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Flat Spot On: Finish At Rolex Was Not So Great

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, January 26 2014

The No. 5 Corvette of Action Express was overall winner at the Rolex 24 on Sunday.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Top 24 “Tweets” from the Rolex 24:

1.) Outstanding job by the Action Express team to win versus Wayne Taylor Racing. (And, versus the IMSA officials.)

2.) The late race full course caution for Leh Keen’s temporary meeting with a tire wall was a disgrace, given that Keen immediately returned his Porsche to the track. (Because it was so obvious, it was a disgusting manipulation of the race for the sake of TV ratings and a close finish.)

3.) Last lap penalty for the GTD class “winning” Ferrari after the beautiful battle at the Kink? (Gag, as in choke, by IMSAofficials – especially given that a bogus yellow set it up.)

4.) Congratulations to Ford on a decent debut of its EcoBoost V-6 turbo. (The Ford teams needed to finish enough laps or else kiss championship hopes good-bye.)

5.) It’s not been an easy road for the EcoBoost V-6. (When the Michael Shank team first tested the EcoBoost back in 2012 in preparation for the 223-mph record run by Colin Braun at Daytona, the engine and car caught fire.)

6.) Ability can’t be legislated. GM’s racing department and teams should get credit for the company’s prowess considering the success in the Prototype category and the showing by the Corvettes in Le Mans GT. (It’s hard to overstate the depth of racing capacity at GM, which most recently lost top personnel to the re-vamping of the NASCAR Sprint Cup’s technical staff. Which of course brings up the question of home cooking for Chevy…)

7.) The crowd at this year’s Rolex was the largest in the event’s history, in part because the International Speedway Corporation has put so much effort into the facility and fan amenities. (That includes an incredible fireworks show Saturday night – which looked like a million dollars.)

8.) A British journalist, who is a veteran of the Rolex race, observed that the grandstands had more fans than ever before. (The infield’s motor home spaces were sold out months ago and the West Lot outside of Turn 1 was also jammed.)

9.) You don’t hear participating teams or manufacturers, who bark about Balance of Performance, complaining about the large crowds. (Fans just want to see close competition and their favorite marque in the hunt for the win.)

10.) You didn’t read it here first, maybe. But the Balance of Performance was a bust in the Prototype class, because the P2 cars were never in the hunt. (The necessary late change in tires due to safety concerns created difficulties, but it was still a blown opportunity for IMSA.)

11.) A classic quote from Wayne Taylor shows how B of P will always be a pain for IMSA, participants and journalists – and the few fans who aren’t totally confused by it. (“Not saying they got it right,” said Taylor while his Corvette DP was leading from two other Corvettes. “But I’m happy with where we are.”

12.) Give a call to “Big Bill” France, author of the infield and road circuit at Daytona, which remains brilliant after all these years. (The former driver – a participant in the Carrera Pan Americana back in the day – kept it simple and challenging.)

13.) The print journalists who cover sports car racing are getting more and more like the team owners. (Given the fact money paid for covering events ranges from scarce to non-existent, this brand of reporting is an endeavor for only those who can afford it.)

14.) Despite very scary incidents during testing in November, where eventual co-winner Joao Barbosa had a frightening lift-off in his Corvette DP, the re-engineered Continental tires worked well and safely for the DP’s at least, if not the lighter P2 entries. (The tires are built by Hoosier in Indiana with the German company’s engineers participating in the process.)

15.) Unlike stock car racing fans, sports car enthusiasts don’t seem to mind cars gradually beginning to look similar. (The Corvettes keep trending toward something resembling a Ferrari. And, is it me or do the Audi R8’s look similar to the Porsches?)

16.) Enjoyed hearing the Ferrari folks talk about their cars being at the “pinochle” of the sport. (And why is it that only the Brits can get away with referring to a fellow man as a lovely guy?)

17.) Speaking of which, enjoyed Bob Varsha’s tribute to longtime broadcasting partner David Hobbs, this year’s Grand Marshall. (“I remember an F1 race in Adelaide Australia when you lost your voice entirely,” Varsha told his friend during an on-air visit. “One of my finest memories of your career… .”)

18.) When is it OK to report immediately on established details of a bad accident – including photos – such as the accident of Memo Gidley and Matteo Malucelli? (Always. Reliable information on a timely basis trumps shame and horror every time. It’s what we do, report the news as it happens and can be verified. In this case photos are worth a thousand words and helped verify Gidley’s injuries were not life-threatening.)

19.) It’s a tribute to the safety ethic in sports car racing on both sides of the Atlantic that Gidley and Malucelli survived an horrific and highly unexpected meeting between the Horseshoe and the Kink without life-threatening injuries. (It’s always a dangerous business, motor racing, and an emotional roller coaster when things go wrong.)

21.) Last year, at least 21 drivers were killed in motor racing crashes worldwide – so many that most journalists can’t keep up with all of these tragic accidents. (In this light, the deaths of Jason Leffler, Allan Simonsen and Sean Edwards were symbolic of the lesser known weekend warriors who died in drag racing, rallying, vintage racing, road racing and on short tracks.)

22.) I know these fatality facts because I’ve done the research. It’s for my next book – on the HANS Device. (And no, I’m not exploiting accident and injury – I’m reporting on it, which always helps the cause of safety.)

23.) Fox Sports announcer Tommy Kendall, whose legs were injured terribly in a crash at Watkins Glen in 1992, has an interesting perspective on the subsequent changes in safety in U.S. motor racing. Those changes hit critical mass with the GM Motorsports Safety Program – created as a result of the Glen accident. (“When the crashes started happening on live TV, that really started changing people’s attitudes because they could see it,” he told me. “My crash was on live TV.”)

24.) In addition to the exploits of the Taylor family’s father-son-son lineup that finished second, I’m proud to say that I’ve covered the father-son victories at Daytona’s 24-hour. John Paul Sr. and Jr. were the winners in 1982, plus Al Unser Sr. and Jr. were victors in separate years after that. (John Paul Jr., now fighting the challenges of Huntington’s Disease, is still one of the bravest and coolest race car drivers ever.)

Bonus.) Another interesting father-son finish was a fourth over-all and second in class by Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Jr. in 2001 on board a Corvette C5R. (“Shoot, they gave me a lap time to do and I was two seconds under that,” said the Intimidator after his last stint in the Corvette – and his first in the wet.)

Bonus.) A trip to Daytona is not complete without a visit to the statue of Earnhardt Sr., a brilliant bronze rendition standing near the old NASCAR offices and just a couple of hundred yards from the scene of his fatal accident. (This is one piece of bronze that may be silent, but can speak volumes.)

Bonus.) The NASCAR influence on the winning team of Action Express was far more welcome than the NASCAR influence on the new sports car championship, where evidently yellow flags fly for something other than safety. (Gary Nelson and Elton Sawyer, the Action Express team’s management brain trust, were longtime stalwarts in NASCAR before taking up road racing.)

– Jonathan Ingram can be reached at jonathan@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, January 26 2014
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