Editor's Note: Peter will return next week with a very special Fumes column. He is appearing next Wednesday evening, October 8th, at the N. Lake Drive 100 MPH Club's fall event in Wisconsin, and his next column will be made up of the text from his remarks that evening. The subject? The State of Racing: Where we've been, where we are now and what's next. I will be posting his speech on that evening at 9:30 p.m. - WG
By Peter M. De Lorenzo
Detroit. Yes, I know, we aren't supposed to compare the two series - the FIA's World Endurance Championship and IMSA's United SportsCar Championship - but comparisons are inevitable and inescapable. Backing up a bit, the fact that the WEC comes here and ignores our two major endurance races - Daytona and Sebring - is a flat-out insult and a clear slap at the newly-formed American road racing series by the FIA, any way you look at it.
The USCC has made accommodations with the French-based ACO in order to run a select group of its competitors at Le Mans - the world's most prestigious endurance race - but apparently that's not good enough for the FIA to acknowledge, so it can't be bothered with running at Daytona and Sebring. Not that the Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas, isn't cool, because it is, but why can't the FIA make three stops here with its WEC? Or even four with the addition of Petit Le Mans? What, Audi, Porsche and Toyota don't sell cars here? Beyond that, why run two races at all in Austin? Couldn't a special agreement have been made to accommodate the USCC cars in one super endurance race?
Nah, lest we forget, racing is politics, and politics when it comes to racing is much like politics in general: nonsensical, inexplicable, self-indulgent and relentlessly disappointing. Decisions aren't based on what's good for the paying spectators, they're based on mollifying the egos of the participating manufacturers and in this case, the FIA overlords. In other words, yet another example of racing in a vacuum. Swell, isn't it?
The races themselves were a contrast in style and execution (see the results in the "The Line" - WG). Make no mistake, the WEC prototypes, in all their "we have a budget somewhere but we haven't really paid attention to it lately" magnificence, were wild, spectacular and lived up to their reputation of being the best of the best when it comes to (relatively) unlimited sports car racing. The top category in the USCC - the DP/P2 mashup - simply pales in comparison, there's just no getting around that fact. And even though the WEC race had tremendous weather challenges, the fact that they ran into the darkness made their race even better to watch too.
The net-net of all of this? As good - and spectacular - as the WEC show was, the overriding impression given was that they were doing us all a favor by deigning to make a stop in the U.S. As if they were saying, "Yes, your little endurance races at Daytona and Sebring are nice, with a modicum of history and all, but when we parachute into the States we'll run at a 'proper' race track, and we'll do it when we want to and how we want to. Thanks for coming."
There's that racing in a vacuum attitude again, in all of its annoying glory. As far as IMSA goes, their show was decent, but you get the distinct impression that with the glacial-pace of change that the NASCAR-heavy organization aspires to, it might be worthwhile to go out of your way to see a race in, oh, I dunno, maybe around 2018?
By the way, the announced crowd over the two days at the Circuit of The Americas was 50,000, but who's kidding whom here? The reality was between 15,000 and 20,000 total, with a full 10,000 of those being giveaways, according to my impeccable sources. Really makes you feel optimistic about the health of major league road racing in this country, doesn't it?
All together now: Not Good.
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
(Photo by Dave Friedman courtesy of the Ford Racing Archives)
Riverside, California, November 26, 1967. John Surtees (No. 24 John Mecom/Bowes Seal Fast Lola-Ford) at speed during the Rex Mays 300 at Riverside International Raceway. Surtees qualified fourth but suffered a DNF due to ignition problems. It was the only start Surtees ever made in an Indianapolis-type racing car. Dan Gurney (No. 48 All American Racers/Olsonite Eagle-Ford) qualified on the pole and won the race, and considered it to be one of his greatest drives and favorite races. He dominated the star-studded field, which included A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Jimmy Clark, Bobby Unser, Al Unser, Lloyd Ruby, Jerry Grant and others. Bobby Unser (No. 6 Bob Wilke/Rislone Eagle-Ford) finished second, and Mario Andretti (No. 1 Al Dean/Dean Van Lines Brawner-Ford) finished third. Watch a ABC Wide World of Sports video clip 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