Grand Am’s Daytona Prototypes - The Jury Deliberates

Janos Wimpffen neatly wraps up the Phoenix Rolex Series events, with these thoughts.

I’ve received a number of e-mails commenting and mostly complimenting the reports on the Phoenix Grand-Am races. Several folks have wondered if I “really liked it” or “if I’ve gone over to the other side,” etc.

First, I wish to clarify some points. These are my views, not those of DSC and all those other disclaimers that you get on network TV and those hideous foaming at the mouth rant shows.

I am first and foremost a sports car racing fan, and of course something of a historian on the subject. I am not a champion of any series nor do I have any inherent opposition to any series. Like many, I am disappointed with the lack of coherency in our beloved branch of the sport and its seemingly chronic balkanization. Much like the CART-IRL split of the past decade, it continues to hurt. However, it is a handicap that we are stuck with for the foreseeable future. What we write will not destroy one series in favor of another, or elevate one over another.

Thus, one may as well make the best of it. Each of the major sports series, and for that matter many of the minor nationally based ones, has something to offer. Either it’s good cars and good circuits, or it is close racing and a blend of pros and amateurs. It would be nice to have them all under one roof, but . . .

I’ve watched the development and the administration of each series and have good and bad to say about each. So why not encourage the good? Let them figure out what they need to jettison.

Some ask me, what outcome do I wish? That’s a tough one, it’s somewhere between ruthless Darwinian survival and Rodney King-ish, “Why don’t we all get along.” I want to go on enjoying the techno-flash and speed of an ALMS race, although I would like to see the car count doubled. I enjoy the closeness of a Grand-Am contest although the cars are butt ugly. It goes on and on, but you get the idea. I want both series to thrive, and for that matter the same with LMES and FIA GT as well.

Is there room in this one-horse town for all of these outlaws? Until some sheriff comes along and cleans them all out, there will be enough room and I hope that people will be partying in the saloons.

Now for some quick epilogues to Phoenix:

I must wonder whether Bill Riley may have watched a lot of episodes of “Mission Impossible.” It seems that he’s installed a self-destruct switch in his DPs, given three blazes in two races. It seems to be a revenue-enhancement technique.

It transpires that the first car-be-cue of Saturday night, the red car bake, was spontaneous, and not the result of body contact. A car went spinning into the grass at the entrance to the infield and then Alex Gurney went wide, apparently experiencing the first licks of a problem. But he never hit anyone.

The preponderance of carnage on Saturday demonstrated several issues; it doesn’t take two classes to encourage people to get crazy, and there seems to be an inherent problem at rovals with the drop into the infield - most of the contact came at Turn 1.

Naysayers sometimes comment that Grand-Am can only get a close race when they orchestrate it with yellows. Such was not the case this weekend. All of the yellows in the DP race were more than justified, in fact, I would have called one or two more. They were actually rather restrained. In the end the race wasn’t that close and it was mostly a result of self-inflicted and mechanical carnage. By contrast, Friday’s GT race was as fine an example of professional-gentlemanly clean and strong racing as one could see in a sports car event. Forget that these are detuned cars, they were quick and the contest was fierce.

My own personal jury is still out as to whether I liked the split format. It was a novelty to see each class featured on its own but I missed the cut-and-thrust. Comments by two others were perhaps better than my own. Wayne Taylor is not only a veteran sports car driver, but someone who I consider a true sports car purist [Yes, and he’s a big Grand-Am supporter !]. Taylor commented afterwards that he missed the GTs, that having multiple classes is at the very core of sports car racing. He too acknowledged the reality that the combination of growth in the series and the use of small tracks such as Phoenix requires amendments. Adam Saal, Roger Edmondson’s right-hand man at Grand-Am, made an equally astute observation. He noted that while not everyone was opposed to the split class format, he certainly heard no enthusiasm for it. Saal remarked that it might become accepted if it were truly the exception rather than the norm and indeed it might be enjoyed for its unique aspects. He said, “it’s sort of like Monaco in F1, all the teams complain about how different it is from the other circuits, but in the end everyone enjoys it for its own reasons and puts up with it.”

Grand-Am's next item on their business plan is crowd promotion, and seems to have kicked in at Phoenix. I would estimate there were about 3000 spectators there. That doesn't sound like much but it was definitely the most that I've seen there for a sports car race. Moreover, Grand-Am outdrew this year's IRL race at Phoenix.

The race competed with other sporting attractions in the area, such as the very popular high school football games, as well as a college game that was moved there after having originally been scheduled in hurricane-ravaged Louisiana.

There were various people sightings over the weekend. Dominic Cicero, a real up and comer in Grand-Am during 2004 is now without a ride as the short-lived Westernese Racing outfit has folded. However, there were rumors aplenty about new teams and it would behove one of them to pick up on this talent.

On the more veteran side, Belgian expat and Phoenix resident Didier Theys had one foot on the pit wall all weekend, aching to hop aboard one of his beloved Dorans - or any other DP for that matter. While he plans a full LMES-ALMS slate for 2006, he is actively searching for a handful of DP rides to supplement his Sports Car Jones. Might as well face it, we’re all addicted to the love of sports car racing. Whether it’s sports car racing, sex, or pizza, even bad racing, sex or pizza is better than none at all.


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