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David Soares on the Foundation of Revolt – Grand Am Round 6 at Laguna Seca

  Even before the checkered flag had waved on the Sunday main at this year’s
Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca Road and Track 250 for the Grand Am Rolex
Sports Car Series, I could hear the clamoring of the sportscar partisans about the
result.  What wasn’t to like?  Fourteen of the twenty-eight prototypes finished on
the lead lap, with a scant three seconds separating first and second, and barely a
second between the top two finishers of seventeen starters in GT.  Others sniffed
that forty minutes of the first hour were spent behind the safety car and that the
time-limited race wound up being the Rodent Track 197 rather than the billed
Road and Track 250.

  Close racing or contrived bunch-ups?  I really didn’t care.  I enjoy the Grand Am
for what it is.  While I’ll never consider it to be the premier road racing series its
shills try to claim it to be, I think that it fits nicely into the continuum of American
racing, harking back to the early days of IMSA and the All-American GT’s or to the
tube-frame contingent of the late-lamented Trans Am.

Pledging My Time
  This year there is even more to like.  In another echo of tube-frame glory days,
when second generation Porsche man Al Holbert showed up with a DeKon
Monza, perennial Porsche GT stalwarts Alex Job Racing have joined the DP ranks.
Tired of being derided for merely winning everything in sight because he’s “factory
backed” in the last of four classes but really only barely cracking the top-10, Alex
Job is in the running for overall wins and a national championship with his
Porsche Crawford now sponsored by Ruby Tuesday restaurants.  Patrick Long
won Saturday’s qualifying sprint leading from flag to flag after topping the timing
sheets consistently.

  On Sunday young German phenom Mike Rockenfeller started from the pole Patty
had earned him and was pulling a second a lap on the field when he wasn’t
following the Pontiac GTO safety car.  The team was eventually slowed by the
overcrowded pits and then felled by a shift-linkage failure, but wags in the pits
were playing their “factory backed” violins just like they do in the Other Sportscar
Series.  Holly Job presents a convincing case that the team is emphatically NOT
“factory backed” but some people don’t want to hear it.  My own walk around the
paddock looking at naked DP’s suggested that Job’s experience with this
particular performance envelope (remember, the DP was normed to the Porsche
GT3 RSR) has led to a superior chassis set-up.  The Alex Job Crawford is put
together nicer than everybody else’s, and it makes those rock hard skateboard
wheels Hoosier is supplying work to their full potential.

  The series threw Job a few pounds of considerable ballast and a big rev-
restriction after the second race they ran, but it hasn’t seemed to make a big
difference.  You also can’t under-rate driving talent.  I had the privilege of seeing
Mike Rockenfeller’s Iron Man act at Le Mans last summer when he and Marc Lieb
relieved Leo Hindery of the need to sweat and slide to victory.  Patrick Long is also
brilliant.  Just to bring home the point that drivers do make a difference in this
series, the Sun Trust Riley Pontiac won the 197 on Sunday thanks in large part to
super-sub Jan Magnussen’s hard charge during his early stint.  No more whining
about the disadvantage of Pontiac power.  Word around the paddock was that the
sportscar world hasn’t heard the last of Mags.

500 years of the cuckoo clock…
  All those full-course cautions really fried my bacon, but they weren’t entirely the
fault of Grand Am.  They were the result of the meddling of a little motorcycle club
in Mies, Switzerland, the Federation International de Motocyclisme.  Road racing
has been struggling at the gate in this country for over a decade, since CART
imploded from its own success.  At the end of the Eighties Laguna got bumped up
to international length through the addition of the lakebed section in hopes of
attracting Bernie’s Kart circus, but that wasn’t going to be financially feasible on
the Monterey Peninsula.  In the meantime local lights like Kenny Roberts and
Wayne Rainey were tearing up the European motorcycle firmament.  After a couple
of fits and starts, Moto GP came to Monterey.  Suddenly the track that was having
trouble selling 4500 tickets to a Champ Car race was selling-out a weekend.
Promoter nirvana.

  The only problem is that the insane power-to-weight ratio of a GP bike, when
combined with teeny-tiny contact patches and a dusty Fort Ord lakebed, led to
visions of frightening carnage.  I have such a healthy respect for bikes that I swore
them off about thirty years ago after soiling a perfectly good pair of undershorts
riding my cousin’s Moto Guzzi 850 Le Mans in the local hills.  When you find the
limits of adhesion on a powerful motorcycle you need a good place to lay it down,
and the Federation International de Motocyclisme has laid down how.  I guess that
they were watching re-runs of David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia and realized that
the sands of the Empty Quarter were a better place to pitch a bike than an English
hedgerow.  I don’t know for sure.

Twango bango
  What I do know is that my beloved Laguna Seca Raceway has been subject to a
massive earth-moving campaign, with entire hillsides scraped away, bridges
moved, and the Media Center knocked down (and moved to a stack of containers
that look to be from the Port of Oakland).  In their place are vast sandtraps on every
runoff area into which the Moto GP riders may slide their skinny leather-clad asses
when the twist of the right grip outmatches the ability of the of their rear tire to grip
the pavement.

  I really hate when racing people get hurt (or worse).  I was shaken to my bones
when I happened to be sitting in the grass on one of those missing hillsides a
quarter-century ago when George Follmer flew the Prophet Can-Am car over the
fences at what was then Laguna’s Turn Seven.  I can still hear the sound of Clay
Reggazoni furiously downshifting his Ensign at Long Beach and having the
sickening realization that the Shoreline Straight ended in immovable concrete
barriers.  Decent run-off areas might have saved George’s back and Regga’s
legs.  There have been too many good people hurt on both sides of the barriers
not to care about racing safety.

Mrs. Peel on a Ducati…
  But what is safe for one kind of motorsport isn’t necessarily what’s best for
everyone.  That soft sand can be quicksand for the “historic” cars also popular at
Laguna Seca.  I can also remember a guy in a plastic Lotus Elite thinking that he
could brake with the Elan 26R’s in his run group a few years ago at the Historics.
He hit the sand trap at Turn Two with his wheels turned, just the way driving
instructors tell you not to.  The outside front dug in and the car was launched into
the fencing eight feet off the ground, landing the driver an ambulance ride to a
Salinas ICU.

  Modern racing cars are more stable than a 1960 Elite, but the FIM sand traps will
beach them as solidly as the Moro Castle ran up on the Jersey Shore.  The
SCCA’s tow trucks just aren’t up to the task of digging them out.  The first
grounding incident on lap 8 took nine laps to clear.  There were seven official full-
course cautions during the race (there would have been an eighth but the checker
had been waived) due to off-course excursions.  It wasn’t a problem during
Saturday’s single-class (full-points) qualifying sprints, but when multiple classes
take to the track, you’re going to have a few offs.  These used to be quick
unassisted returns to the racing surface but now they require a fleet of recovery
vehicles worthy of the Dakar Raid.

Bucks in the bank…
  Moto GP is keeping Laguna Seca solvent.  The circuit has the advantage of being
FIM-certified, an advantage that means something in a series that has such strict
requirements for rider safety that they run three of their European rounds in Spain
at circuits where they don’t have to worry about run-off.  But the vast dune-scapes
that have been created at a circuit that has been an oak-shaded temple of
American road racing for half a century are clogging-up the racing. ALMS boosters
can gloat that their cars managed to stay on the road the past couple of visits, but
then they can’t start 48 cars, can they?  There’s a lot of traffic at a Grand Am race –
and a tremendous diversity (shall we say) of driving talent and car preparation.
That’s what makes the series so entertaining to watch.

The Seven Pillars of Wisdom
  Somebody’s got to come up with a better plan for recovering high-centered cars
at Laguna.  Or maybe T.E. Lawrence had it right.  It’s said that he favored the
Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost armored cars.  I can see it now.  Maybe PTG can revive
BMW’s captive brand heritage in partnership with A1 GP’s Sheik al Maktoum…

                                                                         David Soares
                                                                          May 2006

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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