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Late must be Daytona International Speedway and the annual twice round the clock race known as the Rolex 24. It also must time for Andrew Cotton to be slung out of the pits and thanks to Chip G we are not disappointed. So straight from the front line our own member of the Awkward Squad brings us his take on the race and the events bubbling under.

John Brooks
February 2007

The Awkward Squad

Tick Tock
Though Allan McNish was delighted that Johnny Mowlem and Robin Liddell won their Daytona 24-hour watches in 2004, he was still more than slightly pissed off that he hasn’t yet won one. The Rolex watches are treasures – Dominique Dupuy refused to take his off his wrist for months after winning the 24-hours in 2000 for Dodge. Since the introduction of the Daytona prototype class, the top flight European drivers have dropped down the pecking order and now headliners include NASCAR’s finest, including Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart, who is now something of a veteran of the 24 hours. This year, Juan Pablo Montoya joined the competitor’s ranks and immediately won his own watch at the first try. McNish must be incandescent.

Montoya drove better than many expected, and on Sunday morning was part of a three-way battle with Max Angelelli and Ryan Dalziel, the 24-year-old from Lanarkshire in Scotland who led the race and undoubtedly in my view was the star of the show. OK, once again when there was a superstar in the garage I was kicked out (third time following Earnhardt in 2001 and Danica Patrick in 2005, though technically I wasn’t allowed into the garage on that occasion), so that may have coloured my view, but Dalziel was marvellous.

The Citgo team had trimmed the rear wing mid-race for more speed on the banking, but that was where the Scot appeared to be vulnerable. In traffic, with NASCAR’s new superboy on his tail and Angelelli, re-Christened “Max the Axe” by a barking mad commentator (he actually corrected himself having wrongly identified Angelelli as “Mad Max” at one point), Dalziel kept both at bay. He was intimidated; Montoya was a boyhood hero of his, but that just made him all the more determined to keep him behind. And he did so until the pit stops.

Italian Job
Big, though not particularly exciting news, was that Pirelli was taking over the contract to supply tyres to Grand Am from Hoosier. The American company doesn’t make production tyres, preferring to stick to race rubber, but they are widely acknowledged to be terrible in Grand Am circles. It is the same for everyone, granted, and they are not unsafe, yet they are disliked due to their lack of longevity.

Will Pirelli do a better job? Probably, but the interesting bit was that there was nothing for them in the ALMS. Aston Martin was not likely to stay with Pirelli anyway this season, but their withdrawal merely confirmed the fact that Pirelli would not be in GT1. The Panoz Esperante is now an old car, and of limited value to the Italian manufacturer. There was little else for them to choose which speaks volumes for the entry list and the return on investment.

Unofficial sources suggested that Pirelli would therefore withdraw from American racing and stick to a European programme with BMS Scuderia Italia’s Aston Martins, and Maserati. That seemed to be the plan, until the Grand-Am contract came up for grabs. Selling tyres to 71 cars for a 24-hour race will make money, said Pirelli. We are very ‘appy. The teams should get better tyres. They are very ‘appy. Grand-Am maintains its one-make tyre formula, will make money from Pirelli, and has a big-name European-based brand to link with. They are very ‘appy.

The ALMS lost Pirelli as it had nothing else to offer.

Gran Tourismo
BMS will run the factory Porsche in the FIA GT Championship this year, with Emmanuel Collard and possibly Matteo Malucelli, and have a plan to run a Porsche RS Spyder in the future. Sources suggested that would be in 2008, but Pirelli dampened the flames on that one. They need between six and eight months to test their new prototype tyre to compete with Michelin, which has so much experience that the Italians know they are up against it. They also need to find the budget to buy the car, to test it and to race it. It may take them a year to get that sorted out, said Pirelli, meaning no RS Spyder race programme until 2009.
That would boost the LMS numbers in two years, but that grid is already full to bursting. Another project was announced in the immediate aftermath of Daytona. Jean-Denis Deletraz was quietly confident at the Aston Martin party early in January that he had a new LMP1 project, and that we would all be very impressed. That spells trouble for Team Phoenix, with which Deletraz and Andrea Piccini raced in the FIA GT Championship last year, but Deletraz was right. An Audi R8 engine, 3.6 litre twin turbo in the back of a Lola.

It will be the first time that the R8 engine has run without crippling restrictions since 2002. In 2000, the 3.6 V8 engine produced 630bhp. In 2001, that dropped to 620bhp as restrictions bit, went back up to 630bhp in 2002. From there, figures went into freefall, dropping to 570bhp in 2003 and 550bhp in 2005. Deletraz with 630bhp in a lightweight Lola chassis may not get the juices flowing, but Marcel Fassler was in talks to become an Audi driver this year, and will partner the Swiss. And possibly so will Piccini, whose eyes will pop out of his head at first, and he will then be sublimely quick. As good as Minassian or Collard? We shall see. And so will Audi.

They reckon this is the best chance to prove that the ACO’s equivalency between petrol and diesel is parable. No doubt Audi will be taking its own measurements against the diesel performance – Peugeot has a 5.5 litre, V12 diesel after all, the same as their own R10 TDI power plant. If it all goes well for Audi in the LMS, they will trumpet the results and stick two fingers up at IMSA. If it all goes badly, well, the engine is eight years old, run as a customer programme with only one engineer, and in the back of a chassis that has the compromises necessary to take multiple engines…

And given the chance, Audi will stick two fingers up at IMSA, Dr Ullrich again re- iterating that he has the support of the board to withdraw from the ALMS if they feel they are being hard done by. The LMP2s will not run with the smaller air restrictors, a fact that matters little at Sebring, but may matter a lot at street circuits, and in the Houston car park. Audi expected that IMSA would use its two chances to restrict the R10 TDI during the season. However, IMSA has already penalised the R10 TDI before racing begins, and has two more chances to do so, leaving Audi unhappy but short of options.

They have already confirmed that they will not race in the LMS this year, and Ullrich made it clear on Monday that he would not countenance a switch to the LMS even if they decided to withdraw from the ALMS. There is no marketing plan to do so, and so it would simply be an exercise in spending money. That is not the way to go racing, says Ullrich, and few could argue. So it is the ALMS, or bust, and IMSA must get a grip of its series.

It is strong, there is no doubt about it as it has weathered the loss of Cadillac, Dodge, BMW, Maserati, Panoz, Aston Martin…crikey what a list. It almost lost Chevrolet this winter as Europe beckoned and only the draw of the car clubs kept them in the US. The Chevvy fans want to see the C6.R, and the factory drivers, and that was why they stayed, though Doug Fehan had a plan to reach the audience even with a European programme of just six races.

Yet the ALMS kept Audi, because it suits Audi to race in the US and promote diesel as a performance fuel. If the diesel is being beaten by Porsche, that is when it will all start to get really sticky for IMSA. George Howard-Chappel and Doug Fehan are united in their plea to save GT1; keep it transparent. If you win, you get 40kg. If you win again, you get more weight up to a maximum, and then you start looking at aerodynamics. The FIA GT Championship has got it right, and both would be keen to see a similar programme adopted in the US.

As for the LMP1, new manufacturers are looking, but won’t come if they feel the performance can be negotiated. “If you open the door 1mm, 10 seconds later it is wide open,” says Dr Ullrich. And the ALMS may not have another chance at keeping Audi as the winds of change blow. The LMS is successful, Grand Am is luring away contracts as manufacturers are seeking new playgrounds. The ALMS has run for eight years, and will undoubtedly run for another eight. In what form,

and with which manufacturers, though? That is what they must address.

PS. Thanks to Mark Cole for his support in the Montoya incident. Upon hearing that the Colombian had reneged on our agreement to talk before the end of the race, and that I had been asked to leave the pit by the notoriously superstitious Chip Ganassi, Mark's reaction was to grab cameraman Bert and get down there.

Mark understood. He ran into his own problems at Le Mans when Audi asked him not to stand in the pit lane in front of their pit while they worked on the car in the garage. Guys, regardless of superstition, we all have a job to do. If that means getting an update out of Montoya before the end of the race due to the pressures of reporting an American race in Europe, please don't tell me you "don't give a sh1t about your deadlines." My thoughts reciprocated regarding his result, but I held my tongue. My mother wouldn’t approve.

But if you have someone like Montoya driving for you in his first ever 24-hour race, and the sum total of your race updates is a blank space in the rack, I will do my job as I prefer to do it, and go and speak with him. The Ganassi press team swung into action on Sunday afternoon, and got Montoya to answer two questions (neither referring to the impending result) before the flag, which was all that was needed. I did my job, you did yours. Cheers.

Andrew Cotton
February 2007

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