#LET THE GREEN FLAG FALL ON 2008
I go through it every year: just as the last checkered flag falls on a season's last race, I'm already past ready for the season to end.
Flying here and there, trying different food, sleeping in different beds, going to races at one time or another to just about everyone's "home" track sounds exotic and probably is . . . until around the 25,000-mile frequent flyer mark. Especially when one realizes that the flying is only about half over - for the races in one series, alone. Never mind the tests and shows, elsewhere.
So, when one season ends it's always safe to say that, about two weeks later, I can't wait for next season to begin.
With only NASCAR left to finish its 2007 season, it's time for 2008 to begin -- at least for the Rolex Series.
As if it hasn't already begun. Doran already tested some of his 2008 stuff at Daytona International Speedway the first week of October (after getting in a darn good golf game - for him - on the Monday before with a certain motorsports journalist).
Still, a Tuesday and Wednesday tire test at Daytona International Speedway will be the first time Rolex Series teams have gathered and showed their combative, contentious side en masse since the series' Sept. 18 Las Vegas awards ceremony.
Absent from major North American race competition over the last year, Italian tiremaker Pirelli will jump back into the frying pan by getting its first look at most of the Rolex Series' teams that will for the next three years exclusively use its tire on their Daytona Prototype or Grand Touring machines.
NOT YOUR GRANDFATHER'S PIRELLI . . .
. . . even if he raced in Europe.
"Racing in North America is a bit different than in Europe and special design and compounding is needed to optimize performance (and to that end) we have developed a special product tested at Grand-Am competition tracks and on Grand-Am race vehicles specifically for Grand-Am competitors," Pirelli's Paul Hembery said.
A lot of good things have already been said by those who have tested the race tire, named the P-Zero, that'll shod the Rolex Series' race cars. A longtime Pirelli standard-bearer, a street version also is found in a nearby retail store for your Belchfire 2.1 daily driver, too. Also in the works is a Pirelli-made "Grand-Am" street tire. Pirelli's really stepping up to the plate on this deal.
Christian Fittipaldi, during happier times with Eddie Cheever Racing (more, below) and in the wake of Pirelli tests occurring at Daytona International Speedway, Homestead-Miami Speedway and Birmingham's Barber Motorsports Park, spoke highly of the tire's grip and, importantly, the tire's ability to maintain the same characteristics at a run's end as those at its beginning.
Memo Gidley - who in 2008 rejoins Kevin Doran and the Ford-powered No. 77 Doran-turning-Dallara Kodak car -- pretty much noted the same qualities.
"It's a very consistent tire," Gidley said. "It's really nice to put down some laps in a tire that's built with sportscar passion from a tiremaker who has bled sportscar racing and tires for many, many years. I'm really looking forward to a season's worth of Pirelli."
Meanwhile, Doran worries about the tire's cost, saying, "It's gonna cost us hundreds more than the Hoosier." But, that's Doran - and just about every other team owner the world-over, bless their pea-picking hearts.
Drivers, like a junky looking for his next fix, want two things: horsepower and tires. Yeah, uh-huh, like they know what they're talking about, huh?
Brumos Racing team manager Mike Colucci -- one of those who weren't among the seven teams (something like four DP and three GT) which already tested the Pirelli tire -- is curious about the tire's longevity.
"Say what you will about the Hoosiers," Colucci said a couple of weekends ago during Porsche's Rennsport III at DIS, "those tires lasted. Of course, they were built like passenger car tires."
Built using many of the same techniques as that employed for street tires, the Hoosier featured a steel-belt construction, which Colucci pointed out as being one of principal differences between the two tires.
"The only steel in the Pirelli will be in the bead" to help mount and maintain the tire's seal on the wheel rim, he said.
As a result, Colucci expressed concern about the tire's longevity -- fearing the new tire will be subject to more punctures - though he's not terribly concerned about wear.
"That," he said, "I expect to be really good!"
Bottom line: expect the DP and GT cars to pick up the pace a bunch; a whole bunch.
Mike Shank Racing's switch to Ford power (built by the Roush Yates engine combine) wasn't altogether a shocker to some -- though it probably was such to Toyota Racing Development.
Shank's association with TRD/Toyota goes back to his driving days, during which he scored the 1996 Toyota Atlantic C2 Championship.
Shank stayed with Toyota when he became an open-wheel team owner (bringing the likes of Sam Hornish, Jr., into major-league racing) and again chose the TRD-developed Lexus engine when he moved to Daytona Prototypes with the 2004 Rolex 24 at Daytona.
At the time, other than Shank being an open-wheel team owner, this writer didn't know didley about Shank when he asked TRD's Gary Reed if he knew anything about the Ohio native.
Given that Reed has long been inclined toward speaking in straightforward manner, in the process of which pulling no punches, his effusive praise of Shank spoke volumes.
Shank's and TRD's mutual admiration made breaking up hard to do. They've meant a lot to each other.
Shank's been wooed by many engine makers over his four seasons in DP but stayed solidly in the TRD camp until Ford made him an offer he couldn't refuse -- one which will help develop the Shank cars unlike ever before.
Shank is one of the most respected team owners in motorsports and loved by his personnel. The team's cars have shown of what they're made in being proven winners. Look for 'em to find Victory Lane more frequently in 2008.
DP's NEW LOOK
Don't expect to see a lot of new 2008 Daytona Prototype bodies at the Pirelli test, most aren't ready - at least, not on the outside.
Such is the post-design approval scramble to build shells that carbon fiber production facilities are being tied up. Lola (Krohn/Multimatic) is said to be really rolling, with four such facilities engaged nationwide.
Bob Riley's newest tweaks (and he presently has the most out there to tweak) reportedly won't be ready until about mid- to late-December - just sneaking under the bell for the Jan. 4-6, 2008 test days.
Indeed, one wonders if some won't have bodywork until the Jan. 26-27 Rolex 24 At Daytona. If that's the case, it's almost a certain bet some will be staying with the tried and true. SunTrust, though switching to Dallara for Homestead-Miami, will be working its Riley to the max for the long, grueling race and probably wringing everything it possibly can from the chassis.
Still, most should be ready for the Jan. 4-6 Test Days at DIS -- they just aren't likely to be run through tech and, from what I hear, Rolex Series officials aren't likely to require a technical inspection.
They will at the Rolex 24.
And that's why it'd be in the best interest of constructors and team owners to get all the headaches out of the way in early January -- one of the original reasons for long ago establishing that test date.
Up front: beats me.
For Christian Fittipaldi everything was hunky-dory with Cheever Racing at the mid-September Miller Motorsports Park race in Tooele, Utah. Indeed, he was very enthusiastic about the recent evolution of the FABCAR and held out considerable hope for 2008.
Credible, late but unconfirmed information says Fittipaldi is headed to rides in either Aston-Martin or will share a seat with good friend Tony Kanaan in an Acura.
TAYLOR TO DRIVE FOR SUNTRUST
You're probably thinking "Wayne" Taylor but I'm thinking more "Rick."
Wayne's son, Rick, has already gone farther than even his father had expected because three, maybe four years ago Rick and younger brother, Jordan, weren't even remotely interested in motorsports, leaving their father resigned to growing old thinking there wasn't a chance in Hades of him passing along the family business to his sons.
Since then, the two Taylor Brothers -- Rick's closing in on something like 17-years -- have put petal to metal in go-karts, then in Skip Barber, Mazda and others. Rick's walked away with regional and national Skip Barber titles and the old man (oops, sorry Wayne, but it 'tis what it 'tis) is nothing less than thrilled that he'll get a chance to drive with Rick. However, you can bet he won't voluntarily close his career until he's driven with both sons in a Rolex 24 - a long-held dream.
Even if the two don't eventually inherit the family business, it's clear they inherited the genes.
Will Jimmie Johnson take a break from his Nextel Cup championship pursuit (needing to finish something like 18th or better to clinch this weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway) to hang Tuesday and/or Wednesday at DIS with the guys in the 99 car? Furthermore, I'm curious as to the car number he and Vassar will use in "select" 2008 Rolex Series races. Let's see, 48 x 2 96. One might want to start comparing the 2008 Sprint Cup and Rolex Series schedules.
Don't ya just love this sport?
Mr. Starter: wave that green flag and let the season begin!
-DC Williams Exclusively for Motorsport.com