David Soares on Porsche, Politics, Penske, Penalties and Pon
It’s the end of a perfect weekend for sportscar fans, what with Spa and Road
Atlanta in the can and my Claret bottle reminding me of the other promised Big
Announcement finally bearing fruit, one of the local vintners being Ben Pon of
microbus fame. The microbus and that other boxer that kept sprouting cylinders. I
think they got to about sixteen on the test bench, but I’ve always been partial to the
I know you're used to 16 or more, sorry we only have 8…
It was the twelve that came to mind when the dust finally settled from Scott
Atherton’s constant coquetry of the past months and he finally was able to get
down to blowing white smoke with the announcement of the arrival of the Pope of
American racing in the American Le Mans Series. So many P’s, spit it out MAN:
Porsche, Penske, P2.
P2? This really is a ride on the wayback machine. Are we contesting the index of
performance again? What about the turbo-Panzer? The Traco 512M? The Zerex
Special, for God’s sake? Crushing the opposition! Why on earth isn't the biggest
name in sportscar racing and the Pope of American racing going after the top
rank? Vas ist das, anyway?
Well, Porsche remains stuck with the issue of the Prodigal Nephew’s
enmeshment with VAG and the need to field an Audi P1. The Prodigal Nephew
still has great influence with the board at Porsche AG. And let’s face it, nobody’s
done a proper P2 to the new rules. Conventional wisdom says that the DP motor
just gets adapted to a Lola chassis and off they go. But Uncle Norbert was double
dipping on his retirement this past January at Daytona and it was pretty clear that
the boxer isn’t going to cut it any more.
Where is that large automobile ?
Looking at the recent speed of the Zytec-powered 675 cars and the P2 engine
rules it doesn’t take much imagination to see that an atmo V-8 is going to be the
ticket for the new Porsche. From a marketing standpoint, Zuffenhausen is back on
the V-8 bandwagon with the Cayenne and a rumored V-8 911 replacement to
overpower the Cayman. A peek at the rules suggests that Weissach have just
such a motor in the back warehouse, the 2708 Indy motor from fifteen years ago.
A P2 V-8 also happens to fit in nicely as a test-bed for an engine for another series
Penske competes in that has decided to go road racing after all. Well, it all
remains to be seen, but I’m still thinking that this is a Beautiful Thing. Who’s to
say that Porsche can’t go back to being a “Giant Killer” with such a car?
After the money is gone…
Press release hype aside, Roger Penske told CBS-TV that he made this move
because it made sense to him first and foremost as a business deal. Nobody
knows what that business deal looks like, but we have to remember that racing is
a business. In that other series with the “level playing field” it’s interesting that the
bank that writes the checks sponsors the car at the top of the standings. ( The
Manchurian Bank Account . km ) Meanwhile, at Road Atlanta the four at the sharp
end of the field were covered by nine tenths of a second with the front row
separated by half a second. At Spa it was even better with the front row separated
by less than two hundredths. In that other series Big Brother designs your car and
tests your engine so that you, the perennial backmarker in the Big Show, have the
illusion of a level playing field. The DP players I’ve talked to also say that from a
business standpoint the cost-savings are also an illusion by the time the car
actually hits the track. I think that these French rules seem to be giving us some
damn fine automobiles.
If you're looking for trouble, well that's what you will find…
The Captain has made his move back to top-rank sportscar endurance racing
and it’s not with Big Brother. There are still Big Brother issues in the ALMS, for
sure. Timo Bernhard’s black flag at Atlanta made a lot of people wonder, but then
Robin Liddell had to take a blatant hit in the Speed World Challenge to point out
what it really means to have home-team advantage. Max Papis reminded us why
there aren’t any Champion Audi R6's in the SWC this year when he punted Liddell
out of a well-deserved win and got a mere fine. Everybody plays Big Brother every
now and then. Timo and Robin were racing nose-to-tail but you can’t overlook the
fact that at the moment of their “incident” leader J.J. Lehto was trying to overtake as
well. There are a number of ways to misunderstand what the other guy is doing in
this situation – did Timo ram Robin or did he just decide to tuck-in for a better line
just as Robin decided to brake-check him? Did Robin decide to tuck in to give the
overall leader a better exit? Was he even aware of Timo on the inside with the
bright lights of the Audi coming up on the outside? This is racing for God’s sake
and it’s frustrating when crap driving gets rewarded but close racing gets a stop-
and-go. The whole thing reminded me of the Dindo, Gounon and McNish bump
and bingo incidents at Laguna Seca in 2000. Gounon took the heat but as a man
with a past, regardless of how quick he can be, what else could one expect.
McNish, who has been on the other end of those incidents way too much for his
portfolio, let his thoughts erupt at the post race press conference. Today's drivers
need to ditch the PC and speak their minds.
Criminals that never broke no law…
But I digress. Both Road Atlanta and Spa gave us close racing this weekend that
wasn’t orchestrated by Safety Cars or spec rules. There were lots of different
approaches to getting to the front and they resulted in close racing almost to the
very end when attrition and weather sorted out the final results. At both races a
new-look P2 almost cracked the podium too, with the Field’s Lola B05/40 AER in
fourth at Atlanta and Chamberlain’s in fifth at Spa. I don’t think that the AER motor
is the optimum powerplant for the class and it’ll be interesting to see what Penske
and Weissach can do if they’re serious about this thing.