The big question at Petit Le Mans: Who is coming back next year?
There’s an elephant in the room at Road Atlanta. Several, really, in the press room, upstairs where the public relations people are, in the paddock, on the pits, out on the track in turn 12.
The elephant is comprised of rumors about 2015, especially on a rainy, stay-inside day like this one. Not unusual. We never come to a Petit Le Mans where everyone joins hands and signs “Kumbaya” and unanimously celebrates the season just passed.
This year, that elephant is fat on conjecture. This Audi team may be bailing on the TUDOR United SportsCar Series for the Pirelli World Challenge. These Porsche teams might be bailing for the World Endurance Cup. Those guys haven’t decided if they want to race next year at all.
But the biggest, and undeniably most obvious contribution to the rumors is the absence of the Extreme Speed black-and-green P2 Prototypes.
As they announced at the last race, at Circuit of the Americas, the team decided to skip Petit Le Mans to instead race in the FIA World Endurance Championship’s Shanghai round on November 2, partly as preparation for racing in the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Team owners/drivers Ed Brown and Scott Sharp insisted that no, they weren’t really unhappy with the TUDOR Championship.
No happy face
But this team, a staunch supporter early on of the TUDOR series, can’t put a happy face on missing this last race for two reasons especially. Brown, head of Tequila Patron, was credited by both Grand-Am’s Jim France and the American Le Mans Series’ Dr. Don Panoz as a driving force behind getting the two men to the table and hammering out the single series we have now.
And second, besides the TUDOR championship to be decided this weekend, there is also the North American Endurance Cup – the best teams in the four longest races, including this one, are competing for a separate award. Specifically, it’s called the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup.
Let’s face it: No matter how they paint it, the absence of the Extreme Speed team – Brown, Sharp, Ryan Dalziel, Johannes van Overbeek and whoever else they would have hired to help with this 10-hour race, is like missing Thanksgiving dinner with grandma. There may be some perfectly legitimate reasons for it, but having an offer of better cranberry sauce at somebody else’s house may not be one of the better ones.
In an interview with Autoweek.com a few days ago, Brown and Sharp tried to put at least an expressionless face on the absence, but “Balance of Performance” was still mentioned a lot. Their two Honda-powered open prototypes, they insist, simply don’t have a chance at the overall win with the current regulations.
After explaining why they were going to Shanghai, Brown told Autoweek, “The other thing too, we didn’t feel like running around fifth or sixth or fourth and fifth at Petit spending that kind of money.” Will that be fixed when the team takes possession of the new HPD ARX-04b LMP2 coupes next month, or will they just take those cars to the WEC?
The elephant is shaking his head. So are a lot of other people at Road Atlanta this weekend.