April 25, 2012
Is a manufacturer "slam" possible in racing?
By Peter M. De Lorenzo
(Posted 4/23, 9:30 a.m.) Detroit. Let me say right up front that my report last week that Corvette Racing is developing a prototype racer for Le Mans has been subsequently - and staunchly - denied. To hear my sources tell it, Corvette Racing is concentrating on developing the next-generation GT racer based on the seventh-generation Corvette and there are no plans on the drawing board to compete for the overall win at Le Mans. Period. (Which is mystifying in that it was just a few months ago that a Corvette prototype racer was an all-out "go" and due to the sensitivity of the program and out of respect for the players involved, I intentionally waited to go with the news. Are they now intentionally trying to throw me off the trail? That wouldn't be a surprise. Or do they have plans based around racing the long-rumored, ultra-limited production "super" Corvette, or the "clean sheet" eighth-generation car due in 2018? That would be a long time to wait but we shall see.)
In the meantime, while contemplating that, I started thinking about the four major races in the world - The Indianapolis 500, the Grand Prix of Monaco, the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Daytona 500 - and wondered if we'll ever see a manufacturer involved in victories in all four races in the same year. The manufacturer "slam" if you will.
Ford came closest during its "Total Performance" era in the 60s when the company competed in almost every major form of racing that was worth competing in. The most memorable season of that magnificent era was 1967, when Mario Andretti opened the season with a win for Ford in the Daytona 500, A.J. Foyt won the Indianapolis 500 with Ford power after the turbine-powered car driven by Parnelli Jones failed with just three laps to go, and, of course, just a couple of weeks later A.J. joined the great Dan Gurney for a dominant win at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in their Ford Mk IV. (Monaco that year was won by Denny Hulme driving his Brabham-Repco as the famed Ford-Cosworth DFV had yet to make its debut.)
Is a manufacturer "slam" even possible today? After all, Chevrolet has a winning NASCAR program, a new Indy engine and it could have a Corvette prototype racer at Le Mans as well. The missing component? A Formula 1 engine. But it's highly unlikely that GM would ever contemplate going that route let alone spend the horrific amount of money necessary for F1, government involvement, or no.
What about Toyota? Toyota is in NASCAR and about to go big in Le Mans prototype racing, but their F1 program was a disaster and the likelihood of them getting back into IndyCar racing with a new engine is wavering between slim and none.
And Ford? The company seems content right where they are with their racing programs (NASCAR, NHRA, WRC, Grand-Am) and with the new global imperatives facing the Dearborn-based automaker, I don't see that changing for the foreseeable future.
What about the Hyundai-Kia conglomerate? Hyundai and Kia have both given NASCAR repeated looks, and given their upward trajectory in terms of product sophistication and burgeoning sales success combined with their unabashed ambition, I could see a scenario - albeit well down the road - when the Korean automaker might find themselves competing in NASCAR, IndyCar, Le Mans and Formula 1.
The only manufacturer capable of doing it right now from where I sit - that is if they truly got their dander up to do it - would be the VW Group, but I don't see them attempting it with one nameplate. it is confirmed that we'll see Porsche at Le Mans in 2014, but could we eventually see Audi in F1, VW in NASCAR and either Audi or VW at Indianapolis? Nothing would surprise me given the capabilities of the vast VW conglomerate, not to mention CEO Ferdinand Piech's sheer force of will. If Piech decides to do it, I don't doubt for a moment that his talented troops have a tremendous chance to pull it off.
But with the financial realities at play today and the crushing demands of "ROI" (Return On Investment) hanging over everything, I would say that it is highly doubtful we'll ever see a manufacturer racing "slam." We live in a highly specialized era in racing where manufacturers have to concentrate resources in order to compete - and win - in a series of their choice. To spread those resources around to meet the demands of four completely different styles of racing would be daunting indeed and beyond the technical capability and "want to" of most manufacturers.
Then again racing is an ego-driven business as much as anything, and if someone like Dr. Piech embraces the notion of "owning" the four great racing events all in the same year, well, the impossible might just turn out to be the eminently probable.
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
(Courtesy of the Ford Racing Archives)
Daytona Beach, Florida, 500, February 26, 1967. Mario Andretti after winning the NASCAR Grand National Daytona 500 in his No. 11 Holman-Moody Bunell Motor Co.-sponsored Ford. Andretti averaged 146.926 mph in a race that took 3:24.11 to run. Fred Lorenzen (No. 28 Holman-Moody Lafayette Ford) finished second, and James Hylton (No. 48 Bud Hartje-owned Econo Wash Dodge) was third. Curtis Turner (No. 1 Smokey Yunick Chevrolet) sat on the pole with a speed of 180.831 mph. Andretti entered 14 NASCAR races between 1966 and 1969, with the '67 Daytona 500 his only victory. Watch a cool video of that race 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
See another live episode of "Autoline After Hours" with hosts John McElroy, from Autoline Detroit, and Peter De Lorenzo, The Autoextremist, and guests this Thursday evening, at 7:00PM EDT at www.autolinedetroit.tv.
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