Godot’s Waiting Room?
It was with no small sense of shock on Friday morning I looked outside the Sea
Garden Hotel to discover that Daytona Beach, the sandy stretch on which land
speed records were set and NASCAR was born, is no more . The hotel itself,
dubbed by Damien Faulkner last year as “God’s Waiting Room,” is a triumph of
modern design, having withstood the hurricanes that swept away the sand banks
further out to sea, and sucked out the beach to allow the water almost up to the
The Sea Garden is planning to re-install its bar, a major step in the right direction
as Mark Cole, Chris Parsons, Brooks and myself descend on the hotel each year.
The Dead Mobster over the road will be done out of a roaring trade during the 24-
hours next year if the bar does, indeed, make it back into existence. At $50/night,
there is no hotel in which I would rather stay during the Rolex 24 than the ever
faithful building which stood firm as those around it lost their roofs, paint, doors
and so forth. Unfortunately our favourite Japanese restaurant has been closed
since those high winds, so dinner options were limited.
DIS is de charm
Mind you, having stuffed my face with steak at Websters on Thursday night,
shortly after arriving, and with a more than substantial breakfast at Vanessa’s in
the morning – the only place in the entire paddock serving proper coffee, eggs,
and spot-on sausages, there was little need to worry about food. It used to be that
Vanessa’s overtly generous hospitality was also just about the only place with a
welcoming smile, but the international media corps did notice that the Daytona
staff and constabulary, with whom I have had the odd altercation in the past, were
on a major charm offensive.
From the moment I arrived at the front gate there were smiles and welcoming
noises emitting from the staff, who are more used to huge numbers of NASCAR
fans each trying it on with guns, loose women and illegal substances. I would like
to think that endurance racing, with a lower crowd figure and more freedom to
move around the paddock and meet drivers, makes for a nicer atmosphere than
350,000 people squashed into the grandstands, unable to move for fear of being
The new paddock at Daytona was well thought out, made life easier for the
teams and my only criticism was that it was different. I have spent so much time
rolling out of the Benny Kahn centre in years gone by, struggling to find each of the
80-odd teams in the garages spaced out over a quarter of a mile; the new
sanitised paddock complex left me lost, dazed and confused for much of Friday.
More than one NASCAR driver expressed his shock at seeing the crowd, who
could get close, even touch and, oh Lordy, ask for an autograph. Motor racing at is
grass roots, eh?
And Now for News of the Future.................
The news stories to come out of Daytona were almost writing themselves and
concerned the manufacturers of the ALMS rather than the Rileys and Dorans of
Grand Am. I am still struggling to appreciate these cars, and Grand Am still has a
long way to go to improve brand awareness.
Why did the likes of Lucas Luhr and Sascha Maassen re-sign for Porsche when
they have won just about everything, including two ALMS titles, the FIA GT
Championship, Sebring more times than anyone else on the grid, and Le Mans
so many times that Luhr elected to race the Nurburgring 24-hours instead? What
was it that Porsche offered? A prototype.
There have been so many rumours about Porsche’s return to racing that you
could be forgiven for wondering if this is not just the latest of a bad dose of wishful
I understand this is different, with Porsche engineers working on a V8 engine for
the past 18 months. The Cayenne off-roader was, and is, considered to be a step
in the wrong direction for Porsche, a sports car manufacturer, and one wonders
what it would have done instead. Would another sports car have had the same
I have been worried that Porsche would lose sight of its racing heritage. It has
lost most of the exemplary team which ran the racing division through the 1980s
and 1990s and the German manufacturer was in danger of concentrating on
profit-making programmes such as the Supercup programme and the GT3RSR.
Norbert Singer was hired as a consultant, but in Porsche’s shoes, I would have
done the same thing to prevent anyone else hiring him.
Now, I hear that Porsche is re-building its racing division in a proper way, and
Hartmut Kristen says this will lead to another programme. I understand that
Porsche plans to do an LMP2 car for the Petit Le Mans and make that car
available to customers for the 2006 season. It will then concentrate on doing an
LMP1 car, and the belief of Audi’s Dr Wolfgang Ullrich is that it will be a different
How does Ullrich know? I asked him after the Daytona weekend whether Audi
would do the same thing. It would make sense, I put it to him, that to produce an
LMP1 car, and put a smaller engine in it for LMP2 purposes, would increase the
number of your cars on the grid, could make for affordable racing and would help
prototype grid numbers. LMP2 cars do not need all the gizmos and gadgets that
an LMP1 car would have, and LMP2 is no longer a class from which cars may win
Ullrich denied that this would happen. It is not the optimal way to go, said the
man who has supported prototype racing staunchly over the past few years. It
makes sense, yes, but not racing sense. You build cars to the regulations, not
offer a compromised solution. That is that, then.
So, if Porsche is doing two cars, it must be a long way down the line already and,
since the story has come out, more people have held up their hands and said:
“Yup, I knew about that.” The manufacturer is planning to run a car this year, joy to
the ears of those of us who grew up with the 956s and 962s and who relish the
prospect of Audi against Porsche at the great circuits of the world in the LMES, the
ALMS and the holy of holies, Les Vingt Quatre Heures du Mans.
She was Tall, Thin and Tarty and She Drove a Maserati........faster than sound
Maserati is another manufacturer with designs on greatness, though here we
are on a very sticky wicket. Maserati wants the MC12 to race in the American Le
Mans Series, and the ALMS wants the Maserati. However, the ACO, which controls
the regulations of the Le Mans and all of its affiliates, has not been asked to
homologate the car yet, and knows that it is the wrong size. All sides are tip-toeing
around each other, knowing that a Maserati against a Corvette and an Aston
Martin is just what the ALMS needs, but fearful of upsetting the other in the
knowledge that one false move could bring the whole plan tumbling down.
I doubt this will happen and have gone ahead and stated the bleeding obvious.
Rival teams within the ALMS have accepted the car racing in its current guise, but
have asked for restrictions which have not yet been approved by the ALMS or by
However, in the Daytona paddock, with various ALMS teams, drivers and
followers, I could find no one who believed the Maserati would not race. Only Scott
Atherton, a man who is discreet and respected, refused to say so, though he did
admit that there was a package of incentives put together which, if approved,
would allow the car to race.
The one fly in the ointment comes from another source. The politics of motor
manufacturers transcends the racing and occasionally it intrudes at inopportune
moments. This is just such a time. Ferrari, Maserati’s parent company, only
expects to break even this year despite phenomenal success with its own brands;
Maserati is the main drain on profits and cash. Plans for Ferrari to float its stock
are on hold till this issue can be resolved. Ferrari hopes to sell the loss-making
brand Maserati back to the Fiat Group. This would leave Ferrari in an immediately
profitable situation, according to Automotive News Europe, and Fiat with Maserati.
The plan is to align Maserati with Alfa Romeo but that course would spell the end
of any more projects such as the MC12.
Should this cunning plan fail, under an agreement between the Fiat Group and
General Motors, the Fiat group may hand over to GM any loss-making brand. You
can see where this is going, now, can’t you? If Maserati ultimately finishes up in
the hands of GM, will the American giant allow Corvette and the MC12 to race
against each other? Probably not, but I am way down the line with that theory and
it is way too early to speculate.
GM’s Doug Duchardt is now leaving to go to Hendrick Motorsports, leaving a gap
at the head of GM’s racing division. I asked Corvette’s Doug Fehan if he would do
the job. He suggested he might not be in the running, and reacted with horror
when I offered to put my cv in the post and become his boss. This, Doug, I would
never do. Although I know I am well qualified to do the job, such a position would
mean rooms at the Hilton, and I am much more a Sea Garden kinda Guy.