Editor-in-Chief's Note: Since last week's column is generating much discussion within the racing community and among the manufacturers, I am leaving it up for another week. Anyone who was either at Road America for the Nationwide weekend in June and witnessed the Pirelli World Challenge races or who watched the delayed broadcast of the races on TV this past weekend would have to agree that the series offered up some superb racing. After seeing those races, it wouldn't be hard to imagine an all-new GT road racing series combining the best of GT racing in this country, with GTLM, GTD and Pirelli World Challenge consolidated into two, first-rate GT classes presented and packaged as America's finest road racing series. Where the USCS is now frankly, is nowhere. Tudor is said to be massively disappointed with the realities of a series featuring two or three premier races and with little else to get excited about, and the implosion of the prototype class due to the emphasis on the WEC by the global auto manufacturers has compounded the presenting sponsor's burgeoning frustration. The teams who bought into the notion that the integrity of the prototype classes would be preserved and nurtured in the USCS have been disappointed, to say the least, with none other than longtime prototype racing stalwart Rob Dyson seeing the writing on the wall and abandoning the series altogether for a front-line Bentley deal in the Pirelli World Challenge. Jim France and the manufacturers should convene an emergency summit meeting to orchestrate a reimagined, definitive new direction for the series. If the principals involved fail to understand the brewing crisis and fail to act, I frankly fear for the future of major league sports car racing in this country. - PMD
By Peter M. De Lorenzo
Detroit. It sounded good initially. Oh never mind, who am I kidding? When NASCAR's Jim France bought the now defunct American Le Mans Series from Don Panoz lock, stock and barrel, it was a foregone conclusion that it wasn't going to go smoothly. What were we all expecting to happen, exactly? That by some miracle the new Tudor United SportsCar Series would somehow work out and that American sports car racing would emerge from its media obscurity and break out of its perpetual little bubble of indifference to become an actual thing? Not a chance.
Not that everyone involved hasn't put forth a supreme effort to bring the two disparate racing series together and form a winning entity, because they have. As a matter of fact it has been simply amazing to see what the powers that be have been able to accomplish, and I take my hat off to one and all for that. But sadly, it isn't enough.
The obvious problem? The USCS is trying to please two entities, the ACO - which controls the 24 Hours of Le Mans - and the gentlemen racers who populated the old Grand-Am series with their Daytona Prototypes. This just in: It isn't working and this situation is going nowhere good.
The Daytona Prototypes that run in the USCS have become simply irrelevant because they are operating in a vacuum, existing only to appease the holdovers from the Grand-Am series. They have nothing to do with the 24 Hours of Le Mans because the price to reach for the overall win at the world's most prestigious endurance race is now reserved for global automobile manufacturers competing with almost unlimited budgets. The reality is that Le Mans is the second most expensive racing in the world after Formula 1, and it has been that way for a long time.
What does this have to do with the Daytona Prototypes and the Tudor United SportsCar Series? Not much. Yet the powers that be in the USCS are still trying like hell to make sense of it all while juggling the "Balance Of Performance" numbers between the DPs and the P2 cars, which are the holdover prototypes from the ALMS and are still eligible to run at Le Mans. But it has become glaringly apparent that the issue isn't the BOP between the DPs or P2s, it's the fact they exist in the series at all.
It has come time for the powers that be in the Tudor United SportsCar Series to acknowledge the fact that the prototype component to its show is a non-starter. Holding on to the vestiges of the past isn't doing anyone any good. It isn't helping the series, and it isn't appealing to the fans.
Jim France's new focus should be on creating and nurturing an all-GT series from this day forward. I believe that a newly re-constructed series featuring factory-supported GTLM and GTD teams competing at a high level as the feature attraction will have incredible appeal. I keep hearing road racing fans in this country bring up the Australian V8 Supercar series as a prime example of a good racing series. I agree. But the racing in the GTLM class of the USCS is the best road racing in the world, period. And it has been for a long time too. And it's time to showcase it for what it really is.
I can safely say that it's what the manufacturers want and that may be the most crucial reason for Jim France to considerate it, too, because the deeper the link between what these manufacturers race and what they sell, the better the Return On their Investment looks. And if you've ever wandered the halls of these manufacturers you'd pick up real fast that ROI is the dominant theme in any racing program these days. It hasn't been a question of "Why Not?" for a long time. Instead it has become a game of "Why should we?" "How much will it cost?" "What's in it for us?" and 'Will it move the needle for us in-market?"
While watching the USCS racing up in Canada this weekend it was clear to me that the prototypes were present and accounted for - at least somewhat - but the real action and competition was in the GT classes. It wasn't even close, in fact.
The Tudor United SportsCar Series is in desperate need for a course correction. I just wonder if anyone involved has the vision to get it done.
Publisher's Note: As part of our continuing series celebrating the "Glory Days" of racing, we're proud to present another noteworthy image from the Ford Racing Archives. - PMD
Sebring, Florida, March 26, 1966. The winning Shelby American-entered Ford GT-X1 driven by Ken Miles/Lloyd Ruby makes its final pit stop. The duo would win the race by twelve laps. Walt Hansgen and Mark Donohue (No. 3 Holman & Moody Ford Mk II) would finish second, and Skip Scott/Peter Revson (No. 19 Essex Wire Corporation Ford GT40 would come in third. The Dan Gurney/Jerry Grant No. 2 Shelby American Ford Mk II sat on the pole and led most of the way, but the engine in the car expired on the last lap and Gurney was disqualified for pushing his car across the finish line. Watch a video here.
Publisher's Note: Like these Ford racing photos? Check out www.fordimages.com. Be forewarned, however, because you won't be able to go there and not order something. - PMD