Doran-Lista's Lienhard Steps Down as Pro-Level Endurance Sports Car Driver LEBANON, Ohio, Nov. 4 - At a special dinner following the Grand American Rolex series' season finale at California Speedway last Sunday night, Fredy Lienhard told his ...
Doran-Lista's Lienhard Steps Down as Pro-Level Endurance Sports Car Driver
LEBANON, Ohio, Nov. 4 - At a special dinner following the Grand American Rolex series' season finale at California Speedway last Sunday night, Fredy Lienhard told his fellow Doran-Lista Racing teammates of his decision to retire as a driver at the professional level of endurance sports car racing.
Doran Racing will continue to be one of the top teams in the Rolex series, but Lienhard's company, Lista, the world-wide leader in modular storage solutions, will be one of its associate sponsors in 2005 rather than its primary sponsor.
Lienhard did not say he was hanging up his helmet completely. He may compete in smaller events in Europe from time to time.
He said the two biggest factors which caused him to make the difficult decision to step down from American racing were the time it requires for him to be away from his business and the increased level of competition in Grand American's top class, Daytona Prototypes.
Lienhard lives in Neiderteufen, Switzerland.
"With the day of travel to get to the states, followed by testing on Thursday, practice on Friday, qualifying on Saturday, the race on Sunday and a day of travel to get back to Switzerland, each race is at the minimum a six-day commitment for me," he noted. "To do that 12 times a year - or 14 since there will be 14 Rolex series races in 2005 -is just too much time for me to be away from my business. I have enough pressure from my work.
"It is also not fair to the team for me to drive when I have such a lack of seat time," he said.
Lienhard only drove in two Rolex series races in 2004: the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla. Jan. 29-Feb. 1 and the Food City 250 at Phoenix International Raceway in Phoenix, Ariz. in April.
He noted the increase in the Daytona Prototype class's car count, and the ever-increasing trend for the top teams to use professional, not semi-professional, race car drivers in an effort to win.
Although Lienhard told team owner Kevin Doran and lead driver Didier Theys that he was considering this move in June, he said the decision was not an easy one to make and that he did not arrive at it totally until after a meeting with one of his board members on Oct. 26.
"I have to have the courage to retire now," said Leinhard, who is 57. "My time as a more or less competitive race car driver in professional racing is over. I just have to face this fact. I always said that I wanted to continue as long as the team could get on the podium with me as a driver. More or less this has been the case until Sebring in 2003, but it is not possible any more. There are just too many top drivers, and I can't spend the necessary time it takes to be competitive.
"I have had a very good time, and I am thankful for that," he continued. "I had almost 30 years of amateur and professional racing in Europe - from karting to Formula Vee, GT, Sportscar, Formula 2, Formula 3000 and Can Am - and 10 years in North America, with the Ferrari 333 SP, the Dallara Judd and the DORAN JE4. Racing was not only a hobby; it was a learning experience. Most importantly, however, it created friendships with many fine people, especially with Didier and the Doran team."
Lienhard, who was visibly moved, told members of the team that winning the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona in 2002 was a dream come true. He also said he will never forget the team's victory at Mont-Tremblant, Quebec later that year where he; his son, Fredy Lienhard Jr.; and Theys set the largest margin of victory in Rolex series history.
"You have been very important to me, and you helped me achieve my dreams," Lienhard emphasized to his fellow teammates. "I will never forget this!"
Members of the team were then left almost speechless when he presented each long-time team member with a Rolex watch. He had other high-quality Swiss watches for the newer team members with whom he hadn't worked as closely.
"Other people get a watch when they retire; Fredy retires and gives us all one," one team member said of his generosity.
At Lienhard's request, news of his decision was not made public until a few team members who could not attend the season finale could be told of his decision in person.
"To me, the Doran-Lista team is the best team there is," said Lienhard at the dinner, held at the four-star Mission Inn in Riverside, Calif. "I am sure I'll be going to some races here and there, and I look forward to seeing you then. You have done a super job and you certainly made my life better, and I thank you."
"Fredy Lienhard has been great to work with and Lista has been a wonderful marketing partner," Doran said. "We have all enjoyed our relationship, and we'll continue to enjoy it in the years to come, although on a different basis.
"I know that people will immediately ask about our outlook for a new primary sponsor, but we're always looking for marketing partners and we are in discussions with some which look promising," he said. "As a founding Daytona Prototype car constructor with the DORAN JE4 through Doran Designs, we have already made a huge commitment to the future of the Grand American Rolex series, and we intend to continue to play an integral role in that series, both by fielding a top team and by producing the DORAN JE4."
Lienhard has been racing for almost 40 years. He started in karts in 1965, and then moved up the ladder into Formula Vees and Formula 2 cars. He was named the Swiss Vice Champion of Sportscars in 1975. He raced as part of the Horag-Lista Ferrari team in the IMSA World SportsCar championship in the early nineties, and then began racing with Theys in 1995. He joined forces with Doran Racing in 1996.
He was awarded the Swiss BP Racing Trophy in recognition for outstanding merits in international motorsports in 2000. The following year he was part of the Doran-Lista effort which was victorious in the Six Hours of Watkins Glen at Watkins Glen International in Watkins Glen, N.Y. as well as at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis. The Rolex 24 at Daytona victory came in 2002. That year he also finished second in the Paul Revere 250 at Daytona with Theys, and won the event at Mont-Tremblant, Quebec. Both of those victories came in the Doran-Lista Dallara Judd.
Due to business commitments he was only able to compete in one American Le Mans Series (ALMS) race (the 12 Hours of Sebring at Sebring International Raceway in Sebring, Fla.) and one Grand American race (the Six Hours of Mont-Tremblant) in 2003. He drove a DORAN JE4 for the first time at the latter event, finishing fifth in class with co-drivers Theys and the 2004 Rolex series GT champion, Bill Auberlen.
This year he was part of a four-driver roster in the Doran-Lista DORAN JE4 Lexus at the Rolex 24, sharing the cockpit with Theys, Jan Lammers and Marc Goossens. He also qualified 14th at Phoenix and drove in that event, finishing 14th in class after Theys was involved in an accident while running fifth.
For more information, see lista.com, www.listaintl.com, www.doranracing.com, www.grandamerican.com and www.restartcommunications.com.