
up more debate, and indeed anger, than the Daytona Prototypes. Depending
on your point of view, the DPs are either the Second Coming, or
the Antichrist: very few neutral opinions appear to exist. My personal
instincts tended towards the latter viewpoint, but I was unwilling
to condemn the new cars outright until I had seen them in action
first-hand. The 2005 Rolex 24 at Daytona afforded me that opportunity.
Truth be told,
I had a blast at the race. The weather was fine (if a smidge too
cold at night) and my wife and I spent 16 hours in the grandstands,
in the midst of a group of American fans who meet every year to
watch the race – some having shovelled four feet of snow off
of their driveways before starting the long drive south.
of this group have been friends of ours for a number of years. I
met Brian Burns at PLM in 1998 and his brother Kevin and Kevin’s
wife Meg at Daytona in 1999. They are all long time sportscar fans
and have attended many races over the years. Incidentally, Kevin
and Meg’s granddaughter, Olive, was attending her second Rolex
24, despite not yet attaining the grand old age of two.
Obviously, it wasn’t
long before we were discussing the DPs, and this group’s comments
were interesting. In addition to the Rolex, both Brian and Kevin
(independently) attended Grand-Am races in 2004 and came away impressed;
“You didn’t know who was going to win until the end.
Much better than ‘which Audi will it be this time?’”
was one that stood out.
My first thought on seeing
the cars (during Thursday qualifying) was that they appeared to
be a couple of feet too short. Nor did watching them from the infield
horseshoe initially dispel my innate prejudice, as no car could
exactly be described as spectacular through this slow and awkward
Saturday during the race, a rather disturbing thing happened –
I started to warm to them.
One of the dsc editor’s
criticisms of the DPs was that they were too slow. I honestly didn’t
get that impression from the grandstand. It had been three years
since I last attended the race and I couldn’t tell the speed
differential between the DPs and prototypes of ‘old’.
In fact, it wasn’t long before I was relaxing back in the
seat, supping a bottle of Black & Tan (allowed into the grandstand
by a genial gate inspector, despite the ban on glass bottles –
I obviously don’t conform to the English Hooligan stereotype)
and allowing the sights and sounds to wash over me. The hours flew
But something was troubling
me. Something wasn’t right; and it’s taken me a couple
of weeks to work it out.
It wasn’t the yellow
flags; Daytona has always had those by the bucket load. It wasn’t
the ‘NASCAR conspiracy theory’ – the place was
more relaxed than I’d known it before, and the facilities
for the fans were impressive; there was no sense of a cynical manipulation
by the France regime. It wasn’t the engine sounds, which lacked
the variety of a traditional sportscar field. It wasn’t even
that the World Centre Of Racing appeared to have shut up shop at
11pm, save for the race taking place.
It was the leader board.
I had never seen a board
like it, and can only compare it to a pack of cards being constantly
shuffled. Whenever a car pitted, it would plummet down the positions.
And so would the next car to stop; and so on.
But surely this is a
good thing? Does it not demonstrate that the cars are so evenly
matched that there is a constant jostling for the lead? Well, yes,
and therein lies the problem for me.
The cars are
too evenly matched. There were forty-plus lead changes in the race,
but where was the excitement? Indeed, why bother getting excited
when you know that the car you have just cheered for is virtually
guaranteed to drop down the field the next time it stops?
The X-factor that exists
in traditional endurance racing, and which hooked me so fully to
the sport, is simply missing from the DPs. There is no chance of
a great and heroic climb-back from adversity and misfortune with
DPs; there will be no gawping at an Audi-like innovation with DPs;
there will be no epic clash-of-the-titans with DPs.
Perhaps I am looking
at ‘my’ sportscar racing through those famous rose-tinted
specs. But I don’t need fifty meaningless lead changes in
a race, followed by ten cars dashing to the flag. For that, I’ll
watch NASCAR. I need to know that there is a chase on, even though
that chase may be futile. All I want is the possibility of one significant
lead-change, and to know that it has been achieved through sheer
aren’t the Antichrist – hell, they’re almost fun
(and there were times when the Andy Wallace Crawford reminded me
fondly of the Toyota GT1). It’s the format that bothers me.