Flat Spot On by Jonathan Ingram GOING THE DISTANCE In a bad economy, sports car racing is usually the first one to suffer a major setback due to dependence on both manufacturers and team owners' brokerage accounts. But those looking for an ...
Flat Spot On
by Jonathan Ingram
GOING THE DISTANCE
In a bad economy, sports car racing is usually the first one to suffer a major setback due to dependence on both manufacturers and team owners' brokerage accounts. But those looking for an apocalypse in endurance racing will have to wait.
In the meantime, there's the warm afterglow of the closest 24-hour race in Daytona's history and Brumos Porsche's victory, led by pole winner David Donohue's stirring drive in the closing hour.
This was a Rolex 24 race where nobody had to ask anybody the timeless question: "What d'ya think?" Everybody in a packed house (well, infield) could see from a glance at the track and the scoring towers that it was close, fast and clean from the green. There was a lot of grumbling about a 3 p.m. start for TV, but maybe that's the secret, although Fox Sports coverage in the opening hour more likely kept teams focused on doing the right thing for sponsors than the time of day.
A couple of fellow reporters and I took up our usual positions in the press box -- as old timers who started during the age of typewriters call it -- to watch the start. From these seats in the tower opposite the pit road, the entire course is visible, including the bus stop chicane located halfway to New Smyrna Beach.
Roughly six mesmerizing hours later, with nary a break, we headed for the doors in order to work the pit road. The race had ebbed and flowed among the front runners in either the Daytona Prototypes or the GT's according to driver changes, tire wear, pit strategy and track position.
This one, it seemed clear, would go the distance according to who could sustain a pace fast enough to break the other 10 Daytona Prototype leaders. In the end, it was a matter of pure pace as well as endurance. Sweet.
It is a rare thing when so many of the departed are called up by one car overtaking another, in this case the Riley-Porsche of Donohue slipstreaming past the Riley-Lexus of Juan Pablo Montoya in the closing minutes.
As a result, the world was reminded of the recent passing of Bob Carlson, the longtime PR man at Porsche, the death of Brumos principal Bob Snodgrass in 2007 and the loss long ago of Mark Donohue, the race winner 40 years ago in a LolaT70-Chevy. Even the least sentimental are likely to conclude their memories helped motivate a Brumos team known for its hard luck in recent outings in this race, an event it once dominated in the days of four-time winner Peter Gregg.
In one weekend, David Donohue matched his father Mark, who won a pole two years after winning the race. It wasn't an easy pole session for the younger Donohue, given the fact his dashboard went dark. "I just had to do it the old-fashioned way by the seat of my pants," he said, going balls out instead of eyeballing a read-out on the dash. In the end, he won by 0.001 seconds, beating Timo Bernhard in the Penske Riley-Porsche.
I mentioned something about bad luck recently in the 24-hour for Brumos to Donohue after he'd won the pole. "I don't believe in luck," he quickly replied. "You make your own luck." Stand clear, I thought. If the driver is any indication, the Brumos guys, who tested for a combined 3,800 miles during Daytona's various test days, aren't going to be intimidated by Penske Racing's arrival in a Riley-Porsche or Chip Ganassi Racing's three-race winning streak and usual stellar driving line-up.
In addition to the change in victory lane, Penske's presence was one of the significant new developments, given that he will continue for the rest of the Rolex Sports Car Series season this year and this time was powered by Porsche. (On the heels of his win with Chuck Parsons for Penske in 1969, it was a blue Penkse-owned Ferrari 512M that Mark Donohue drove to the pole at Daytona in 1971. The team took that car to Le Mans, but afterward Penske sat down with Ferdinand Piechs to start a rather successful relationship with Porsche in the Can-Am series.)
Other changes included Porsche stepping up to 4.0 liters from 3.8, which provided just enough oomph to beat the Lexus on the straightaways, and the demise of Pontiac's V-8. The Ford V-8's, where Doug Yates of NASCAR fame oversees the tweaking, were strong but proved vulnerable once up front. The Pontiac-powered teams were never in the hunt, a fact underscored in qualifying. So don't blame three-time NASCAR champ Jimmie Johnson, whose gearbox failed when he left pit road in the Gainsco team's Riley-Pontiac.
Chassis-wise, it remains mostly an all-Riley affair at the sharp end of the grid -- assuming you don't count the guy on the jet ski in Lake Lloyd who was in a class by himself while attempting a 24-hour distance record for personal watercraft.
The Dallaras and Lolas are improving and it remains to be seen for the Crawford of entrant/constructor Max Crawford, which also suffered Pontiac problems. I gotta admit none of the Daytona Prototypes look all that good standing still. Then again, it's not a beauty pageant.
Jonathan Ingram can be reached at email@example.com.