It’s February And That Means Excitement for Fans – Kind Of

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, February 4 2023

The 2023 Rolex 24 certainly featured newness. But did it feature improvedness?

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

Looking back: 

A large number of people heralded  last weekend’s Rolex 24 race at Daytona International Speedway’s infield road circuit, as the exciting future of sports car racing. (Well, actually a small number of people sitting in front of microphones and cameras heralded the 24 as that a large number of times.)

Whatever. Sports car racing, like it or not, appears to be picking up speed as it transitions into a green future.

At Daytona, IMSA, in conjunction with the Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO, which oversees the long running Le Mans 24-hour race though the French countryside), introduced the Grand Touring Prototype ( GTP) cars as its marquee class. The cars were powered by hybrid engines.

All the cars in the new class are required to use the same hybrid powertrain, which is a 1.35-kWh battery pack by Williams Advanced Engineering, a 50-kW electric motor-generator unit by Bosch, and an Xtrac gearbox. But each marque in the class designed and developed its own internal-combustion engine to pair with the spec hybrid system.

Those power trains sat in chassis designed by BMW, Acura, Cadillac and Porsche – solid racing marques all.

There are ostensibly two major reasons for the move to the new cars. The first is altruistic as the world is going more and more to some form of greener vehicles. The second is economics – the new cars are considerably less expensive to produce.

Next year, Lamborghini is scheduled to jump into the class.

Four other classes of cars took to the track at Daytona over the weekend – LMP2, LMP3, GT Pro and GTD Pro and GT Daytona.

Television networks which carried the race and their announcers and analysts raved about what they watched. Actually, shilled for it might be a better term but such is the state of sports and their media partners these days.

Fan reaction is more difficult to quantify. But based on everything from politics to economics to product on the track, it seems a safe bet to say that “The Next Big Thing” produced cheers and jeers among viewers and sports car fans.

The thought here is that there was a lot to both cheer for and sneer at.

Cheers for a field that included 18 of the world’s top car companies involved in the race, which was scheduled to start 61 entries across the five classes. Seeing cars carrying the logos of Porsche, BMW, Ferrari, Aston Martin, Ford, Cadillac, Lamborghini and Mercedes Benz gives IMSA big cred.

And cheers for the fact that the GTP cars will be able to race at Le Mans and other FIA World Endurance Championship races world wide.

Sneers  for a lack of panache for the four lower classes. The LMP2 and LMP3 classes featured good racing at times but the machinery lacked pizzazz. Those two classes feature cars that were, basically, spec. The GTD classes also lacked some of the things that made GT class racing well worth watching in the past. The Pro and GTD cars are virtually the same this year. The major difference in classes is the Pro cars use works drivers. The GT cars the pros used to driver were excitingly more brutish. The lower GTD class cars were almost as fast as their bigger brothers at Daytona, eliminating what used to be fun of watching the faster Pro cars navigate though a big field of slower cars and drivers.

Cheers for all the stars who were driving the cars. It was truly an all-star field as top shoes from F1, Indycar, NASCAR and the World Endurance championship stinted and restinted for all 24 hours in al types of cars.

Sneers for the fact that many traditional racing marques – like Ferrari and Toyota have, so far, seem not to be interested in GTP.

Cheers and Sneers for the new GTP cars. The world is going green as well it should. Climate change is real, it’s here and it’s threatening the galaxy’s lone inhabited planet. Production of more sustainable, cleaner vehicles is the future; on streets and on race circuits. The hope is that putting those vehicles on race tracks will speed up the production of the technology on the streets.

But great memories of days when sports car prototypes were absolute beasts in terms of power, speed, noise and technology are fading and not likely to return in most of our lifetimes. I’m pretty sure the cars we saw last weekend are not going to generate the kind of memories that the big LMP1 factory Porsches (962s, 956s, 917s), McLarens, Ford GT 40s, Peugeot 905s and right up to Audi and Porsche hybrids of the last decade. Both rising economics and environmental awareness bode against it. (But then again, the gutting of the Can-Am Series because of gas prices in the 1970s was followed by some pretty good prototypes in succeeding eras.)

So, sports car endurance racing appears to be entering a news era. Like it or not. Here? Not. Three events which were must-view and for which an entire weekend was planned around when not in actual attendance – the Rolex, Sebring and Le Mans – are for now very missable.

Coming up:

The NASCAR Cup Series’ 2023 season begins this weekend – sort of – with the traditional exhibition Clash.

For the second year in a row, the event will be held at a short track – areally short track – carved out of the football playing surface of the historic Los Angeles Coliseum.


NASCAR remains a second-tier sport in America. And NASCAR’s planners continue to throw gimmicks against the wall in hopes that things will start to stick. So far, the wall has shown Teflon-like in non-adherence.

It appeared that last year’s Clash did indeed spin the turnstiles. Perhaps out of curiosity. Sunday will offer a test on the event’s continued popularity.

Southern California began slipping away from NASCAR years ago. The giant track in Fontana has been hemorrhaging attendance for quite some time. So much so that it will be redeveloped into a short track after this year’s Cup race. Another wall shot.

And yet another when Cup takes to the streets of downtown Chicago this summer. It’s going to be interesting to see how that works out – not all Chicagoans are putting out the welcome mat as the event will shut down some of the town’s beloved lakeshore attractions and parks for two weeks. But if it does attract a crowd and excitement you can bet other cities will be targeted for future races.

In the meantime, more traditional venues, built in NASCAR’s relavent era are being shut down and used for parking lots. In Joliet, Chicagoland Speedway is celebrating its 22nd birthday by growing weeds. Kentucky Speedway has been hosting trucks – not racing them, just parking them in storage.

Other once-popular tracks around the country have seen attendance slide and races taken away. Casting wary eyes at their own empty seats and  other boarded up tracks, the folks at places like Texas Motor Speedway, Michigan and Kansas can’t be feeling too terrific about their futures.

More bad juju is that the NASCAR Hall of Fame has not been the socko attraction that the sport had hoped for, and is being relocated out of downtown Charlotte.

Patchwork solutions like the one this weekend and Chicago are not the answer.

NASCAR needs to thoroughly reexamine its product. Most races are way too long to hold the attention of a nation saturated with pass times. The racing itself is not that exciting. Certainly not for three or four hours straight.

And watching it on television – a traditional route to bringing in new fans – is all but unwatchable. Commercials breaks are unending and are inserted without regard to what’s going on on the track, the non-stop chatter coming from the booth and garages is inane and the gimmickry of things like stage racing is thinning the broth instead of thickening it. (Dear announcers, race fans do not need to be constantly told how exciting a race is. We can determine that for ourselves.)

Formula 1 is going strong. World-wide, of course, and now in America with the addition of additional events and , it appears, increasing competitor presence via Cadillac and Andretti Autosport.

It’s racing is solid, the cars are marvels and TV broadcasts are darn watchable as they do not interrupt the on-track action with commercial advertisements.

NASCAR needs to dig in and do an examination of what F1 is up to.

Anyway, 2023 is off and running.

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, February 4 2023
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