Bill Oursler on how to get the Job done….
Rarity. It’s worth money. Indeed, it is a major reason why the price of Ferrari-built
sports racers is so much higher than their Porsche counterparts, there being so
many more of the latter in existence than the former. For the Grand American’s
Rolex Sports Car Series rarity, at least when it comes to the number of cars, has
not been an issue. In fact, with more than 60 starters at last month’s Daytona 24
Hours, quite the opposite is true.
If that’s the case, then why bring up the issue at all? The answer can be found in
the perception of the championship held by many enthusiasts, especially those
outside the United States who see the Rolex tour as a “K-Mart” brand rather than a
“world class” product. Clearly, the Grand American tour is not traditional, a fact that
Grand Am officials have touted ever since they announced the rules restricted
Daytona Prototype concept in late 2001.
And party every day….
At the time the organization’s president, Roger Edmondson told the media that
there was a need to reach a far broader audience than existed in the traditional
road course fan base. To Edmondson and Grand Am’s investor, the answer was
easy: Eschew sophisticated and expensive technology, and replace it with
something that leveled the playing field for all. In a way it was an expression of the
“KISS” (keep it simple stupid) syndrome, but placed in a sport not used to
The result has led to a success story in terms of participant acceptance. From a
population of less than ten, the number of Daytona Prototypes today is reaching
toward 50; a figure large enough that this season the Grand Am will begin splitting
the prototypes off from their GT production-based brethren on a regular basis to
create “stand alone” shows for both. Yet, as we have noted in previous columns,
public acceptance has been another matter, this not withstanding the Grand Am’s
figures showing increases in its at the track attendance and its at home television
If the truth were to be known, no matter how many entrants, or how much black
ink the Rolex series can generate, it has not caught on with the traditionalists. And,
again, not withstanding the premise upon which it is current built, not having the
traditional fan base on board has not helped in the effort to bring a new, younger,
non traditional pool of fans to the championship’s front door on any kind of a
Presence makes perfect…
To put it another way, The Rolex title chase is your father’s Oldsmobile, but so far
it isn’t your’s either. Once more the fundamental reason isn’t too hard to grasp.
The traditional fans are, in reality, salespersons for the sport they love, and so far
they have seen little reason to go out selling. But, why is this so? Not only does the
Rolex have huge car counts, and more than a sprinkling of well known drivers, it
likewise has some of the closest racing ever seen in this form of motor sport.
Closer observation reveals that the Grand American tour lacks a “presence,” a
reason to make itself be important to the audience its wants to attract. To many it
is easy to ignore than the Rolex Sports Car Series because it is a championship
fought out at its headlining levels between companies such as Ford, Lexus and
Pontiac, not Ferrari, Porsche, Jaguar or Alfa Romeo. Arrogance perhaps, but truth
nonetheless; at least up to now.
Casey at the throttle…
Today, things may be changing on that score. And all because of one man, who
wants “to win overall.” That individual is longtime racer and semi- Porsche
privateer, Alex Job. The possessor of a complex personality, the Orlando area
resident has made a name for himself in the American Le Mans Series running in
the GT2 production category with factory assisted Porsche 911 GT3RS and RSR
coupes, winning multiple championships and, in the process becoming the
benchmark for others to shoot at. By last September Job wanted something more,
he wanted to win outright, a goal made virtually impossible in the ALMS by the
presence of factory teams such as Audi.
Thus last fall while at Road Atlanta for the annual Petit Le Mans event there, he
took a trip to Denver, North Carolina, and purchased a chassis from Max Crawford,
even though it was on his nickel, and without current sponsorship to fund the
program. Assistance from Porsche came in the form of factory drivers Patrick
Long, Mike Rockenfeller and Lucas Luhr, plus limited technical assistance. The
result was a Porsche-powered prototype that, if it wasn’t the class of the field, was
at least its most solid performer, being quickest in pre-season testing, taking the
pole at Daytona, and coming back from ten laps down due to halfshaft failures to
take a three-lap lead just before suffering yet another broken axle just before
In the end Job was forced to settle for third. Yet, the impression his team’s
performance left behind was far greater than that. In the end, Job’s crew
demonstrated the Grand Am wasn’t just for the American domestic
manufacturers, or their Japanese counterparts. Rather, what was left was the
feeling that for the first time since victory at Le Mans in 1998, a Porsche could play
at the front of the field, and not simply on a one shot basis, but over the long haul.
And while, there have been Porsche powered Daytona Prototypes before, and the
Rolex Sports Car Series might not have the stature of a Le Mans, the Daytona 24
Hours could well prove to be the foundation for an expanded up rise in the
importance attached to Porsche of Porsche’s racing fortunes.
It’s a rolling thing…
Before others point out that Porsche has already taken steps to upgrade its
motor sport presence with the Roger Penske DHL sponsored LMP2 RS Spyder
program in the ALMS, let us note that the Porsche effort will have to share the
stage with, and may even be somewhat eclipsed by, the new diesel technology
Audi R10’s. Not to take anything away from that effort, but even there,
Zuffenhausen has chosen the second tier in which to play, where as winning in
the Grand Am means winning period.
Still, Job’s Porsche Crawford does indeed represent a possible turning point, not
an accomplished fact when it comes to increasing the public’s acceptance of the
Rolex championship and the philosophy behind it. But that’s a step in a positive
direction that didn’t exist prior to Daytona. With just the Alex Job car, and possibly
the redone Brumos Porsche Fabcars, the German company’s involvement when
compared to its opposition, is something of a rarity. However, rarity can mean in
this situation at least, priceless new attention that could make the Rolex Grand
American title chase as important as any other sports car series in the world. Not
only simply a financial success, but an artistic one as well. After all every tree was
once a small seedling.