By Peter M. De Lorenzo
Detroit. Much has been made of late - and with a considerable amount of hand-wringing to go along with it - of the next iteration of the Prototype 2 racing rules coming in 2017. I'm sure if you're interested, you can find every nauseating detail of the rules package changes coming on the Internet, but the short story? The cars will be Coupes and they will take on a decidedly spec-car quality. The ACO/FIA, in their infinite wisdom - and I'm being sarcastic here - have bequeathed that P2 take on the trappings of a semi-pro class, with regulations that are aimed at keeping costs within reason.
That's just swell, of course, but once again it leaves major league sports car racing in this country in the lurch. The DPs are the favorite of Jim France and several bootlicking auto manufacturers who have adopted the go-along-to-get-along mentality, and they're already rationalizing the move with insipid public statements suggesting that it will be just fine, and that just maybe they will consider supplying engines it if it works out to their advantage, or that maybe the DPs will even be allowed to hang around past their "sell by" date, but does this, ultimately, hold any promise for IMSA and our allegedly premier national road racing series?
I think not.
I've long since grown weary of the notion that the French racing elite in the FIA/ACO continues to be allowed to hold American racing interests by the balls when it comes to dictating "the way it will be" for international sports car racing. The 24 Hours of Le Mans is the greatest endurance sports car racing event in the world, but should it be allowed to hold sway over every national racing series just because? I think not, Part Deux. To me it has come down to this: If American teams have delusions of grandeur in mind when it comes to their racing aspirations, then they should throw their lot in with the WEC and bone up on their French. Wishing and hoping that a thriving Prototype class can survive here seems to be pissing in the wind at this point, grandfathered DPs, or no.
I am much more concerned about the health and well being of major league sports car racing on this continent, and I still see a woeful lack of vision being displayed by the interlopers in Daytona Beach who have been given the keys to the sports car racing kingdom in the country, which translates into pushing Jim France's "ME, Myself & I" agenda. The recent intransigence displayed by France when it came to an appeal from the IMSA racing community who wanted the old ALMS pit stop rules reinstated - the ones that keep the tire and driver change separate from the refueling - is a perfect example of how it is now. France rejected it out of hand just because, even though the rationale behind the request made all the sense to the racers and the larger racing community in terms of safety.
And when I see that kind of stubborn intransigence on display, I can't get worked up about a P2 rules package down the road. Does it really matter? I mean really matter, when Jim France will adjudicate based on his whims, dismissing rational thought and differing points of view as unnecessary and irrelevant? It is true that most racing series that have survived and even thrived throughout history have had dictators at the helm - it's just too bad that major league sports car racing in this country is stuck with the wrong one.
If I've said it once I've said it a thousand times - and I'll probably say it a thousand times more - the fact that this country doesn't go its own way and embrace a national GT road racing series is a complete travesty. Sports car racing in this country is missing a golden opportunity to create and showcase a distinctive, manufacturer-intensive road racing series that might actually have a snowball's chance in Hell of at least registering on the TV ratings scale, let alone increase in-person fan attendance.
A road racing series with factory-backed participation in all of its classes - GT, GT3 and even an American-flavored, run-what-you-brung GTX class at the top - would go along way toward getting major league sports car racing in this country off of the dime.
Until that happens, everything else is much sound and fury, signifying absolutely nothing.
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)
Sebring, Florida, 1967. The No. 1 Ford Mk IV driven by Mario Andretti and Bruce McLaren sits in the pits at the famous airport-based track at Sebring. Andretti would put it on the pole with a new track record (2:48.000), and the dynamic duo would win the 12 Hours of Sebring that year by twelve laps over the No. 2 Ford Mk II driven by A.J. Foyt and and Lloyd Ruby, the first time race winners averaged over 100 mph for the distance. The No. 36 factory-entered Porsche 910 driven by Scooter Patrick/Gerhard Mitter finished third overall. The No. 6 Chaparral 2F driven by Jim Hall and Mike Spence provided stiff competition to the Andretti/McLaren Ford by qualifying second and running strong during the race, but the machine suffered a DNF when the differential broke. See a great Dave Friedman photo album from the event courtesy of The Henry Ford 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