GEN-2 DP, PART II - FOUR-LETTER WORDS
In 2001 Grand Am president Roger Edmondson invited this journalist to "a little chit-chat."
The chat turned out to be a jaw-dropping first look at a sportscar racing-class concept initially scheduled for a 2003 Rolex 24 At Daytona debut.
During that meeting, Edmondson produced a photograph of a familiar-looking race car.
"The height of that car is our target," Edmondson said as he tapped his finger on the Ford GT40's image. "You know how it got its name, don't you? It was 40-inches high."
Besides remembering it as one of the fastest, kick-butt race cars of this writer's youth, Dan Gurney's Ford GT40 MkII also is remembered for a smallish, teardrop-shaped bubble added to the roof so as to accommodate Gurney's helmeted head - which nonetheless still rubbed the car's ceiling.
As word of Grand Am's new concept spread during the ensuing months a couple-more, pejoratively uttered words started accompanying its mention: "spec series."
Indeed, and despite Edmondson's protestations to the contrary, this journalist had mentioned those very words a number of times before he'd even departed that first chat with Edmondson.
With work on the first car already underway at Dave Klym's Indianapolis-based FABCAR, the "Daytona Prototype" would be officially unveiled just days prior to the 2002 Rolex 24.
Soon, though, another word joined the others: "ugly." For the most part, the term seemed to originate from those who preferred the open-top World Sports Car concept over the closed-coupe Daytona Prototype design.
Edmondson was stung by the criticism, especially because it began long before all of the DP's various designs had even been completed.
Hardly a month had passed after the DP's official unveiling at the 2002 Rolex 24 At Daytona when Edmondson again issued this writer a sit-down invitation.
"Never again do I want to see what I saw last Friday at Homestead," Edmondson said with narrowed, resolute eyes. "And I don't want anyone else ever to see again what I saw."
What Edmondson had seen at Homestead-Miami Speedway was the aftermath of Archangel Motorsport driver Jeff Clinton's March 1, 2002, single-car accident. The 38-year-old father of two died in a practice crash.
Associated Press reports of the time said Clinton's open-top, Nissan-powered Lola Sports Prototype 2 veered off course and flipped one or more times as Clinton transitioned from the track's front stretch into Turn 1 of the infield road course, resulting in instantaneous "blunt-force trama" fatal head injuries.
"The Daytona Prototype's structure is designed, above all else, to protect the driver and is the principal reason behind the driver compartment's design," Edmondson later said. "I don't care now how ugly others might think it is, it's not going to change."
Nearly a year later, six Daytona Prototype coupes gridded for that class' race debut in the 2003 Rolex 24 At Daytona.
Representing designs from FABCAR, Multimatic, Picchio and Doran, they looked as different as their names and variously were powered by power plants bearing the badges of BMW, Chevrolet, Ford and Porsche.
Again reflecting the human mind's diversity of thought, among the 16 DPs starting the 2004 Daytona 24 race a year later were two additional designs - Crawford and Riley - as well as engines bearing six car-maker badges, among which were newly included Pontiac and Lexus brands.
Yet, while DP "spec" talk had largely abated, some observers continued to call it "ugly."
Harkening back to a cold, cold Dec. 2002 DP test - the DP's first run at Daytona International Speedway and during which Brumos Racing's Porsche-Fabcar would run well over 24-hours without breaking - Toyota representatives were on hand to watch Darius Grala put that manufacturer's engine, also in a Fabcar-designed DP, through its paces.
With the clock only a couple of ticks short of midnight and the temperature dropping to around freezing (hypothermia will do strange things to a mind) a Toyota representative candidly admitted to this reporter that the company built and provided its engine mostly "out of respect to the France family because, frankly, we don't believe this (the DP concept) will work. But, while we've built a lot of cars over the years, the France's have a bit more experience in the motorsports promotion end of the car business and we're willing to give them the benefit of the doubt."
Fast-forwarding two years to the 2005 Rolex 24, DP entrants would nearly quintuple those of 2003 (10 Rileys, six Crawfords, five Dorans, four Fabcars, two Multimatics, one Chase), sporting engines from six manufacturers (12 Pontiacs, six Lexus, four Ford, three BMW, three Porsche, one Infiniti).
Furthermore, the 29-starter 2005 DP field bested (old) IMSA's 1984 and 1985 high-water, Daytona GTP race grids by two cars. In two-years time, the DP was on most everyone's tongue and more was yet to come.
The top-10 finishers in the 2007 Rolex 24 At Daytona would, for the first time in the race's history, be wholly comprised of cars from a single car class, DP, and again bettered numbers posted by any previous car class, whether GTX, GTP, S2000, P, GTO, GTU, GT or whatever.
If there's anything this journalist loves most about the U.S. is that its market-based economy tends to determine a product's worth in the market which it competes. In raw numbers, as compared to anything else presently afoot, owners and drivers have flocked to the DP concept. Furthermore, the "fan" numbers show a similar trend.
Clearly, when team owners muster numbers of sufficient impact to eclipse those posted during (old) IMSA's heyday, something's happening here and, when one throws in throngs of the world's best drivers annually heading to the Rolex 24, what it is seems exactly clear - "ugly" car or not.
Speaking of ugly, just where does it come in with regard to the DP, anyway?
Most say "greenhouse."
Question: What are the heights of the Audi R8 and Corvette Z06 street-car rooflines? Answer: 49.17 and 49.0-inches, respectively.
How about the height of the Corvette C6.R GT1 race car? 45.8 inches. The Porsche GT3RS? A relatively whopping 50.4 inches.
"Okay, Williams, I see what you're getting at, so give it up. What's the DPs height?" The DP's minimum allowable height is 41 inches.
Given the reality that sportscar constructors generally don't fall all over themselves building cab-over tractors, it's reasonable to believe DP constructors are far more likely to come as close as possible to the height minimum than, say, building something akin to a Kenworth T660, even though it may actually have "enhanced aerodynamics" as claimed by Kenworth general manager Bob Christensen during the T660's unveiling.
Using rubber bands, this writer recently bound together a yardstick and a one-foot ruler, extending the "stick's" overall length to match that of the DP's minimum height, then stood it vertically alongside his 6'1" frame. It matched the topmost stitching of his jeans' belt loops.
"Okay, Smarty Pants Williams, what was the minimum allowable height for an (old) IMSA GTP?"
Using a ratio of 2.54 mm per inch, (old) IMSA's GTP minimum roof lines were in the neighborhood of 1,020 mm or 40.15748 inches -- just 0.84252-inches below that of the DP minimum.
So, then, for the sake of debate, what was the roofline height of Jim Busby's 1989 Rolex 24-winning 962C driven by John Andretti, Derek Bell and the late, great Bob Wollek?
It must've depended on the ruler because it's been variously cited as 41.5 or 42.3 inches. The car's winning crew chief is Mike Colucci, the one and same as in today's Brumos Racing pits, so ask him if you're really curious. Whatever, the above minimum (old) IMSA threshold would've nonetheless been the operative parameter. As we all know, especially in Colucci's case, crew chiefs never, ever "fudge," much less outright cheat.
"Well then, Smarty Pants, what's the numbers for, say, that (new) IMSA Bentley Speed 8? You know, the car that thrashed the parent company's car and thus soon thereafter sealed its demise?
Turning to the l'Automobile Club de l'Ouest's (ACO) rules of the time, the Speed-8's roofline had to come in at 40.55 inches or higher.
(Oops, does that mean the ACO promulgates "spec" rules? We won't even bother to get into the ACO's December 28, 2007, actions allowing a three-percent greater air flow through the "airflow restrictors" of gasoline-fueled LMP engines. One can either tell 'em what to build or tell 'em how to restrict it after the fact, huh?)
What of the Audi R10? What's its minimum height at its hoops' tops? The same 1,030 mm as that of the Speed-8.
That equates to less than one-half of one inch difference between the minimum height for the ACO's LMP 1 (and 2) class and that of Grand Am's DP. Go ahead, use your thumb and forefinger to gauge the difference. Big time, huh?
While the reader will herein be spared a litany of hard numbers comparing the widths of the above mentioned street and racing sportscars, the DP's allowed 77-inch body width is more than 1-inch less than that of the ACO's spec (oh, no, not that four-letter word again!) and less than the widest point of the sporty street cars cited herein, excepting the Porsche GT3RS. Interestingly, though, due to its relatively high roof line (50.4 in.), the GT3RS' height-to-width ratio is greater than the DP's.
Thus, the DP's "ugly" greenhouse must be due to its width relative to the car's overall width - the design of which placed the driver's safety first and foremost in a car's design.
I'm just not going to find fault with such.
Still to come: DP Gen-2, Part III
DC Williams, exclusively for Motorsport.com