What were once Vices are now Habits..............Rolex 24 2005-style.
April may be the cruellest month according to TS Eliot but for most race folk January would qualify for
that title..........no live action and endless reruns on the box as a substitution for the smells of oil and
rubber. Racing is just around the corner but not just yet.
Just as Puxatony Phil foretells the coming of the end of winter, the beginning of February and the
Rolex 24 announces that another season of racing is here. In recent times this event has been a
shadow of its former glory but a new direction launched some three years ago by the Grand-Am
sanctioning body has taken root and produced a stellar cast of drivers to compete in the 2005 version
of the endurance race around the banking and infield of the Florida track. Sportscar heroes rubbed
shoulders and traded paint with their contemporaries from NASCAR, IRL, CART etc.; you would have
to go back to the mid 60’s Le Mans duels between Ford and Ferrari to see a line up assembled with
so many quality drivers from different disciplines at an endurance event. Mind you back then cross
over was common enough......but these days it is rare to see drivers out of their contracted fields.
This cast of stars did not disappoint with the Good Ole’ Boys from NASCAR holding their own
against the road course racers and the single seat oval guys embracing the team aspect of the
challenge..............the crowd, which was way more substantial than I have seen at recent Daytona
24s, got their money’s worth with all sorts of access to the cast in addition to the track action.
The Daytona Prototypes, which are largely revilled by traditional sportscar fans, were way better in
the flesh than I had expected both in qualitative and quantitative terms. They never will match the
legends such as the R8, GT40, 956/962, 333SP etc, but then they are not meant to. The series is
conceived first and foremost as a business platform where the goals are cost control and stability of
regulations that will in the long term deliver a close fought set of races, thus also attracting both
competitors and fans. These were principles that John Mangoletsi had in mind for his ISRS/FIASCC
races but lack of capital meant that the series could not develop fast enough to meet its goals.
Grand-Am is also designed with the North American market in mind, allowing the sports marketing
template that is successful in football, basketball, ice hockey and of course NASCAR to be utilised.
That this has attractions to many around racing can be seen by the large grid of DPs and also
GTs......you can make a business around the Grand-Am series and those who have families to raise
and bills to pay cannot afford to be too elitist, only those who pound away on fan forums can have that
luxury.........the 60+ cars that took the Green Flag on Saturday is an admirable number by any
standards and also the quality and standard of the entry was by and large top notch.
From my perspective this grid will never match that of La Sarthe but then the whole field cost less, I
suspect, than the true total cost of the Audi R8 project. Here lies the path that the IMSA/ALMS must
now follow: cars built of unobtainium that are the stuff of dreams. Their cause is helped by the news
that Porsche AG are back, set to compete at the highest levels against others like Audi plus
compromises that allow Maserati to join Corvette, Ferrari, Aston Martin and other legendary marques
in the ALMS The best course is to be as different as possible from Grand-Am and get on with
developing the ALMS series in their own way.
As to the 2005 Rolex 24...........negatives...few actually, probably the weather being the biggest
disappointment, having flown in from the UK I did not expect the temperature to resemble that of
Thruxton; Robin Liddell running out of gas on the penultimate lap; Lammers, Wallace and Stewart
denied the chance to take the fight down to the wire by transmission woes. Positives..........the fact that
a traditional sportscar trio, Taylor, Angelelli and Collard won overall in the face of those from outside
the endurance discipline..........an honourable mention for the DIS personnel who were on a charm
offensive from start to finish...........they have not always enjoyed the best reputation in the past but old
fashioned Southern hospitality was much in evidence, so praise where praise is due. The only
concern I had was when picking up my passes on the Wednesday I started to fumble for my passport
to show as photo ID and was greeted with “That’s OK Mr. Brooks, we know who you are”......I
expected that two guys in dark suits and Raybans were going to be waiting outside with a net ready to
dispose of this turbulent priest...............
I gave 2004 a miss for several reasons, which given the monsoon conditions was a good call but I
am glad that I returned for 2005............roll on 2006.