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TRG Could Crunch GT Competition With Numbers

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, January 25 2012

The No. 68 TRG Porsche 911 takes a corner during last week's Roar Before The Rolex 24. The TRG cars will roar for real this weekend at Daytona. (Photo courtesy of the GRAND-AM Series)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

Headaches stem from a wide variety of causes and take a wide variety forms. Kevin Buckler this week, has what might best be described as a happy headache. Yes, it pinches a little bit from time to time but overall, he loves that headache.

During a telephone conversation Monday, Buckler even attached a positive label to the headache, calling it an “epic adventure”.

Buckler is the owner of The Racers Group sports car team which fields Porsche 911s that compete in the GT class of the GRAND-AM Series.

For this weekend’s 50th anniversary edition of the Rolex 24-hour race at Daytona International Speedway, TRG will field five 911 GT3s. Those car will be guided by 23 drivers. They will be tended to by a scurrying mob of 125 support personnel.

For the man in charge, the numbers all represent what he calls a “logistical nightmare”. A headache.

The good part is obvious for people who love racing.

“It’s a challenge,” Buckler, a former driver who founded the team in 1993, said. “I’m a real competitive person and this is the event that everyone can talk the game but you got to be able to walk the walk here at Daytona and nothing will hide it.

“You got a problem or an issue or something with your team or car or personnel, it will manifest itself and
it will bite you in the ass at Daytona. Hard.”

Buckler has been bitten many times. But, he’s bit back. His cars have won the Rolex 24 four times. A TRG car won the event a year ago.

In addition, TRG has won the Le Mans 24 and has won 32 GRAND-AM races.

The five TRG teams which will take to the track this weekend in the Rolex will be driven by a wide range driver types. Those types will include everything from veteran pro drivers with Formula 1 experience to those who are less seasoned “Gentleman Drivers”.

Some of the cars will be on the track solely to compete for the GT championship and Rolex watches that go with it, some will will be driven by people who have convinced Buckler – through performance and, yes, ability to pay – they deserve to be in a TRG 911 GT3.

“Different goals for everybody,” Buckler said. “But, we try to match them up. I’m kind of the madam, working to make sure everybody’s happy and accomplishes the goals. Some of these guys will be so happy to finish the race and other guys are not going to be happy unless they’re on the podium and running the whole time in competition (for the victory).”

Buckler insists he will give all his drivers the attention they need to reach those goals.

The podium-seekers will include world-class sports car drivers like Porsche factory driver Wolf Henzler, 24-winner Spencer Pumpelly, former F1 driver Eliseo Salazar and Le Mans veteran Marc Goossens.

The wrist watches that go to the winners of this weekend’s edition of the Rolex 24 will shine a bit more brightly than those which have been awarded  in past years.

Yes, because this is the golden anniversary of America’s most important sports car race. But also because in order to win one of those watches, competitors in the GT class will have to beat a much bigger field than in years past, and a more diverse field of cars.

This Saturday, the usual marques – like those of Porsche, BMW, Mazda, Viper, Camaro – will be back in large numbers. But in addition, traditional European car makers Ferrari and Audi will be represented.

The thought of all that gives Buckler – who ended his foray into Sprint Cup after the 2011 season –another one of those happy headaches.

“Honestly, I wouldn’t normally say this, but, this could be the biggest one for us,” Buckler said. “If we were to win this, it would be because we simply kicked ass. There is such a strong GT field that nobody is going to be handed anything. None of the wins we have had at these big races have been easy, but this one looks to potentially be one of the toughest.”

A couple of Audi R8s are entered. Ferrari will race its 458 Italia. Driving one 458 will be NASCAR team co-owners Michael Waltrip and Rob Kauffman, along with Travis Pastrana. Former IndyCar driver Scott Sharp will lead a second Ferrari team.

Love it, Buckler said. The tougher the comeptition the better for him, his team and, especially, the GRAND-AM Series.

“For years,” he said, “I felt that if I was a benevolent dictator sort of angling the way the sports car model should work, we should be running and promoting the marque. I’ve been a GT guy because I believe in it.

“I believe there is relevance in these cars. When you see a car that looks like a car on your drive to work and you come down to the track and you got 200 other guys in the car corral like you, you get behind it. You tell your friends and it starts that rivalry and that’s all good. That’s what car racing is all about. It brings in more money, it brings in more attention.”

And, yes, more headaches.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, January 25 2012
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