Including why we should never call the Ganassi No. 2 the 'star car.'
Ten things we learned from the 2015 Rolex 24 at Daytona:
1. Balance of Performance seems pretty darn close. I don’t envy anyone at IMSA or the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship for having to balance three entire classes of cars (Prototype Challenge comes pre-balanced, since they all use ORECA chassis and Chevrolet V-8 engines). But it seems most all the properly-prepared, competently-driven cars were able to get close to the front at some point in the 24 hours. Feel free to disagree – and I’m sure plenty of you will.
2. Gentlemen drivers aren't going anywhere. Every year the call is raised to better screen the paying drivers, because every year more than one of them makes a mistake that could, or did, alter the outcome for multiple teams. There were several notable mistakes this year, but the fact remains: Without drivers who bring money or sponsors, it’s very likely the field of 53 this year could have been at least a third smaller. And when paying drivers abound in Formula One, it’s hard to argue against the concept. We’ve had paying drivers for decades: They aren’t going away. Think of them as rolling chicanes. Easy to say for me, I know, but for the guys approaching an unprepared driver at 180 mph in the dark, it isn’t funny.
3. DP vs. P2 battle still undecided. The results certainly don’t show it, but the new Honda-powered Ligier JS P2 of Michael Shank Racing was consistently the fastest car on the track, and sat on the pole. Also quick, when they ran properly, were the two Extreme Speed Tequila Patron Hondas, and the Krohn Judd-Ligier. By time we get to Sebring, a track that perhaps favors the P2 style more than the Daytona Prototype, few would be surprised to see one or two of the properly shaken-down P2s on the podium. As winner Scott Dixon said of his Ford-Riley DP car vs. the P2s: “That’s a new car. It was just made, it’s got a lot of technology. And we’re racing a car that’s 10 years old, with 10 years’ of updates on it.”
4. Speaking of P2 cars, Mazda gets something to write home to Japan about. No one on the grid has worked harder, spent more, than Mazda and SpeedSource in trying to make their pair of Skyactiv P2 cars go faster and last longer. It was nice to see the 07 car lead for a while, even if it was due mostly to fuel strategy. But you have to wonder if Mazda would have pursued the diesel route if they’d known that the diesel-powered Mazda 6 still isn’t for sale in the U.S., or if gasoline prices would drop to below $2 a gallon. Similarly, we were glad to see the DeltaWing go so fast, sad to see it break so early. Transmissions have been the Achilles heel of that car since the first test in the desert, and still are.
5. A tip of the cowboy hat to Texan Ben Keating. Keating is an absolute Dodge Viper loyalist, and he is the largest Viper dealer in the world. When Chrysler dumped its GT Le Mans program at the end of last year following its championship season, Keating dug into his own (admittedly deep) pockets and he and car builder Bill Riley not only represented the Viper with a fast two-car GT Daytona team, they won. Keating is also one of those rich gentlemen drivers no one has to apologize for: I’ve raced against him, and he’s very fast. He was near tears in the press conference, likely thinking of the conversation he will have to have Monday with his accountant -- probably similar to the one he had after Sebring, 2014, when his only race car burned to the ground.
6. Good news, bad news for PD: Good news for driver-team owner-actor Patrick Dempsey: He had a podium finish in GT Daytona in his Porsche. Bad news: He was mostly undercover, hiding from the cameras, due to the just-announced end of his 15-year marriage. Said Radar Online: “Insiders tell us that the actor’s passion for high-speed car racing was an ongoing source of tension in the months leading up to his wife’s divorce filing.” Yes, those insiders know everything.
7. A tip of the yellow-goldish gimme cap to Continental Tires. We didn’t hear many complaints at all this year from the three classes mandated to run the Continentals, and the company is making noise about going after the GT Le Mans class, now dominated by Michelin. That would be fascinating to watch. Go for it.
8. Ford EcoBoost V-6 engine rules. They only complaint we heard at the North American International Auto Show this year surrounding the debut of the stellar Ford GT was that such a magnificent car deserved at least a V-8, if not a V-10, or V-12, or V-16. Maybe the dominating performance of the Chip Ganassi with Felix Sabates Ford Ecoboost V-6-powered Riley this year will make that engine a little more welcome in Ford’s new supercar.
9. Cool it, Chip. It was funny hearing Chip Ganassi rail at the first mention in the post-race press conference at his “star car,” the winning No. 2 with the all-star guest lineup of Scott Dixon, Jamie McMurray, Kyle Larson and Tony Kanaan. It was sort of like one of those endless lectures you get from your father. “Let me say one thing before we go any further: That ‘Star Car,’ I don’t know who named it, but I don’t approve of that name.” OK, Chip. “I want to tell you that.” Got it, Chip. “It’s like any other car on our team.” Fine, Chip. “I want to go on record as saying that.” Duly noted, Chip. “That’s another moniker that one of you guys came up with, not me!” Give it a rest, Chip. You love all your children equally. We get it.
10. Balance of possum. Unanimously, if one team could be accused of placing a dead possum in the front compartment of their Porsche 911 for laughs, it’s the fun-loving scamps at Magnus Racing. But facts support the assertion that driver Andy Lally did find a suicidal Daytona infield possum on the race track Saturday night, and that contact with said possum did result in it inserting itself inside the Porsche, where Lally and team owner John Potter promptly named the deceased “Ballast.” In honor of the possum, we would support an initiative that might have the Flying Lizard team rename itself the Flying Possum team, at least for Sebring, since there are possums everywhere there. (Actual headline in The Independent in London: "Daytona 24 Hours overshadowed by possum death."