Got Live If You Want It Bill Oursler on Sebring
If Sebring’s just concluded 12-Hour enduro proved anything, it was that the old
days are most definitely over. And, while that may seem obvious, considering that
for the first time in history a diesel powered automobile won a major motorsport
event, what we’re talking about here is something a little different. Rather than
technology, this discussion centers around information, or more specifically its
flow, the management of that flow, and the ways it is used to either deceive or
misdirect the public.
No where is this more clear than in NASCAR where a single body, wrapped in
differing decals and front plastic body clips serves in front engine, rear drive form
as an on track representative for a variety of four door, front engine, front drive
vehicles from a variety of manufacturers. What is surprising about this is that the
millions of NASCAR fans accept this situation without question, and move on;
perhaps proving in the process that the old idea of “win on Sunday, sell on
Monday,” has become more myth than fact.
Cheer, Boys, Cheer
The president of the American Le Mans Series, of which Sebring was the
opening round, Scott Atherton, told this columnist that the foundation for the ALMS
is its relevance to its fan base, a relevance founded on the technology brought to
the series by manufacturers like Audi and Porsche, whose new supposedly
“second banana” LMP2 category RS Spyders are quicker than any of their
opposition except the diesel Audi R10s. Atherton supported his position by noting
that the advance ticket sales for the Mobil 1 backed 12-Hour central Florida show
were the biggest in many years, perhaps among the largest ever.
Anyone attending Sebring or watching it on television would have to agree that in
terms of crowd size, Atherton was more than right. It was packed. Yet, one has to
wonder if the racing was entertaining, for in the end racing is not a technical
exercise, but entertainment. From the start, the battle up at the head of the field
was less than thrilling, with Audi leading all the way. Still, there was drama as
one dropped out before the midway point, while the other, the winning car of Allan
McNish, Tom Kristensen and Rinaldo Capello was forced to start from the pit
And, if there was anything interesting in the dominant performance of the Audis it
was their potential fragility. Not only were Kristensen, Capello and McNish forced
to give up their pole winning position after a heat exchanger failed during the
warm up before the green flag, leaving the crew to hurriedly install a replacement,
just getting the job completed before the race was underway, but their
compatriots, Frank Biela, Marco Werner and Emanuele Pirro departed the affair
with overheating issues, we think.
We can’t be sure, of course, because the Audi team was something less than
forthcoming about exactly what did happen to the early race leader, a posture
presumably dictated by the fact that the presence of the Audi diesels, indeed, their
very existence was an exercise intended to boost sales of not only the brand’s
range of new technology diesel street cars, but those of it parent Volkswagen AG
as well. And, certainly one wouldn’t want to tarnish one’s commercial image by
admitting to their flaws in public.
In contrast, the Penske Porsche team was far more open about the difficulties
with its two potent DHL backed LMP2 RS Sypders, both of which were forced to
retire with drivetrain issues, one with a failed clutch, the other with what was said
to be a broken driveshaft. The latter problem came less that an hour from the end
after Sascha Maassen, Lucas Luhr and Emanuel Collard had worked its way up
to second overall and first in its class after an early stop to repair an electrical
It was that charge which brought some spark to what had been a “set piece”
story at the front of the field, which had been in place for much of the event.
(Fortunately the contest in the two production divisions, the one in GT1 between
the Corvettes and the Aston Martins, and the three-way war in GT2 among the
Porsche 911 GT3RSRs, the Panoz Esperantes and the new Risi Ferrari 430 GT
were interesting enough to keep the attention of the fans on site and the television
All that aside, the real lessons of Sebring can be discovered in the area of
information management. From top to bottom, like the political universe, the “spin
is the thing.” The ALMS itself with it’s new “World Class” slogan is tying to tell us
what it is, rather than presenting its product and letting us decide for ourselves.
The teams work hard to make us see them in their best light, even if that light
dims despite their best efforts to keep it bright.
Red Meat, Blue Mood
Don’t get me wrong, we live with the “spinmeister” every day in every way.
However I long for a more simple time; one when the outcome of races are
determined by the rules makers and their agendas; one where manufacturers
take a chance and put their products to a true test instead of picking what they see
as the easiest course to success; and finally one where one’s failures are
acknowledged not buried amidst a ton of public relations inspired words, if they
are acknowledged at all. On the other hand, like the tooth fairy, utopia is just that,
a fairy tale. So in the end, I guess I will have to ignore the annoyances and enjoy
the good moments.