The 41st Rolex 24

Most Interesting

dailysportscar.comIn three weeks time, we’ll have a clearer idea of the future for the Grand American Road Racing Association and their Rolex Series, and the role that the Daytona prototypes are going to play in 2003 and beyond. For now, let’s have an early look at prospects for the 41st Rolex 24, principally from observations of the events at the Test Days.

The Editor was in contact with Roger Edmondson very recently, and expressed the view that the upcoming race could have been very different, had other decisions been made regarding this transitional year. For example, suppose the SRP1 runners had been welcomed back for one more year, with suitable penalties (restrictor changes) to limit their laps to about the 1:48 level? Suppose the SRP2s had modest restrictor changes (and no fuel tank changes) to limit them to 1:48 or 1:50, instead of last year’s best of 1:46. Suppose the ‘unibody’ GTS cars ran just as they did a year ago, with a 1:48/1:50 potential. Let the former AGTs rip, as seems to be the case now anyway, and there could have been three / four classes – plus the Daytona Prototypes – in contention for the race win. The field would have been bigger and had more depth, existing car owners would have logically jumped at the chance to race for the win, and the prospects for on-track action would have been even greater than is currently the case.

But perhaps there’s an argument that there would have been too many cars in the field with a similar pace (with the format outlined above). With the GT class running at 1:55s or so, the whole field would have been unusually evenly matched, and a possible recipe for trouble. Who is it who has argued on these pages that there needs to be a speed differential, to make overtaking safer? With a 30 mph differential, moves are completed more quickly, and more safely, aren’t they?

But at least one DP driver has gone on the record to suggest that the Daytona Prototypes will be more interesting from within because the drivers will have to work harder at their overtaking moves: overtaking will need to be planned from further back, and the drivers will have to ‘work at it’ to get by the cars that are only marginally slower.

Haven’t we arrived at a similar situation to the proposed SRP1 / SRP2 etc. field, argued for above? Won’t there be considerable bunching of the pack around the banking, with marginally quicker cars trying to ease their way through them? That’s all right for the professionals, but what about a gentleman driver in a DP (or a GTS), racing at night, tired – and coming up against a professional such as a Bergmeister or a Lieb in a 911? Or six professionals in 911s, all dicing hard among themselves? Fortunately, the DPs’ and GTSs’ marginal (if any) speed advantage over the rest will ensure that there is actually very little lapping of slower cars throughout the 24 hours.

Driver skill will be at a premium at this year’s race like never before though, won’t it? Any time lost while a gentleman driver is at the wheel (or a problem is fixed) will just not be made up.

We’ve just argued that actually the 41st Rolex 24 could be an unmissable treat for sportscar fans: the prospects for seeing big bunches of cars racing together have never been greater, have they? But is this good or bad?

One of the Picchio drivers is never reluctant to express a view, and after a couple of days in the car, Boris Said was left wishing for another 200 bhp. What’s he got at the moment, about 470? Who wouldn’t be happier with 670? That could have been so simple to arrange. Aren’t big reliable V8s the ‘stock’ engine in this part of the world in February? Wouldn’t gentleman drivers be happier with more bang for their bucks in their DPs? Wouldn’t overtaking be safer for them? Wouldn’t playing ‘catch-up’ be more realistic for the pros. In these cars?

That’s not what they’ve got though. It’s the brave new world of the 470 bhp Daytona Prototypes, and we’ll follow their maiden race with considerable interest. The race winner could come from the DP class, the GTS class or the GT class – and that’s a fascinating prospect. It’s about as far removed from Ari Luyendyk and a 1992 Nissan as you can get. Remember him swooping past slower cars, first left then right? That was a fantastic spectacle, having already had Fangio on pole, plus the last appearance of the V12 Jaguars – with one D Brabham making his Daytona debut. 2003 is going to be very different indeed. If you like packs of cars glued together round the banking, make sure you’re there on February 1 / 2. Outright speed is no longer part of the attraction, but side by side racing certainly will be.
Malcolm Cracknell

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