Everybody wants to rule the World
Forget equality. Some people get things before other people. That was
demonstrated recently when Grand American officials moved to “protect” their
Daytona Prototype concept, even before others in sports car racing had thought
about hijacking it.
At their recent Phoenix weekend, Grand Am officials proposed a new licensing
agreement between themselves and their Daytona Prototype constructors. Under
the plan, Grand Am would give the DP manufacturers exclusivity in return for the
manufacturers agreeing to “keep their products at home” by accepting a Grand
Am oversight on who could and who could not purchase their sports racers.
The boy’s a time bomb
Earlier this year, in an interview with American Le Mans Series executive Scott
Atherton, your columnist raised the issue of the ALMS making a place for the
Daytona Prototypes in some form within the series’ rules structure. Atherton in
reply said that he did not believe that such an arrangement was possible with the
Le Mans organizers from whom the ALMS leases its regulations, at “this time.”
Perhaps the Grand Am folks picked up on the phrase “not at this time,” but, more
likely what happened was that they could see the simple truth: namely that those
building Daytona Prototypes are about the only people building new design
prototypes anywhere in the world. Naturally, someone is going to notice that fact,
and figure out that just maybe, despite their flaws, which clearly includes their
appearance, there might be other places where these homegrown racers could
Lost in translation
Yet, this is not the clear, but rather murky waters into which we are sailing. For one
thing, the Grand Am contingent would have little or no control over one of the
current DP carmakers producing a modified version of what they currently
manufacture. Further, there are any number of others who could create their own
Daytona Prototype-based sports racers, among them ALMS boss Don Panoz and
his G-Force company, whose single seaters are extremely competitive in the IRL,
not to mention such firms as Lola, Dallara, etc.
Moreover, no one has written any rules outside the Grand Am that would permit
these vehicles to race in new territories. And, as if that weren’t enough, one Grand
Am Daytona Prototype manufacturer of note said that the whole notion of trying to
modify the existing Grand Am designs to run elsewhere was not cost effective.
As he put it, “It would be far simpler to create completely new cars, keeping some
of the cost effective concepts built into the Daytona Prototype rulesbook than it
would be to try and recast what we have now.” Indeed, this source was quick to
point out that the Daytona Prototypes are a rollback of modern technology, and
could be much improved in terms of performance if such items as carbon-fiber
chassis and alike were included from the beginning.
Clearly the Daytona Prototypes were created so that the Grand Am could find its
own successful niche in the marketplace. That they have done so far is a tribute to
those who brought them into existence. However, even with the close racing they
have produced, the fact is that the Daytona Prototypes in no way fit the worldwide
idea of what a true sports racer should be in today’s high tech environment. Trying
to sell these cars to the public is a far different proposition than selling them to
competitors who are well aware of the limitations on their finances.
A question of balance
So the question becomes what is the rest of the world to do? The first thing is
probably to get the manufacturers to create cars that while not taking cost
effectiveness to the ultimate degree like the Daytona Prototypes, are cost effective
enough to run so that privateers can campaign them as was done in the era of the
Porsche 956/962. In the early 1990’s when Max Mosely and Bernie Ecclestone
substituted Formula One high technology for the “practical” Group C prototypes
that had gone before, they sowed the seeds that nearly out sports car racing out of
business. Perhaps the truly smart thing would be to go back to that earlier era, at
least so far as it existed in IMSA’s Camel GT, and proceed from there. Like they
say, sometimes it is better to relive history than try to change it.