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Daytona 2013 – Better Than Expected

But Still a Difficult Proposition

DSC’s writing staff are a broad church – One of the things the Ed likes about ‘our people’ is that they don’t all agree.  About the racing we cover.  The Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona is a great example – Of the three writers we had present at the race there is the Deputy Editor who professes the race is his favourite of the year, yours truly, who initially found the experience of covering it unpleasant but has been delighted with the efforts made there in recent years and then there’s our North American Editor……Read on!!

I have to admit – heading into the 2013 edition of the Rolex 24 at Daytona didn’t really excite me all that much, but I felt that I really needed to be there to give it another shot. 

I came home from the race last season very frustrated – frustrated because this is probably the most difficult race of them all to cover (more on that later) but also frustrated that so much of the conversation at the track centered on regulations.  These regulations were meant to make the race more competitive, but in reality what it did was muddy the waters and actually take away from the competition on track.

While 2012 was essentially a race to the end between two pretty much identical cars (although one was damaged), 2013 came down to a shootout at the end between cars that really weren’t equal.

Throughout the lead up to the race, there was evidence that the field wasn’t equal at all.  While the Corvette teams argued that they were being penalized by first the addition of a restrictor and then the restrictor change, the Chip Ganassi led team supposedly chose a different direction – lower downforce.

The question was posed over the weekend concerning whether Ganassi might be trying that, a lower downforce set up, but unfortunately no one wanted to answer or knew.  Once the race started, it was more than evident – the race appeared to be one that the CGR had wrapped up, or was simply theirs to lose.  That was really evident, when after a caution bunched the leaders, Scott Pruett simply motored by the others, almost like they weren’t there.  It was as if the others were in another, lower class.

The key to getting the low downforce set up to work was to improve the mechanical grip to a level that they wouldn’t give up too much in the infield.  If they gave up too much in the infield in handling, it would be all for naught.  This is one of the problems with a really tightly controlled specification package – the effort it takes to get an advantage is great and not all of the competitors have the resources to make it work.  Obviously leading 421 laps of the race distance of 709 should be considered a job well done, legal or not. 

Legality questions have surrounded CGR throughout their Grand Am tenure.  Could this be another of those situations?  I know some teams are thinking that again, already. Oh – there must have been concerns in the Daytona area for flooding, as most major outlets were sold out of sandbags.

So, were the engine regs correct?  Who knows.  Grand Am has dyno tested the combinations and they also confiscated the engines from the top cars after the race to do more testing (a routine process). 

I have a feeling that there may be more to this story than simple engine regs.  The performance from Team Sahlen indicates that there is something not quite right when it comes to the power balance as it was clear that the BMW motors were the class of the field.  It will be interesting to see how the officials move forward for 2013.

I really doubt the controversy surrounding the equalization is over yet.  We can hope that 2013 is better than 2012, but it isn’t starting off that way.  It’s been a mess in the past and it looks like it may continue to be so into the future.

Probably the most interesting part of the DP class race was the MSR battle back from early suspension damage.  A combination of good race craft and fortune allowed the 60 entry to come back from 7 laps back to take the lead and challenge for the overall win.  I can’t remember anything like that happening at Daytona in a very long time.  But now, after the fact, MSR has been fined and stripped of points due to an engine that had “mechanical adjustments resulting in performance levels outside the documented maximums”, whatever that means.  In effect it was the Grand Am tech staff throwing lighter fluid onto a small fire.  It’s gonna be a long and bitchy season.

At least GT was interesting.  Some are crying foul about the presence of Audi factory personnel at the track, supporting their “customers”, but is it really any different than the old days when members of the Porsche Factory appeared at races “on vacation”?  When factories are around, they’ll do anything they can to help their cause.  Grand Am – welcome to the Audi way of racing.  It is great for raising the profile of a series, which is something that the Grand Am needed, especially in the GT class.

Congrats must go to Alex Job Racing (Lotus?  What Lotus…).  They fully deserved this win.  They were in the odd position of running two different car types in the same class, but their professionalism shone through with a 1st place finish with their Audi and a 6th place finish with their tried and true Porsche.  Truly a remarkable effort.  Will the Audi effort continue full season – wouldn’t surprise this writer in the least.  Was the Lotus truly that bad???

As far as GX – well, it’s not ready for prime time viewing.  Napleton had a very strong effort and actually a very fun effort, led by all around good interview Shane Lewis.  As good as the Napleton effort was, the Mazda just as bad.  I feel bad for them, but the race just came along too soon for their racing debut.  Hopefully their program will step up as the season progresses, otherwise the GX class may just end up going away.

Thus far, I have made little comment about the self proclaimed “World Center of Racing”.  Growing up, it truly was a magic place, one that I greatly anticipated visiting.  It didn’t take long for the luster to wear off for me though.  Pretty soon the trek to Daytona became something that was not greatly anticipated, something that really continues to this day.  But this year, I maybe discovered that it may not be so much the track itself, but the mentality of those at the track. 

For one, it is nearly impossible to find anyone to speak with during the event.  It seems like the drivers are either in the car or stashed away in a motorhome.  The pit area, usually an open and inviting place to speak with those involved in the sport has turned into a hostile place at Daytona.  The pit lane is obscured by a row of faceless white awnings with the openings, well not open.  Many even have bouncers, keeping the riff-raff out.  As far as a place for covering an event, this has to be one of the worst.  Even many of the drivers I spoke with said the atmosphere just sucked any fun out of the proceedings, which is really a shame.

The Grand Am staff did what they could do to accommodate – throughout the event, they brought in drivers and other dignitaries to the media center.  That was (now that I look at it from a different perspective) actually a good way to get around the issues with finding drivers.  But it does make covering the race the way you want a much more difficult thing to do.

A drawback to bringing the drivers into the media center this time was the timing.  During GT qualifying, Scott “hi to the family at home” Pruett, the DP pole winner was brought into the media center for an interview – right in the middle of the session.  It made covering either a very difficult proposition, which in essence sums up my present day personal Daytona Experience – it’s become a very difficult proposition.

Personally, I’m more than glad that the 24 is over.  Now, we can look forward to Sebring and then the regular season, when things (at least some things) settle and return to normal.

Gary Horrocks