By Peter M. De Lorenzo
Detroit. The break from NASCAR this past weekend was welcome relief from the death march known as the Sprint Cup schedule, an unending slog of repeat track visits and sameness churning toward an end that's more anticlimactic than a Federal Reserve board meeting. Instead we had the Grand Prix of China, flat dominated by Lewis Hamilton in his Mercedes, and the WEC 6-hour race at Silverstone.
I've made myself clear when it comes to F1 (see last week's "Fumes" column here - WG) and the race in China did nothing to dissuade me. Yes, of course it's nice to see Hamilton back on his game, but F1 is so much about which team has found the magic technical tricks than anything else that the whole exercise becomes more than a little tedious. And the dust-up between Sebastian Vettel and his Red Bull Racing teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, was so overblown and so much ado about nothing I could hardly believe my ears when I heard the breathless commentary from the NBCSportsNetwork announcers. Come on, guys, really? I know it's your job to make it all seem interesting, but trying to make that brief dice between teammates into a Momentous Racing Moment was truly pathetic in every sense of the word.
But then again, that brief on-track interlude is basically all F1's got. Sanitized and "packaged" to the nth degree, F1 isn't just a caricature of itself, it's racing in a bubble for the fortunate few, and of course the governments flush enough to pony-up the dough for The Show to grace them with its presence.
The WEC race was interesting, if only to see the factory prototype teams from Audi, Porsche and Toyota go at each other. And with Toyota coming away with a convincing 1-2, the 24 Hours of Le Mans is shaping up to be a truly historic battle. And here we thought it would be an intramural scrimmage between Audi and Porsche. It's why they run the races, folks, no matter what the prognosticators say should happen "on paper."
And this just in: Racing is better when factory teams are involved. It just is. Look back on the history of racing both here and abroad, and racing has always been more heroic and more interesting when factories have squared-off against each other. Mercedes vs. Auto Union, Ford vs. Ferrari and Cobra vs. Ferrari just to name a few. And now Audi vs. Porsche vs. Toyota. Titanic battles pitting technical expertise and massive egos against each other in the most cutthroat competitive arenas in motorsport.
Did seeing the factory prototypes go against each other at Silverstone make me yearn to see it playing out in North America as well? Sure, but only wistfully so. That level of unlimited prototype racing isn't sustainable in this market, as we saw with the doomed fate of the old American Le Mans Series. The ALMS business model hinged on factory prototypes running the full season, and when those factories faded away the ALMS faded away along with them.
Now? We're left with what has become regional sports car racing, aka the Tudor United SportsCar Championship, a series that exists from the remnants of the ALMS and the Grand-Am. My question is this: If the true prototypes aren't going to come here with any regularity, why bother continuing the whole "DP" thing, which still comes off like faux prototypes designed for "gentleman" racers? Why not just go to a Super GT road racing series like I've proposed repeatedly in this column?
Oh, I forgot, unless Jim France decides that it's a good idea we aren't likely to see that transformation anytime soon.
And one more topic for this week. Isn't it glaring that one of the most successful road racing teams in recent history remains sponsor-less well into the 2014 season? For Corvette Racing not to have a presenting sponsor, something is fundamentally wrong. I know this much: There were sponsorship opportunities that came GM Racing's way that were blown to smithereens for various reasons, and they're looking quite foolish now because of those missed, or non-decisions. If I'm GM product chief Mark Reuss, I'd be looking closely at a regime change for GM Racing, because it's flat-out inexcusable that one of the premier racing teams in the world doesn't have a primary sponsor of note.
And that's the High-Octane Truth for this week.
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 courtesy of the Ford Racing Archives)
Le Mans, France, April 3, 1966. Bruce McLaren at speed in the experimental Ford "J-car" during the rainy test day for that year's 24 Hours of Le Mans. The J-car was purpose-built for the FIA's "Appendix J" regulations and was developed in-house by Ford Advanced Vehicles through its Kar Kraft subsidiary. Designed with lightweight aluminum honeycomb panels glued together to form the tub, the J-car was 300 lbs. lighter than the company's then current Ford GT Mk II racing machines. Though it set the fastest time on the test day, the decision was made not to race it due to reliability concerns in favor of the Mk II, which ended up winning the race. The J-car would become the Mk IV after another year of development, with the Mk IV winning the 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans with Dan Gurney and A.J. Foyt at the wheel.
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