Never mind the width, feel the quality..........
The 2006 edition of the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona saw the race returning to full
pomp and glory...........cars, drivers, spectators............it had everything, but as with
every Garden of Eden there are a few bad apples, not to mention the odd
serpent....Andrew Cotton, a notorious fugitive and desperado from pit lanes world-
wide, was there.........here are his thoughts.
|Never mind the width, feel the quality…………|
Ready Steady Eddie
Eddie, the gatekeeper at the Nextel Tower of the Daytona International
Speedway, encapsulated all that is good and all that is bad about America. As
Brooks sought a place to leave his car and camera gear on race morning to save
lugging the gigantic phallic extensions around, Kenny offered to pretend that the
car was his and left it in an A1 spot. He then proceeded to tell us his life story,
including the passing of a kidney stone that left him in hospital for three days and
a medical bill that stretched beyond $70,000. Three months off work as a
construction worker, now in chronic debt and with every reason to be miserable,
he was later spotted cheerfully helping a motorist whose car was overheating.
Welcome to the new-look Daytona.
There were two ways of looking at this year’s 24 hour race. The first was that it
was an unpredictable event, backed up by a superb driving line-up and with some
of America’s finest teams including Alex Job Racing, Chip Ganassi Racing, and
Brumos in attendance. The pre-race form guide could not pick a winner and even
on Sunday morning it was no clearer who would claim the coveted Rolex Daytona
watches. There were spins, incidents, overtaking and 13 different leaders during
the course of the race, and the winning margin after 24 hours was just a single
In order to finish first, you must first finish
The other way of looking at it is that behind the stellar drivers’ list the machinery
was not up to the task in this, Grand-Am’s signature event. The cars are not the
most complicated in the world, yet none could go the distance without problems.
Have we regressed 20 or 30 years to the time when drivers had to baby their cars
through the endurance races just to get to the finish? Modern day racing cars
should be able to cope with running flat out over long distance events held in mild
ambient temperatures. If Jan Lammers can run his Dome Judd for 24-hours at Le
Mans reliably on a shoestring or Henri Pescarolo can come close to winning the
big race with his meagre budget, how come Chip Ganassi Racing’s Lexus Riley
(with a reputed annual budget of $4m) had so many problems and by rights
should not have got even close to Victory Lane?
Roger Edmondson, Grand-Am’s president, said post race that most of the
season was made up of two-hour 45 minute races, and at the 24-hours we found
out which cars were 18, 20 or 24-hour machines. The fact was that none of them
lasted 24-hours; each of the 13 leaders, including the eventual winner, struck
major mechanical problems, save the Sun Trust Riley which got written off in an
accident. The reason we weren’t sure the Chip Ganassi Racing Lexus Riley
would win was simply that we could not be certain that it would hold together after
brake (Saturday afternoon when a pad popped out), electrical (low voltage at dusk,
changed the battery) and gearbox problems (shortly before dawn).
Just the Job
The Alex Job Crawford Porsche was the fastest in qualifying, and the fastest in
the race, yet the driveshaft manufacturer recommended new CV joint boots for
final practice and the race. They failed in final practice, failed two hours into the
race to drop the car nine laps down on the leaders, and the driveshaft failed on
Sunday morning after the team had pulled back those nine laps, and three more!
AJR finished third after Sascha Maassen’s third-placed Brumos Fabcar car broke
up in the final hour and suffered a puncture, not helped by contact with Scott
Dixon’s Chip Ganassi Lexus Riley, which collected a drive-through penalty before
taking the chequer flag. The AJR and Brumos Porsches both eased off the gas
towards the end with overheating issues.…
Eddie Cheever’s car just was not fast enough, and neither was the lead Brumos
car. Both led before Cheever’s retired on Sunday morning with a blown engine,
and the Brumos car had a leaking cooling hose before the puncture. Wallace,
Leitzinger and Tony Stewart never had the power to compete and suffered
electrical problems during the race, Danica Patrick retired on Saturday night with
overheating problems before the race was half over…the list just goes on, and on,
Patrick’s inclusion in the line-up brought an awful lot of media interest from non-
racing areas, but by Saturday the novelty had worn off. Written media were banned
from the pit tent while she was in there – you could only get in if you had a
television camera slung over your shoulder. I had run-ins with similar goons
when the Earnhardts were racing for Corvette back in 2001 and have since
developed a dislike of the consequences of inflated egos.
Professional drivers are admittedly talented people who are the best at doing
their job, but I hold them in the same regard as a skilled carpenter, plumber,
accountant or anyone who can put together an Ikea wardrobe. All these skills are
beyond me, and the majority of the population, but being able to drive quickly
should not warrant egomania. I hold Allan McNish and Jan Lammers in the
highest regard as drivers, yet was welcomed into their motorhome on Friday
armed only with three tea bags and a tape recorder. That, right there, is how
proper endurance racing drivers conduct themselves.
Lay aside the gripes about the machinery, and Grand Am has to be applauded
for its success. It attracted more than 30 top class cars, a cast of drivers that was
simply awesome, and once again they held an exemplary, well organised event.
Autosport’s Gary Watkins deserves praise for pulling up ISC representatives who
announced a record crowd, but refused to say how many turned up. “How do you
know it was a record, then?” I think it was 50,000, but the figure was muted by
muffled giggles from the assembled hacks.
Edmondson’s goal for this year is to attract more ‘Fortune 500’ companies to the
series, which is already self-sufficient and profitable. The cars, wonderfully
dubbed proto-turtles by Kerry Morse, are not to everyone’s taste, but there is no
question that the business model is working.
I really enjoyed Daytona. Whether it was waking up in a room overlooking the
Atlantic Ocean, meeting people like Eddie, watching 70-odd cars blasting around
the banking in Florida sunshine, or simply easing back into the new racing
season after the dark months in the UK, the 2006 Rolex 24 Hours was a great