Here's my season's gift to you: a "What and Who Dunnit?" with a twist: the reader gets to fill in mystery names in an updated, neo version of "The Scrooge Who Stole Christmas." (I know, I know, but I was trying to quickly span a couple or ...
Here's my season's gift to you: a "What and Who Dunnit?" with a twist: the reader gets to fill in mystery names in an updated, neo version of "The Scrooge Who Stole Christmas."
(I know, I know, but I was trying to quickly span a couple or three generations of readers, above.)
The following is based upon conversations ranging from brief to extensive, undertaken with more than two-dozen people from open-wheel and sportscar racing.
FIRST GEAR -- It's An Almost Alright Wonderful Life
It all sort of began a couple of months ago - Christmas decorations already filling most stores - when a certain well-known race car driver of the feminine gender started settling into her new open-wheel team.
Having beforehand demonstrated her driving ability and further able to deliver a devoted fan base, the striking driver was pretty much in a contractual driver's seat, too, whilst hunting for that new team.
Thus enabled with a power possessed by a veritable handful of drivers, at her signing she was able to secure assurances of her freedom to occasionally also race elsewhere, thus enabling a Rolex Series Daytona Prototype car owner to build a team around her.
Making at least one, and possibly a few 2007 "guest" drives, her first DP-class race would be the Jan. 27-28 Rolex 24 At Daytona.
Owed in part to its relatively early place on the Gregorian calendar, over its life the Rolex 24 annually has attracted driving talent which spans nearly every motorsports discipline (even at times drawing championship motorcycle riders) and the likes of which in sheer quality and quantity isn't surpassed by any other race.
Over the last few years a horde -- we're talking dozens upon dozens of world-class drivers -- have again and again gathered to follow a Daytona International Speedway road course blazed over the last 45 years by drivers bearing names like Andretti, Bandini, Donohue, Elford, Fangio, Foyt, Gurney, Hall, Haywood, Ickx, McLaren, Pearson, Revson, Rodriguez, Surtees, and ... well, one could go on for a while. Easily so.
Truly, the list of talented drivers who have competed in the Rolex 24 is nearly unfathomable.
Beyond camaraderie or a desire to measure driving ability against others not ordinarily encountered, visiting drivers possessing talents and credits ranging from Formula 1 to NASCAR freely discuss style and tactics in the Rolex 24's essentially neutral atmosphere.
Year after year they continue to come, perhaps not so much as to be tested as to test themselves, because seat time at Daytona just isn't ordinary seat time; it is quality seat time. For many drivers the Rolex 24 isn't just somewhere to race; it's a place to learn.
But I digress.
It seems the earlier-mentioned very fast lady had such an enjoyable and professionally challenging time in her 2006 run that she wanted another go in 2007, for which she was to team with a two-time stock car champion who, coincidentally, also was one of her present open-wheel series' earliest champions.
Oh, and she was going to get a couple of other world-class teammates.
One, a Scotsman, had among his many accomplishments more than a dozen prototype-class race wins; ran Formula 1 test cars for at least four different manufacturers and is believed to be among the best set-up drivers now alive.
Another teammate-to-be, a Dutchman who goes fast enough on the ground that he really doesn't need to fly, became an honorary member of the British Racing Driver's Club (" ... bestowed upon only a special few ... who by dint of nationality do not otherwise qualify" according to the BRDC) for a near-heroic Le Mans win while driving a car with a broken transmission, no less, and handing the associated manufacturer its first Le Mans win since the 1950's. Oh, and add more than 40 Formula 1 starts to this driver's credits.
Abandoning this all-star Rolex 24 team in early November, the lady driver's official line was her desire to concentrate solely on her new open-wheel team.
Though the "official" was a credible reason, an unofficial line very soon thereafter started working its way through the grapevine: the driver's open-wheel organization didn't want to make waves with an underwriting manufacturer who frowned upon the lady driver being in a Rolex 24 car.
Good intentions on the part of others notwithstanding, manufacturers have big hammers and, according to more than a couple of sources, it started banging loudly in this case; it's noise affecting at least one other open-wheel team.
The net result? Absent a key player, the associated sponsorship package goes sour and the DP team built with this lady driver largely in mind folds; entirely so.
And we're talking "out of here," which, in turn, throws dozens of people - presumably facing life like the rest of us - out of work less than two months before Christmas.
SECOND GEAR -- Hold On Tight
"If ever anyone thought Porsche was demanding," one multi-decade racing insider said last week, "You knew they hadn't seen anything until they experienced these guys - who by comparison make Porsche look like the most cooperative manufacturer on Earth."
Another, altogether different driver later in November apparently would arrive at the same conclusion.
Preparing for its 2007 debut in a different U.S. sportscar series, the manufacturer in question took an even harder hard line with respect to the number of its sportscar drivers allowed to race in other cars: none.
Courted by the manufacturer through one of its associated 'official' teams, a fulltime sportscar driver - also counted among the world's few best setup drivers - had been offered a contract of such a golden nature that at its expiration he'd never again have to worry about earning a wage of any sort.
Sure that his life's pursuit had finally borne fruit of considerable proportion, the driver immediately started working for the manufacturer's team absent of a completed contract.
However, as the contract's conditions were being forged the sportscar driver began having second thoughts due, in part, to the open-wheel driver's situation.
Adding fuel to the fire, the manufacturer let it be known it was disinclined to allow the sportscar driver to do his thing anywhere for anyone else at any time - even though doing such in sportscars has been commonplace for decades. Indeed, the winner of two 2006 major driving championships would nab one in each of two entirely unrelated sportscar racing series.
Yet, in a spirit of cooperation with the manufacturer, the sportscar driver narrowed his desire from an unlimited number of otherwise non-conflicting races to endurance racing events elsewhere, only. Reportedly, the manufacturer agreed.
The sportscar driver had one advantage the open-wheel driver hadn't: he would later see what happened to her.
With the contract at the print shop and him heading to a test, the driver literally turned his street car around and went home. Adding it all up, he believed the manufacturer would later pressure him to do what it desired and not observe that which had been contractually agreed.
In short: manufacturers have big hammers, you know.
Like the open-wheel racer and pinned against a late-year wall of time, the sportscar racer did not want to poison his relationships with litigation. All he wanted to do is drive.
Unlike his open-wheel counterpart, though, he didn't have a guaranteed ride for the 2007 season with anyone, anywhere - at least, not at the time he turned his car around.
THIRD GEAR -- "What's Alright?"
To be fair, the same demands made by the manufacturer of other drivers didn't cause them to turn around before signing their respective contracts though at least one has had second thoughts, having last week expressed regret over signing away a freedom formerly exercised.
Also, cited as an accomplice, some industry insiders from different disciplines implicated the series in which the manufacturer will compete, a claim presently unsubstantiated by this writer.
One thing seems to ring clear, though: a manufacturer who places almost draconian driving restrictions upon those seeking the ultimate line hurts those who seek it and, ultimately, deprives a manufacturer of more knowledgeable drivers who understand the imperfect human condition and to whom "seat time" is not just some overused mantra or cliche. For some reason at least some manufacturers don't seem to understand that concept while a majority of team owners do get it.
Also, as has been demonstrated by the associated series' hassles with other manufacturers in times recently past, when a series appears to have saddled up to one manufacturer in the name of perceived "equity" it only irritates the heck out of competing manufacturers - mostly at the expense of owners and drivers competing within the series. When they go, so too does the series.
Recognizing such, this writer doesn't at all envy the rules makers and administrators of any motorsports series because they at times walk an incredibly delicate line.
Porsche, actually aiming to make a few bucks on customer cars while continuing a resurrection of its spectacular past racing identity, is now facing competition from a manufacturer who, if we are to believe many industry insiders, wants to do one thing: dominate, irrespective of cost or others' ruffled feathers.
Lastly, one can only wonder about the ramifications of a clear-cut affront to U.S. motorsports' Really Big Gorilla - the principals of which own a very healthy chunk of the Rolex Series and who possess elephant-like memories.
-- Commentary written exclusively for Motorsport.com by DC Williams