SPEED's Brian Till closed out the Rolex Sports Car Series awards banquet late Monday at Las Vegas' The Venetian with, "That closes the 2007 season." This journalist disagrees, because last weekend's Sunchaser 1000 race will be next year's "Race ...
SPEED's Brian Till closed out the Rolex Sports Car Series awards banquet late Monday at Las Vegas' The Venetian with, "That closes the 2007 season." This journalist disagrees, because last weekend's Sunchaser 1000 race will be next year's "Race Moment of the Year" (or whatever it's called). More on that, later.
All but done and forgotten, the 2007 season has gotta be defined as "pretty darn good" when championships are decided not just in the season's final race, but the final laps of that final race.
The Rolex Series' two (and only two) championship chases went to Saturday's Miller Motorsports Park's Sunchaser 1000 each having four drivers capable of winning their respective championships. Not just theoretically so; actually so.
The GT class' top-three championship finishers (in order), Dirk Werner, Kelly Collins and Paul Edwards (tied for second/third), wasn't determined until Andy Lally and R.J. Valentine, who stood just five points behind Werner when the two arrived in Salt Lake City, were knocked out after their engine blew (as did a second team motor, later) just 195 kilometers into the 1000k event.
Still, Lally and Valentine finished fourth in the standings, winning five 2007 GT-races along the way.
So wild was the Daytona Prototype championship fight it was virtually indescribable, made even more difficult when two race cars, otherwise all but off the radar screen, took the race's top two finishing spots.
Few people know or understand that newspaper space - called a "budget" - is dictated long before, sometimes days and weeks, a printing press starts its run. A finite amount of available space, in this case a sports section, is further sub-divided into specific-sport subjects such as football, racing, golf and etc. Editors, unless earthshaking developments arise (like O.J. Simpson getting nailed), loathe last-minute changes to already assigned article lengths because changing one story's allocation impacts another story's allotted area. If one is lengthened, another must be shortened. Before long, the guy in charge of the inch-counts - the "slot" man - is dealing with a printed Rubik's Cube.
Given the three-point margin between three teams - the No. 99 Gainsco/Bob Stallings Pontiac-Riley; No. 01 Ganassi/Sabates Telmex Lexus-Riley; and, No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac-Riley - most everyone who came into the fight rightly expected the race story to also boil down to those in the championship fight.
For most of the race, such expectations proved correct. During the 139-lap Sunchaser 1000, from Lap-63 to Lap-115, alone, there were five lead changes among the three championship contenders.
Moments later all heck broke loose among the race and championship contenders - one literally in a ball of fire - and race watchers suddenly saw yet another, altogether unexpected race-lead battle break out between two DPs hardly mentioned beyond SPEED's ever-present informational crawlers atop the TV screen.
At the end of Lap-139, when Marc Goossens drove, no, flew the No. 91 Riley-Matthews Motorsports' Pontiac-Riley across the finish line ahead of the No. 11 Samax Pontiac-Riley, it became the seventh - count 'em, SEVENTH - different team to have won a Daytona Prototype race in 2007.
Yep, one car, the No. 99 of 2007 driving champions Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty, dominated the "wins" column, but still not to the extent that nearly every other car was excluded from "counting."
On the eve of Saturday's DP slugfest, Christian Fittipaldi (of Eddie Cheever's No. 39, Crown Royal Special Reserve Pontiac-FABCARFORNOW) was in the Miller Motorsports Park media center checking his e-mail from adoring fans the world over.
Asked of his 2008 plans, Fittipaldi said, "I had a lot of offers coming in to go Europe and to other series but I gave it some hard thought."
Fittipaldi turned his gaze through the media-center windows to 4.5-mile track two stories below, then continued, "But after a lot of thought I decided I'd rather go out on a track and every time race with 10 cars (rather) than go out on a track with 10 cars that are racing. There's a difference."
Looking back toward the reporter, eyes shining as a big smile broke across his face, he added, "Do I want to win? Of course I do! But I want to do it not because I just showed up at the track on race day. I really like testing myself against 10, 15 other drivers all at the same time. I'm a racer; not just a fast driver. Do you understand what I mean?"
Back at the Rolex Series awards banquet two days later - and given the angry, post-Sunchaser 1000 verbal exchanges - one halfway expected fisticuffs to erupt.
Sadly, all involved acted like civilized people.
Given the floor while accepting an award, Chip Ganassi said, "I'm of the mind that championships should not be won in the last race of a season, but in each race of that season."
That'll become even more difficult come next year when constructors Dallara, Lola and a new engine or two (beginning with the Porsche-Cayenne) break onto the scene.
A taste of what's to come from Dallara was offered at Sunchaser by Kevin Doran's No. 77 Kodak Ford-Doran, which will return again with Kodak livery in 2008 but as a "Ford-Dallara."
Driver Memo Gidley put that car, with its 2008 suspension, into and kept it in the Sunchaser's top-three for much of the race's first 30 laps. Such being done with hardly any testing AND with the 2007 bodywork (about which it being replaced with 2008 bodywork for the Sunchaser 1000 is something that humbles this now-corrected writer). However, if the 77-car ran that well on its new suspension, what'll it do with a new aero look?
Wayne Taylor, with his gutsy switch to Dallara for 2008 (after the Rolex 24 At Daytona), seems to know.
On hand for Monday's banquet, Dallara Automobili president Gian Paolo Dallara, coyly smiled when your now-humbled reporter cornered him at the bar and asked about the 2008 body work. Then again, maybe Dallara didn't quite understand dialectal "Southern," coming from a mouth that had already put five, full-strength Diet Cokes between its lips and gums (that stuff will sneak up on you).
Also signing up for DP v20.08 is a top-secret factory program as are, quite possibly, another couple or three NASCAR types jumping the fence, joining Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates on the Grand American side.
(But, hey, being paid piecemeal, I gotta save something about which to write over the next few months. So, we'll get deeper into the above, later.)
Also at the banquet was NASCAR's Jim France, Brian France, Mike Helton, Jim Hunter; IRL's Tony George; International Speedway Corporation's John Saunders and a bevy of other heavy hitters (pero, te faltamos, Carlos Slim) who had some great laughs (Hurley Haywood's socks were the absolute best; even moving SPEED's Leigh Diffey to words about them over the PA system. The coolest part about it? Hurley's reading this, thinking, "What the heck is Leigh and DC talking about?")
Even Bob Snodgrass was there - if not in person, then in everyone's mind. And heart.
So, why is the 2007 season yet to fully close? Because the 2007 Sunchaser 1000, for what will be its second consecutive year, will produce the Rolex Series' 2008 "Race of the Season" (or some such similar title).
The Rolex Series' Awards Banquet timing, close on the heels of the Sunchaser 1000 finish, doesn't allow enough time for sought-and-received votes that include the same-year Sunchaser. Thus, the previous season's Sunchaser 1000 is included in a following year's balloting.
Mike Shank Racing's Oswaldo Negri and Mark Patterson were cited as this year's winners for their 2006 Sunchaser 1000 underdog race victory, and received the 2007 award at Monday's banquet.
As will those frantic moments - 115-laps into this year's Sunchaser 1000 - be made the 2008 winner. For how could any race be more exciting?
Then again, there were a bevy of darn good other moments in 2007 with, likely, more to come in 2008.
Written Exclusively for Motorsport.com by DC Williams