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Bill Oursler looks at The Job Market

  It’s Ruby Tuesday, or least it’s Ruby Tuesday for Floridian Alex Job, who
announced a two-year sponsorship agreement with the restaurant chain on
Monday, April 17th, tax day for most Americans, but a bright afternoon for Job. The
twists and turns in the fortunes of the longtime Porsche stalwart in his bid to find
funding for his Porsche powered Crawford Daytona Prototype – perhaps the
fastest, and certainly, one of the most competitive cars on the Grand Am’s Rolex
Sports Car tour, has embraced all the elements of a good soap opera, such as
CBS’, “ The Guiding Light.”

  So why all the drama in the life of this otherwise very practical man and his wife
Holly, who have made, and continue to make their reputation usually trouncing the
opposition in the GT2 production category of the American Le Mans Series? As
Job put it earlier, “I made the decision to purchase the car last fall from Max
Crawford, even though I had no sponsorship commitments, because I wanted a
chance at winning overall.”

New York, New York, it’s a hell of a town…
  Five days before Job’s official tie up with Ruby Tuesday, at the New York Auto
Show the Acura division of the Honda Motor Company announced its intention to
throw its corporate hat into the LMP2 division wars of the American Le Mans
Series. Starting in 2007, Honda will join Porsche in that class, and adding to the
ALMS’ list of participating major manufacturers, a roster that also includes
General Motors’ GT1 Corvette effort, along with Audi’s massively superior R10
turbo diesel LMP1 Sebring winner, and the factory supported but privateer
Zuffenhausen 911 GT3RSR brigade in GT2, where BMW has re-entered the fray
with the M3s of Tom Milner’s Prototype Technology Group. Moreover, the
somewhat less official, but nevertheless still potent Prodrive GT1 Aston Martin
DB9Rs and the Mazda LMP2 Courage, with the new Lexus GT2 entries yet to

Hardware Wars
  The management of the ALMS is rightly proud of its car maker roster, noting that
this involvement is proof of the fact that the Don Panoz owned title chase provides
a suitable stage for these well known, high end automotive companies to get their
message across to an audience they consider to be their customer base. Indeed,
in a recent interview Scott Atherton, the head of not only the ALMS, but the boss of
the entire multi-faceted Panoz Automotive Group, made it clear to this columnist
that the ALMS is intended to appeal to an audience that looks at their vehicles as
something more than transportation appliances.

  To that end, the ALMS has followed the historical path in sports car competition of
accepting and encouraging the use of advanced and different technological
approaches to the challenges laid by those drafting the rules. And, while anyone
who believes that motor sport is the primary forum for developing new road going
technology is mistaken, the immediate needs of the sport do tend to provide a
universe in which ideas can be tested in a harsh reality that will help bring them to
market far sooner than otherwise might have been expected.

  From disc brakes to motronic injection systems (and let’s not forget rearview
mirrors), there is a multitude of drawing board ideas that were, at least in part,
perfected through racing. Yet, the investment needed for this is huge – far beyond
the individual ability most can afford. Take for example the R10, a product of the
ACO’s brave new attempt to explore alternative answers to today’s energy woes by
pushing the sport’s envelope. As laudable as the intentions of the Le Mans
organizers might be, there is virtually no-one, other than a factory, who can finance
the effort to put the R10 on track. That effort included no less than 12 engineers
alone to look after the diesel V-12s of the two cars at Sebring.

  Further, so sophisticated are Porsche’s LMP2 Penske-run RS Spyders, the
prototypes for what the German claims will be a privateer program next season,
that the Weissach engineers and Porsche’s management have been debating
how many of the open topped racers they can actually produce for sale, given the
fact that each and every one will require a substantial amount of factory support.
And, while the Acura LMP2 project will begin using proprietary Courage and Lola
chassis, ultimately the division is reported to want to build their own cars to go
along with their new 3.4-liter double overhead cam V-8 which will be installed in
the British and French-built two seaters.

Chance the Gardener
  So what is an individual to do? In that answer could well lay the future of not just
the ALMS and the Grand Am, but professional sports car road racing in North
America itself. Put simply, there are only so many persons who are willing to
invest, either as drivers or owners, in the sport. At the moment this seriously finite
pool is effectively being offered to two choices. The first is to play in the large
upscale pond as something less than a star performer, while the second is to
bask in the center stage spotlight of a much less visible theater.

  So far this limited gene pool has chosen the latter, rather than the former, with
the chances being slim that they will switch back anytime soon. So if the entry lists
of the Rolex tour are filling up with those needed by the ALMS to bolster its grid
sizes, and if those putting their money where they feel their hearts are, what is the
ALMS going to do for entrants in the long term? While the grid for the Rolex 24 was
the largest in many years, the opposite was true for Sebring. The ALMS is, in fact
offering an unmatched stage, yet in order to produce a hit play, in must have the
actors to do so. In this case, it seems that most of those have disappeared to
summer stock.

  From an overall viewpoint, there are no ships here sinking, or about to sink
because of this trend. However, the matter of where Alex Job and Ruby Tuesday
decide to take their business is one of fundamental importance that goes far
beyond a simple tax day announcement.

                                                                          Bill Oursler
                                                                           April 2006

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