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Daytona Test Days GRAND AM Style

When the Grand American folks introduced there new Daytona Prototype coupes
last year, they were very clear to point out that a key objective was to create
competitive equality through strict rules limitations. No longer would designers be
free to find their own solutions to a given challenge. Now, for many of the key
engineering criteria, those solutions would be mandated.

The idea, said Grand Am was to keep things in balance, not only on the track but
in the pocketbook while providing the maximum in safety production. It was not
then, nor is now the traditional way most of us think of sports car racing. Yet, no
matter what traditionalists feel, the fact is that the Daytona Prototypes appear to be
catching on, and in the process they also appear to have raised the profile of the
Grand Am.

Hey 19
This past weekend no less than 19 of the sports racing coupes were on hand for
the Rolex tourís annual January test days. Thatís nine more cars than there were
at last fallís 2003 Grand Am finale, and thirteen more than raced for much of that
2003 season. And, while one might argue about their looks and their
performance, one canít argue about the fact that no one had an edge.

Fastest was last yearís champion Terry Borcheller and his Bell Motorsports team
consisting of owner Forest Barber, Andy Pilgrim and Mika Duno in their Chevrolet
powered Doran at 1:48.31. Right behind them but all covered by less than a
second, and none slower than 1:49.0 were the Brumos Red Bull Porsche Fabcar
of David Donohue, Darren Law, Sascha Maassen and Lucas Luhr; the Chip
Ganassi entered Riley MKXI Lexus (yes Virginia it used to be a Toyota, but they
changed the valve covers) of Scott Pruett and Max Papis; and the Crawford Chevy,
of Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Tony Stewart and endurance star Andy Wallace.

Quite a mouthful, but if one likes close racing, potentially compelling nevertheless.
Which of course, brings us to the crux of the issue with the Grand Am. Put simply,
the Rolex tour is road racing NASCAR style. Whether Grand Am will be able to
translate what has been a hugely successful oval track formula to the kind of
racing that employes right as well as left hand turns is the big question.

A tradition of traditionlists

Clearly, the traditionalists will most probably turn their noses up at what they
believe is something less than acceptable. At least for the near term future. But,
having attended the the test days, I can say that I havenít this level of interest in the
upcoming Daytona 24 Hours for many years, if not a decade or more. However,
with 59 overall entries and a huge number of production cars Ė even though the
production classes are in a ďtransitional year,Ē The Rolex tour will start 2004 on a
high note.

Again, though, the real test will be if the series can sustain the energy boost
throughout the season. The suspense of who will ultimately prevail in the Daytona
prototype category will no doubt go down to the final race at the California
Speedway next fall. Likewise, the Porsche-Ferrari duel that ended in the Italiansí
favor for 2003 ought to be an on-going contest to the end. Still, can the Grand Am
get the public to care?

Time has come today

One doubts that the NASCAR audience is willing to expand its interest much
beyond the stock car arena. So, it appears that the fate the Daytona Prototypes and
the championship will be in the hands of the traditional road course fan base.
Will they opt to put aside their enthusiasm for technology and replace it with an
equal passion of wheel-to-wheel competition regardless of the performance
specifications of the cars racing? Grand Am is, in the final analysis, betting its
credibility that will happen. In the meantime, this weekendís test session showed
that wanted or not the Rolex baby is reaching the early stages of puberty.

Bill Oursler

Something Missing in the Translation?
King of the Road.............Terry Borcheller and the Doran Chevy
Production Line..........GT/SGS
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