The Homestead Act of 2006
There is no question the Grand American Road Racing Series is the unqualified
success story of the last few years. Large grids, close competition between most
of the field, and slowly some recognition out there in the land of the fan. Ask most
of the teams and they will tell you that Grand Am is the way to go, the road to stay
on for the future of road racing in America. Most of that is basically “Hey, I am glad
to have a job” and nothing more. A large percentage of the GA is made up of
disgruntled, out of work ex-IMSA-PSCR folk that feel that the ALMS let them down
with their allegiances towards the manufacturers and abandoned the small
independents. However, the whole Grand Am hype of cost effective, rules stability
is like the Graf Spee on the River Platte, make smoke.
No argument that the GA marketing side has their act together and are following
a timetable. On the technical side of things and those acts of rules and
regulations are where the mischief is and based on the events at Homestead and
later, Long Beach, the true shape of Grand Am is on display.
Alex Job may be the most misunderstood man in American sports car racing. His
detractors view him as simply a lackey of Porsche Motorsport North America and
his supporters champion him as a guy who built himself up to where he is today.
Job isn’t a warm and fuzzy type and most interviews with him reveal very little. It
isn’t PR spin or control, he just does not have much to say. The performance of
his tight knit crew and what happens on track is what counts to him. The best
description of Job may be that of a neighbor who keeps his house and yard
immaculate but you hardly see him or know his name.
GT racing in the ALMS has its limits and Alex Job Racing has exploited the class
for about all it has been worth. In what may have been the most absurd joke of last
season, the championship was practically handed to White Lightning dues to a
series of constant mistakes by Job’s duo of factory drivers and a couple of blown
motors. Jorg Bergmeister drove the WL Porsche flawlessly all season and stayed
clear of almost all traffic and trouble sports while the AJR #23 duo of Bernhard and
Dumas did a fine imitation of the BTCC and DTM. When in doubt, hit something.
Interestingly, most of the failures ( PMNA ) and incidents ( drivers ) for the #23
happened while leading. Bergmeister and company were almost always in
position to capitalize and that is how a championship is won. Job was gracious as
he should in passing the crown to the Petersen / White Lightning team at the
awards banquet last year. Simply stated, they ran a better program. Not that the
year was a total loss as the AJR portfolio was fattened by another class win at Le
Mans, this time in association with BAM.
Where’s the money ?
Job has wanted to run in the prototype category for years as any team would want
to contend for the overall victory and as the Porsche factory LMP2 project got closer
to reality, it became evident that AJR would not be given the responsibility of
entering the car in the ALMS. That left Grand Am as a viable and attractive
alternative so Job ordered a Crawford chassis and worked with Max Crawford on
getting the flat six to fit properly in the bay.
PMNA supported the idea but all costs were the responsibility of Alex Job as
Weissach had their own ideas about Grand Am. Translation: You want to run, you
pay for it but we will build a motor to sell you. While the ALMS were “officially”
recognized as where Porsche wanted to be, a small production run of special
motors for the GA prototurtles were constructed in Flacht and invoiced to PMNA.
The first of these lightened flat six powerplants was shipped to AJR late fall last
year and a non-stop effort was required to make the GA test sessions. A fast as
the new Crawford was with the flat six, a great deal of work was still needed if the
DP was to survive the first hour of the Daytona 24 hours let alone a full revolution
of the clock.
White Light / White Heat
History shows that AJR stunned the established entrants of the Grand Am by
taking pole at Daytona and shockingly came close to winning the Rolex clock
winder finally settling for 3rd overall. The Tavares based bunch skipped Mexico
due to a lack of funds and then took pole and the round at Homestead in a
convincing fashion. All this with a pair of drivers that aren’t old enough to grow
facial hair and combined in years are still younger than Eddie Cheever. That isn’t
to say that Long and Rocky don’t have experience, they do. In reality most of AJR
have Grand Am experience. Alex Job was involved with the Brumos effort in 2003
and was easily in front at Daytona when a mechanical failure put the Fabcar and
David Donohue out of contention. So it isn’t like AJR is coming in to the series as
However, Alex Job was naïve to expect that the GA establishment would welcome
a Porsche running up front. Many thought that Daytona was a fluke and that the
AJR Crawford would join the ranks of the Brumos backmarker, a place where
Porsche powered anything’s were welcome. One person who could see the
potential was Eddie Cheever, who after a conversation with Alex Job post Daytona,
dumped his Lexus and quickly ordered up a flat six from PMNA. Not only that but
Cheever requested Lucas Luhr to pedal his Crawford at Homestead. PMNA, eager
to strut their stuff and grab an entry ablaze with the logo of the series sponsor
were only too happy to accommodate. By contrast the #23 Crawford of AJR looked
like a plain wrap envelope off white baby whale with few examples of a sponsor’s
mail. Job had already stated that Homestead might be the end of their GA season
unless funding was forthcoming. What makes all of this seem strange is that
many teams are well funded and offer marginal on track performance and here is
a consistent front runner and championship team left rummaging through the
remains. What happened to all those oh so smart MBA types that recognize a
Pictures at an exhibition….
The start of the race at Homestead was questionable enough as Fittipaldi in the
Cheever Crawford got a huge jump on the polesitter that many thought was clearly
obvious. No flag was waved or penalty assessed and why should there be ?
Penalize the prototurtle with the series sponsors colors; hey folk’s come on… this
is entertainment. The usual plethora of yellows and late pit stops shuffled the
order enough to make that last part of the race somewhat dramatic. AJR fitted
fresh tires and Rocky made short work of the field with some brazen but calculated
moves that put the #23 back out front and steadily pulled away to a deserved win.
Grand Am, like it’s parent NASCAR, is about entertainment first and perception,
second. AJR’s margin of victory wasn’t that big by the standards of the ALMS or
most FIA races but in the contained world of GA, it was unacceptable. It didn’t
matter that Job out-managed the other teams and their pit stops were better or
that the doughnuts on their Crawford were fresher. No, it was the perception that
Porsche power had an unfair advantage. ( thanks to David Donohue’s dad for that
line ! ) In this area GA had the upper hand in presenting evidence to support this
perception. Anyone watching the race on television were treated to images of the
#23 simply shredding the field at times and blowing by. All of Job’s arguments
were not going to work against the almighty video. The result was an immediate
penalty was 75 lbs. and a redline of 9000 RPM. In the case of Rocky and Patrick
this amounted to nothing as both look undernourished anyway. The 9000 rev limit
however was a different matter. Keep in mind that this was only after two races for
AJR…. GA originally was talking about a mid-season adjustment to the Porsche
Rosebud was the sled…
If anyone is happy about the officiating in Grand Am it has to be Marty Kaufman,
Dick Martin and company of IMSA. Complaining about officiating is a time-honored
tradition but at least at an ALMS event you can take your complaint directly to the
top and get an explanation. In most cases it wont be the one you want or hope for
but at least it is on the table. Grand Am at Long Beach was so universally bad in
their calls that there was non stop constant condemnation in the pits over the lack
of consistency or explanations of the penalties. And can someone explain the
guidelines as how a penalty is called for avoidable contact ? I suppose the argy
bargy body slams at Homestead between Luhr in the Cheever sled vs. Pruett in
the Ganassi lunch box was unavoidable contact and simply entertainment good
ol’ boy style.
Here comes the Sun King…
AJR arrived at Long Beach, unloaded and immediately was on pace with the
young ‘uns up front. Come qualifying time it took a great effort from Luis Diaz in his
Lexus powered lunch box of Ganassi to demote the Porsche power to second on
the grid. Interestingly enough, the complaints were not directed towards the
performance of Diaz and Pruett but towards the AJR entry. Apparently not enough
has been done to slow down the flat six because even without the penalties
imposed after Homestead, the Porsche wasn’t expected to be fast at a street
circuit such as Long Beach. Nothing illustrated this better than seeing Wayne
Taylor purposely signaling out “the Porsche up front” during a live interview on TV.
However, not a word was mentioned of the obvious speed of the Ganassi Lexus
or if an “adjustment” should be handed out to Team Chippy. Was this an example
of the old boy network in action ?
Clearly Alex Job is not yet an accepted member of the Grand Am old boy’s club
and has ruffled more than a few with the straight outta Tavares performance of
the Porsche Crawford. Series regularly employed drivers have been quoted as not
feeling that the AJR team hasn’t paid their dues. Sound familiar ? If you cant
elevate your own game, bring someone down to the level of yours. The 2nd overall
of the #23 at Long Beach may have been the most unpopular top finish of anyone
in the series so far this year. Alex Job will get the funding needed to run the rest of
the GA season with hope of a second chassis for the 2007 season. In addition,
AJR will run a solo GT3 RSR in the ALMS and wait for the new 2007 GT Porsche.
Regardless of how one views AJR, this is quite a commitment for the team,
especially when one considers the politics involved.
Happenings ten years time ago….
This attitude towards Porsche has deep roots. Several members of the GA came
from IMSA back in the days of the battles of allowing the 934 and 935 turbos to
compete right up to the restrictions placed on the Norbert Singer-Tony Dowe WSC
project are well documented. In the case of the WSC project, it was given such a
handicap while never getting a chance to show if the potential was there. The
message was clear and that was just go away.
In the past, Porsche was simply too good and usually found a way to win. This
time around it will be far more difficult as the GA got a leg up on Weissach by
having other manufacturers establish the order. Brumos was given a chance to
get the crown in the inaugural GA season but as the car count and competition
grew, the Porsche powered Fabcar was hopelessly outclassed despite the
suggestions of Norbert Singer and the efforts of David Donohue and company.
Porsche’s efforts in GA will be interesting as to how the rest of the season
proceeds and if success is in the cards, then how GA responds to the tantrums of
the other competitors will show where this act is really headed.