THE LAST DANCE? There's nothing unusual about seeing driving-suit clad racers or their - usually close-at-hand "support base" - staring intently at electronic scoring monitors, but on Thursday (and, probably, Friday) it was a different kind of...
THE LAST DANCE?
There's nothing unusual about seeing driving-suit clad racers or their - usually close-at-hand "support base" - staring intently at electronic scoring monitors, but on Thursday (and, probably, Friday) it was a different kind of electronic monitor that had the attention of many: the handheld PDA as it downloaded the latest from the financial markets.
Money and racing are inherently intertwined but probably no more so than in sportscar racing - from the drivers who drive the race cars to those racing to the track to watch 'em.
Maybe such is the reason one is likely to see explosive growth in 2009's AMA Pro Racing series - where even the fastest off-the-shelf motorcycles are cheaper than many a pit-side war wagon.
Ah, but the crowds amassed here to see the fast cars and the Pirelli girls during the hoopla of Saturday's Sunrichgourmet.com 1000 perhaps will wish only for simpler times when a Porsche 962, Jaguar XJR-8, Pontiac Spice, Buick March, Mazda and Toyota fought go toe-to-toe for sportscar racing supremacy - as worldwide financial markets melted down in October 1987 (remember "Black Friday?").
Sportscar racing survived then; it'll survive "now."
MEANWHILE, IN THE REAL WORLD
While Scott Pruett, Memo Rojas, Tim Keene, Kent Holden and the rest of the Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates No. 01 TELMEX Lexus-Riley team have apparently wrapped up the 2008 Rolex Sports Car Series Daytona Prototype driver and team championships, fate could yet deal an unexpected hand to one of the No. 01's driving duo.
Grand-Am's 2008 Sporting Regulations (15-5.1) state a driver must spend a "minimum of 30 minutes driving time" ... "to be eligible for driver points."
What happens if, say, the No. 01 Telmex car gets punted and irreparably harmed during the race's 35th-minute but without the team having undertaken a driver change or, if at the 81st-minute, after having made the first driver change only 20-mimutes earlier?
Given the above rule, much would depend on when such might happen and who was behind the wheel at the time as to which Telmex driver, if not both, ultimately will win the 2008 DP driving championship.
Under either of the above scenarios - applicable to every driving team in the points - one Telmex driver could win the championship while the other suddenly is relegated to second place in the final DP points.
It's not likely to happen, of course, but neither did many expect Pruett to take his New Jersey practice "ride" or that, at one brief point, the team deciding to not at all race in the NJMP event as a result. Or that we'd ever see a financial meltdown equivalent to the 1930's.
(Trust me, it is good news that even a motorsports writer is writing about the financial markets. Doubt such? Buy any one of David Dreman's books to learn the reason.)
Despite the Telmex truck's 1,400-mile roundtrip sprint from Millville, N.J., to Indianapolis and back again with a backup car - the admirable effort of the Telmex crew in readying that car, notwithstanding - had Pruett's accident occurred on Friday or Saturday the team likely would've been altogether absent from the NJMP show.
The team need not worry about such at Miller Motorsports Park's Saturday Sunrichgourmet.com 1000k race, for one at least Telmex driver will win the 2008 DP title whether they race at all.
(And, no, there isn't supposed to be an "or not" in the preceding sentence. Ask any English grammarian possessing a PhD because, by what I've seen, most teachers and professors evidently don't today care to teach otherwise. Or, easier, check it out at www.webster.com.)
Likewise, Bob Stallings and his defending No. 99 GAINSCO Auto Insurance team of John Fogarty and Alex Gurney (joined by Jimmy Vasser, here) will claim second-place in the Rolex Series' 2008 championship, despite whatever others may do.
So why at all go to the race or tune in SPEEDtv's 1 p.m. EDT Saturday live coverage?
Check out the action in the battle for 3rd through 6th in the Daytona Prototype driving championship, while an additional six GT-class drivers and their respective, three teams seek to come out of Salt Lake City with a first in that championship.
Fighting for the last-available DP championship podium spot are seven drivers spread over four cars who are separated by all of six points.
Brumos Racing's Porsche-Riley DP Nos. 58 (David Donohue, Darren Law) and 59 (Jaoa Barbosa, J.C. France) are locked in a battle with the No. 61 Barrick Gold Ford-Riley (Mark Wilkins, Brian Frisselle) and the No 60 Michael Shank Racing Ford Riley (Mark Patterson, Oswaldo Negri Jr.), which is coming in to Utah after scoring a win at New Jersey Motorsports Park.
Of the drivers in the latter car, only Patterson is actually in the hunt due to Negri not scoring points at Montreal when his car failed too early after he took over.
That Negri isn't going to get anything out of the fight points-wise won't make any difference to the scrappy Brazilian, who'll again put the hammer down in aiding Patterson at a track where the MSR driving pair scored a 2006 win. They're aided this year by Ryan Dalziel, who finished second in the 2007 race.
The whole drama was heightened after Thursday's practice round was concluded when the No. 59 Brumos Porsche-Riley (not a typo, folks) topped the scoring pylon with the fastest DP time.
Could such be expected in Friday's qualifying. In short: no - but who would've expected Lehman to tank? (Oh, there I go again.)
Over in GT, a presently 3rd-place Sylvain Tremblay and Nick Ham (joined in their No. 70 Castrol Mazda RX8 for this race by David Haskell, who usually is found only in the team's pit box) will win should the two finish nine spots ahead of points leaders Paul Edwards and Kelly Collins (Banner Engineering No. 06 or, maybe, No. 07 Pontiac GXP.R).
However, the above scenario works only should Andrew Davis and Robin Liddell park their "Little Engine That Could" (No. 57 Stevenson Auto Pontiac GXP.R). However, one just doesn't get the idea that team manager Mike Johnson would go quietly into the night on that sort of deal.
All speculation may be moot, though, if Paul Edwards - playing by the rules - "legally" jumps from the No. 06 to the No. 07 to score sufficient points to win the driving championship.
RULES RULE (sometimes)
First of all, "rule" is a four-letter word. Really, ask anyone, and especially whoever's on the wrong side of a rule.
In defining "rule," Webster's "Third New International Dictionary" expends 765 words in so doing. Whew!
Distilled (as much as is possible), rules is a "conduct guide."
The problem is putting that "guide" into words because rules books rarely have an economy of words whereas most officials gifted in developing rules are proportionately incapable of efficiently inscribing those rules in an easily comprehended manner - never mind the grammatical mistakes that, if one really nitpicks, effectively nullifies some rules.
(The above was a test: if you couldn't follow it; forget rules-book reading.)
Furthermore, any attempt to close one loophole by "narrowly" defining an existing rule will inevitably result in creating a new loophole in, contradiction of or confusion about existing rules.
Whatever, rules are generally perceived as necessary for "fairness" ("fair" being yet another four-letter word which, again, depends on viewpoint).
Here's a good one: Grand-Am Sporting Regulations 15-5.3 is an attempt to define driver eligibility for accruing points in the pursuit of a Grand-Am championship. It reads:
"Distance is measured in whole laps completed by a car with lap credit going to the driver who crosses the scoring line at the end of each lap. In cases where a minimum distance is required to be eligible for points, fractional laps will not be counted."
Sounds straightforward enough, right?
As noted earlier, a companion Sporting Reg. No. 15-5.1 states a driver must have no less than "30-minutes" of "driving time" so as to be awarded points accrued in the pursuit of a championship.
Putting the two definitions together, though, those "30-minutes" cannot include a "fractional" last lap, even should a driver have crossed the minimum 30-minute threshold and, especially, during an "in" lap.
Sounds straightforward enough until one realizes a start/finish-line's location rarely is at the beginning of a pit road.
Huh? How does that figure into the deal?
Depending on pit location, upon completion of the 30-minute time minimum, some competitors can immediately visit pit lane, thus crossing the start/finish line before actually stopping in an assigned pit and changing drivers. Those having a pit prior to the start/finish line must undertake yet another circuit of the race course, otherwise the exiting driver will have completed only a "fractional" lap and a therefore incomplete stint.
Boiled down, one team's "closing" driver can get in one more lap relative to that of another team's closing driver.
Using a team's strongest driver for a race's final stint is a strategy used by just about every team ever known. To intentionally spot another team's strongest driver even one lap is dumb, especially in a closely matched competition like that of the Rolex Series.
The avoidance of yielding that advantage underlies one team watching, like a hawk at every race, that which a competing team undertakes in driver strategies.
Though gentleman-driver teams are hardest hit, the full-lap requirement can also hurt professional drivers because it is commonplace for one driver to absolutely "love" a track upon which his counterpart is relatively uncomfortable. Teams frequently shift starting and closing driver line-ups based on its drivers' track preferences.
Such isn't to say all drivers won't push as hard as is possible but it's easily understood that accomplishing any task whatsoever is made easier and, likely, more efficiently when it's perceived as "easy."
It therefore behooves a team to have a pit box beyond the start/finish line so as to best use the "whole lap" requirement under 15-5.3.
Tell that to more than one race team caught up in the conundrum occurring recently at Infineon Raceway and at New Jersey Motorsports Park, each time being foiled by pit boxes established prior to the start/finish lines, and who were either actually penalized under the rules or were effectively penalized - going a lap down to others - while respecting those rules.
All of which brings to the forefront yet another complaint about rules: "complaining" about them.
Darned if you do; darned if you don't.
Now, on with the championship fight at Miller Motorsports Park.
DC Williams, exclusively for Motorsport.com