Thursday at the race track is nominally a set-up day. This year at Homestead-Miami Speedway, though, PR manager Phil DeMontmollin decided to give journalists a reason to arrive one day early by giving rides.
No, we didn't get in a two-seater Indy Racing League car, but media did get a chance to test out the south Florida track's 2.4-mile, 12-turn infield road circuit in one of the new-for-2003 Daytona Prototype racers competing in the Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series this weekend.
Brumos Racing, the long-time successful sports car entity put its #59 FABCAR Porsche out on pit road, rifled a bunch of hats and suits and set us off for two-lap tours with J.C. (Jamie) France, son of NASCAR's own Jim France and co-driver this year with renowned sports car ace Hurley Haywood.
Proper shoes were required and, since mine were way far away in my car, Hurley was kind enough to loan me his for my opportunity. I found the smallest driving suit, the smallest Bieffe helmet and thus attired, waddled in Mr. Haywood's size 7-1/2 tennies out to the FABCAR. An easy dip over the sill put me in the passenger's seat where Jamie reminded me not to touch the red button that says "master". Yeah, like I was going to ruin his day?
The Brumos FABCAR Porsche is a proper race car, of course, with nothing but the pertinent information in front of the driver, who sits on the right side of the tub. It's hot, it's noisy and, in Jamie's hands, precise and quick through this very nice infield circuit.
"It's a very busy track and you have to keep your concentration," Hurley had told me before I took my ride and, as usual the five-time Daytona 24 Hour winner was right. There are plenty of curbs to aid the precise driver or foil the inept. There are elevation and camber changes and the transition from road course to oval is way abrupt and choppy.
Obviously Jamie wasn't on it terribly hard with a journalist sitting next to him, but the car felt well set-up in his hands and his driving was confidence inspiring. Crew chief Jim Bailie said he was pleased to have France on board for the season, acknowledging that he's got the goods to accomplish plenty in this field. Must be his genes?
Two laps isn't a lot, but it looks like the Daytona Prototype class in Grand American - if they can get more cars than the handful that appeared at Daytona for the Rolex 24 Hours - can be a winner. Sure made my day!