Kevin Doran – His View

Kevin Doran is a fan of sportscar racing, but he also makes a living at it. When you have to make a living at something, you have to take a long, hard look at things. For now, Doran Racing is concentrating on competing in the Grand Am series. Gary Horrocks finds out why, and gets the man’s view of where ‘prototype’ racing currently stands.

dailysportscar.com“The reality is that we are not sure right now about our future in the ALMS. We do know that we will be running our Toyota powered Daytona Prototype at Mount Tremblant, VIR and at the Daytona Finale. It all just comes down to dollars. We have a finite amount of money available, and it is our responsibility to get the most races and exposure for our sponsors. For now the Grand Am is a better opportunity for us.”

“Don’t get me wrong. I think the ALMS offers a very good package of racing; good exposure, good tracks and good competition. The cars are absolutely incredible too. In fact I think the Bentley is one of the most cool, sexy and hot looking cars ever. It looks like it is going 300 mph standing still. Technically, it is amazing. I think there are more wires in that car than there are hoses!! I really like the MG/Lola, and I think our Dallara is one of the nicest looking cars around. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t make much financial sense for us to continue. I think we are one of the better funded American teams and we just can’t afford to compete with the Audis and such. In the ALMS, if you are not an Audi or a GTS Factory car, you just don’t get the exposure. The reality of it is that to get the exposure you have to be winning or have the potential to win. I just don’t see us being able to run much better than third overall.”

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“At Sears Point, it is not like we were any faster than anywhere else, but I think we got 100% out of the package. Bill Auberlen did an excellent job as did Didier Theys. We just don’t have the speed to track down an Audi. As I said earlier, the best we realistically can get is a third, and that is a distant third. At Sebring I think we would have to fight to be even seventh, and I don’t see it getting any better. Yes, there are improvements we could make to our car for right now. There is 2002 bodywork available along with paddle-shifting, but it just doesn’t make financial sense for us at this time.”

Well, what about the new ACO Regulations for the future? Do they help? “They don’t address the money situation at all. From my vision of the rules, I see cars like the Bentley with bigger tires, aero tunnels and a mandated drag inducing device. I expect them to be about two seconds a lap faster on the American tracks and will probably put the privateer even further out of reach of the top. I still expect to see 1-2 teams dominating.”

“What I think will happen is that the Prototype Class will suffer for a while and the GT classes will become the focus. I really like the GTS cars. They’re cool and really kick ass. We looked into the possibilities of a GTS program, but I figured we’d be spending about as much as we would in running in the LMP 900 class.”

So will you no longer be running the Dallara in ALMS? “That is not for sure. We’ll just have to wait and see.”

OK, it is expensive, but isn’t all racing expensive? “Yes it is, but we can run up front in the Grand Am for considerably less money. In order to run in LMP900, it takes an initial fee of about $775,000 to just get a car running on the track, with spares bringing the cost up to 1 – 1.5 million dollars. By the time it is all said and done, the budget for a year is around 4 million dollars. The Daytona Prototypes cost $400,000, ready to run on the track and about $750,000 with a full assortment of spares, so if you have an operating budget in the range 1 – 1.25 million dollars, you will be one of the top funded teams. It is a different concept. Yes there are problems with it, but nothing is perfect. Yes, the Grand Am is still expensive, but with a budget of about 2 million dollars, it is still quite a bit less expensive.”

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“The Grand Am as a series is not where the ALMS is. They need to continue to build the series and the schedule, but the foundation is there. Just having larger car counts will go quite a ways towards resolving issues. When I was growing up, my dad was involved in promoting short track racing and it was born out many times that the amount of people at the race was directly related to the car count. I can see the same here with the Grand Am. I think the interest is growing, and I think it is more than possible to have 14 cars at the Rolex 24 Hours next season and a count of 15-16 consistent runners by the end of next year. Is that enough? I think so. Look back to the IMSA days of the ‘80s. While I don’t have the actual numbers in my head, I think it was back in ’87 or in ’88 when we were running 18 -19 prototypes, along with some of the Camel Light cars, and people fondly remember the large grids that we had. Well, what is the magic number that makes a large enough car count? Maybe 10 is not enough, but what is the magic number? Is it 14, 15, 16? It might completely depend on the track.”

“Even in today’s economy, we have been getting a lot of interest in our cars. The weird thing is that these inquiries have been coming in spurts. We get a rush of inquiries and then nothing. Last month we had some inquiries from some traditional entrants we would all recognize. Lately though, about half of the inquires have come from other classes or series; teams looking into moving up the ladder from production or formula based series. At this time, we have had no confirmed orders, but I think if I had cars ready to go on the showroom, we might have some. Unfortunately, I just can’t afford to build on speculation. We’re doing everything we can, and I hope to have sold three more cars before the Rolex. The quicker I can get confirmed orders, the quicker turnaround we can have on making them.”

dailysportscar.comOne of the things that helps make the Daytona prototype class affordable to run is that the restrictions placed on the motors really assist in making them last longer. “Bell runs the LS6 Chevy motor, which could easily produce 650-700 horsepower. Instead it is regulated down to the target of 500 horsepower. That engine can go 30 hours with no problem and is quite economical. Figure about $34,000 for the motor with rebuilds in the region of $10-12,000. We looked into the BMW motor that G&W is running in the Picchio, which on paper could be a 60 hour motor. Due to the restrictions, this race motor actually has a lower redline than the street motor. It is too early in the game to know how our 4.3 liter Toyota motor will stand as we don’t yet have enough experience with it, but TRD is monitoring our motor quite closely in order to build a history. We run a 8200 rpm redline, which is lower than other applications for this unit. It has a small stroke for a 4-cam, so that is not an issue at all. I figure we may not get quite the life of the BMW motor as we are 1 liter smaller and running closer to the ultimate limit, but it still should be a good, strong and economical package.”

“To be honest, it appears that the larger motors are favored. They are more reliable and have longer run time between rebuilds because they are less stressed. In my opinion, the Porsche, with these regulations, is probably less efficient to run cost wise. I figure our cost / mile for the Toyota ought to be close to the Chevy.”

Well, what about the many comments about the Daytona Prototypes being rather odd looking? “When we first started building our first car, the structure looked a lot like a short track car, but as we started building it, it started to look more like a Dallara or a Ferrari 333SP. If you were to paint the hybrid sheet / honeycomb monocoque black, to replicate carbon fiber, it might even fool some people from a distance. I do agree with the comments about the rather large size of center section of the body. If you look at the way we painted the body on our car, we added the black to try to minimize that, and make it look more like a roadcar. Yes, it is still big, but I guess you get used to it.”

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“We tested at Moroso a while ago, and a Tullius Jag GTP was at the track. Side by side, I think our car was more modern looking, but I did notice that the DP green house was bigger, but not by much. I really think that 2-3 inches would have made a huge difference in the appearance, but rules are rules. Even rounding off the corners might have made a difference visually, but one of the Grand Am tech issues was to make more drag to help to keep the speeds down. Currently, the prototype cars are at the technological limit for speeds on the track. There are tracks where an Audi is fast enough that if it spun, it would go through the gravel and not stop in it. If you go 6-7 seconds a lap slower at a current track, it actually becomes twice as safe.”

As far as his ‘own’ car, Kevin is quite pleased with the progress so far. “It first ran at Mid Ohio, about a week before its first race. It came out of the shop quite good, and we really didn’t have any problems. We do have a bit of a starting issue though. I’m not sure if it is in the chassis wiring or if there is not enough juice for the computer when cranking over. Other than that, no real problems. Even the low fuel light worked. We have a ways to go to catch up with Bell, but we’re young and short on experience. We’ll get there.”

“We are addressing the heat issues in the cockpit. This is an issue for the whole class, not just us. But then cooling has always been an issue with closed cars and having front radiators mandated just adds to it. I actually think we have been used to running open cars and forgot how to deal with the heat. What we need to address now are the details, and look at the whole car from the driver’s point of view.”

“The air flow is different on a Daytona Prototype than on the old GTP cars. On those cars, the air flowed around the chassis, while the rules for the DPs do not allow for that due to the mandated crash structure. The aluminum in our tubs transfers the heat and without the airflow, it is difficult to cool it. We need to look at sealing any gaps that allow the heat in and also insulate as we can. I hope we can eventually get to a point where we can run all the races but those in July and August without cool suits, but even in the GTP days, we ran all the races with cool suits. We just need to keep working on getting the car faster, while we also work on keeping the drivers cool.”

So, what does Kevin see in his crystal ball for the future of sportscar racing? “Sportscar racing is very cyclical in nature and seems to follow a pattern of about eight years. The same people that came up with the Daytona Prototype concept laid out the WSC concept. At the time, there was great discussion and disagreement about the direction, but obviously it ended up being a success in many ways. At this point, roughly eight years later, it almost appears that the LMP concept is on its last legs and has surpassed its usefulness. It appears that the emphasis in the ALMS is shifting towards the GT and GTS class, with more and more manufacturer interest going there. Because of the rules and the stability, I can see the Daytona Prototype class growing in size and in popularity. Who knows, Daytona Prototypes at Le Mans in 2007? It could happen?”

 

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