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Bill Oursler looks at Leveling vs. Bottoming Out

When is enough too much? On St. Patrick’s Day the American Le Mans Series opens its season with the annual 12- Hours of Sebring endurance affair. There, something under 40 cars will contest this long distance classic, about two thirds of the number seen in past decades, but a figure representative of the ALMS’ grids in more recent times. For some there are danger signs in terms of the current field sizes, while for others it is more a matter of concentrating on quality rather than quantity.

Here we are in the years…

In truth, the number of cars taking the green flag for the 2007 edition of the Central Florida classic which began its half-day format in 1952, is more reflective of costs and perceived value for money spent on them than anything else. Generally speaking, road racing in the United States has been supported more by wealthy privateers than by the factories. For some of these entrants playing in the same sandbox as their manufacturer financed opponents is satisfaction enough, regardless of the eventual outcome. For others, it is not.

This latter group can be found as the backbone of the technology restricted Rolex Sports Car Series, whose Daytona Prototype coupes are considered by any number of traditionalists to be the exact opposition of what they want the sport to represent. Moreover, the supporters of the high tech approach to car design point to the fact that the so-called “low cost” DP cars are not all that “low cost” when one looks at the size of the actual amount of their asking prices, which easily can top a half a million dollars before they reach any race track’s garage area.

Back to the future…

And, when one considers that the Grand American’s schedule is longer than that of the ALMS, a competitor in the Grand Am could find his yearly overall racing budget about the same as if he had chosen to play in Don Panoz’ advanced technology championship. So if the differential in the price of admission is not that different, why have so many more embraced the Grand Am’s restrictive technology approach?

The answer seems to be that the proponents of running in the Rolex tour like the idea that the playing field, as it is in NASCAR’s Nextel Cup, is about as level as it can be. To put it another way, those investing in the Grand Am do so because their egos are pushing them to win, even if victory comes on a stage that might not be as important as that of the ALMS.

Fish & Game

What this boils down to is the choice of being a big fish in a small pond, or a small fish in a big pond whose importance and presence far exceeds that of its lesser perceived counterpart. There can be few who would argue that the Grand Am as not succeeded in formula that has produced close, exciting racing, and done among some of the best known drivers to be found in road racing anywhere. Yet, at the end of the day the Grand Am and its Rolex Series continue to struggle for credibility.

Talk to those in top management at the Grand Am, and you will hear the cry for better promotion, something the Grand Am is concentrating on. Still, one has to wonder just how much close competition counts in road racing. Many close to the sport continue to suggest that what sells fans on road course racing is the dream of pushing the envelope in terms of technology, not wheel-to-wheel battles between very similar cars whose performance levels have been carefully controlled.

Always in the past, the rules makers have allowed designers to take whatever approach – within – those scriptures – they felt would meet the challenges posed by those regulations. The Grand Am’s experiment has been to leave so little scope to designers as to virtually mandate the solutions the Grand Am wanted in the first place.

Sea Hunt

The ALMS has taken the more traditional path, and in many ways, particularly in its car counts, has paid the price. There are those who are quick to criticize the ALMS for sticking to its guns, while at the same time dismissing the Grand Am as being irrelevant. For this columnist that is particularly disingenuous. Each approach has its merits, and its drawbacks. The challenge for the ALMS is to convince more potential competitors to be “little fishes” in an arena that is truly attractive to much of the world which loves road racing, while the Grand Am’s charge is to get that traditional hide bound audience to pay attention to the “big fishes” swimming in its perceived shallow waters.

Ultimately, there is no “best way;” only different ways. For all of us, the best advice might be to enjoy both for what each has to offer. There are those who say there isn’t room for the two series to exist side by side. But, they have managed to do that for some time now, and one can only hope they continue to do so, for it would be a shame to lose either one.

                                                                    Bill Oursler
                                                                    March 2007

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No. Class Team Drivers Car Sponsors
0 DP Tuttle Team Racing Brian Tuttle, West Palm Beach, FL; Jonathan Cochet, France BMW Riley Tuttle Team Racing
01 DP CompUSA Chip Ganassi with Felix Sabates Scott Pruett, Auburn, CA; Luis Diaz, Mexico City, Mexico Lexus Riley CompUSA
3 DP Southard Motorsports Shane Lewis, Jupiter, FL; BMW Riley Southard Motorsports
4 DP Howard - Boss Motorsports Andy Wallace, England; Butch Leitzinger, Rebersburg, PA Pontiac Crawford The Boss Snowplow
04 GT Sigalsport BMW Gene Sigal, Los Angeles, CA; Peter MacLeod, Bellevue, WA BMW M3 Motul/ enVista/ OMP
5 DP Essex Racing Rob Finlay, Charlotte, NC; Michael Valiante, Vancouver, BC Canada Ford Crawford Make A Wish/ Z-Line Designs/ Finlay Motorsports
05 GT Sigalsport BMW Matthew Alhadeff, Los Angeles, CA; Bill Auberlen, Redondo Beach, CA BMW M3 Alhadeff Motorsports/ Motul/ enVista
6 DP Michael Shank Racing/ Mears Motor Coach Mike Borkowski, Miami Beach, FL; Antoine Bessette, St Bruno, QC Canada Lexus Riley Michael Shank Racing/
7 DP Tuttle Team Racing Brian Tuttle, West Palm Beach, FL; Jonathan Cochet, France Pontiac Riley Tuttle Team Racing
8 DP Synergy Racing Burt Frisselle, Kihei, HI; Brian Frisselle, Kihei, HI Porsche Doran GlycoMax
09 DP Spirit of Daytona Racing Doug Goad, West Bloomfield, MI; Larry Oberto, Seattle, WA Pontiac Crawford Spirit of Daytona Racing
10 DP SunTrust Racing Wayne Taylor, Apopka, FL; Max Angelelli, Italy; Jan Magnussen, Denmark Pontiac Riley SunTrust
11 DP CITGO Racing by SAMAX Milka Duno, Venezuela; Marc Goossens, Belgium Pontiac Riley CITGO
12 DP Lowe's Fernandez Racing Adrian Fernandez, Mexico City, Mexico; Mario Haberfeld, Brazil Pontiac Riley Lowe's
14 GT Autometrics Motorsports Cory Friedman, Charleston, SC; Gordon Friedman, Charleston, SC Porsche GT3 Cup Mill And Textile Supply/ Mac Papers
17 GT SAMAX Robert Bell, England; Porsche GT3 Cup SAMAX
19 DP Playboy/ Uniden Racing Guy Cosmo, West Palm Beach, FL; Michael McDowell, Monroe, NC Ford Crawford Playboy/ Uniden/ Palms
21 GT Matt Connolly Motorsports Jeff Altenburg, Ellicott City, MD; John Angelone, Bridgewater, NJ; Matt Connolly, Bethlehem, PA BMW M3 23 DP Alex Job Racing/ Emory Motorsports Mike Rockenfeller, Monaco; Patrick Long, Las Vegas, NV Porsche Crawford Ruby Tuesday Championship Racing Team
24 GT Matt Connolly Motorsports Bill Cotter, Seattle, WA; Todd Hanson, Atlanta, GA BMW M3 Matt Connolly Motorsports
31 DP Team Cytosport Greg Pickett, Benicia, CA; Scott Sharp, Tequesta, FL Pontiac Riley XCYTO Energy Drink
38 GT Bernheim Racing Steve Bernheim, Beverly Hills, CA; Dwain Dement, Laguna Hills, CA Porsche GT3 Cup
39 DP Crown Royal Special Reserve/ Cheever Christian Fittipaldi, Brazil; Eddie Cheever Jr, Orlando, FL Porsche Crawford Crown Royal Special Reserve
40 DP Derhaag Motorsports Chris Bingham, Clyde Hill, WA; Randy Ruhlman, Greensboro, NC Pontiac Riley PLP/ Preformed Line Products/ Coyote Closures
41 GT Team Sahlen Eric Lux, Amherst, NY; Charles Espenlaub, Lutz, FL Porsche GT3 Cup Rembrandt Charms/ HRPworld/ GOJO/ Hawk
47 DP TruSpeed Motorsports Charles Morgan, Little Rock, AR; Rob Morgan, Ladera Ranch, CA Porsche Riley Querencia Golf Club/ Wright Motorsports
50 DP Rocketsports Racing Paul Gentilozzi, Lansing, MI; Tomy Drissi, Los Angeles, CA Ford Crawford X-MEN 3 The Last Stand the Movie
56 GT Beachman Racing Bruce Beachman, Woodinville, WA; Rick Delamare, Snohemish, WA Corvette Beachman Racing/ Sunset Chevrolet
57 GT Stevenson Motorsports Tommy Riggins, Jacksonville, FL; Vic Rice, San Rafael, CA; John Stevenson, Swansboro, NC Corvette Stevenson Automotive
58 DP Red Bull/ Brumos Porsche David Donohue, Westchester, PA; Darren Law, Phoenix, AZ Porsche Fabcar Red Bull/ Brumos Porsche
59 DP Brumos Racing Hurley Haywood, Ponte Vedra, FL; JC France, Ormond Beach, FL Porsche Fabcar Brumos Porsche
60 DP Michael Shank Racing Mark Patterson, Bronxville, NY; Oswaldo Negri, Aventura, FL Lexus Riley Flight Options/ Nett App Lexus Riley
64 GT TRG Paul Edwards, Nipomo, CA; Kelly Collins, Newport Beach, CA Pontiac GTO.R TRG
65 GT TRG Marc Bunting, Monkton, MD; Andy Lally, Dacula, GA; RJ Valentine, Braintree, MA Pontiac GTO.R TRG/ F1 Air
70 GT SpeedSource David Haskell, Plantation, FL; Sylvain Tremblay, Coral Springs, FL Mazda RX-8 Mazdaspeed Motorsports/ Mazda USA
71 GT SAMAX/ Doncaster Racing Greg Wilkins, Toronto, ON Canada; Dave Lacey, Toronto, ON Canada Porsche GT3 Cup Minestar Solutions/ Tim Hortons72 GT Tafel Racing Robin Liddell, England; Wolf Henzler, Germany Porsche GT3 Cup NEC
73 GT Tafel Racing Jim Tafel, Alpharetta, GA; Andrew Davis, Bogart, GA Porsche GT3 Cup NEC
75 DP Krohn Racing Tracy Krohn, Houston, TX; Nic Jonsson, Sweden Ford Riley Krohn Racing
76 DP Krohn Racing Jorg Bergmeister, Germany; Colin Braun, Ovalo, TX Ford Riley Krohn Racing
77 DP Feeds The Need/ Doran Racing Terry Borcheller, Gainesville, GA; Harrison Brix, Campbell, CA Ford Doran Kodak/ Amp'd Mobile/ Sirius
80 GT Shoes for Crews/ Synergy Racing David Murry, Cumming, GA; Leh Keen, Dublin, GA Porsche GT3 Cup Shoes for Crews/ Synergy Racing
81 GT Synergy Racing Steve Johnson, Bristol, VA; Robert Nearn, England Porsche GT3 Cup Comfort Systems USA/ Johnson Commercial Development
89 DP Pacific Coast Motorsports Alex Figge, Vail, CO; Ryan Dalziel, Orlando, FL Pontiac Riley Playboy/ Vonage/ Palms Casino
97 DP CyberSpeed Racing Tony Ave, Mooresville, NC; Skip Cummins, Houston, TX Pontiac Riley CyberSpeed Racing
98 GT Pacific Coast Motorsports David Empringham, Toronto, ON Canada; Ross Thompson, Phoenix, AZ Pontiac GTO.R Pacific Coast Motorsports
99 DP Gainsco/ Blackhawk Racing Jon Fogarty, Portola Valley, CA; Alex Gurney, Irvine, CA Pontiac Riley Gainsco Auto Insurance