Braselton, GA –
With the full assimilation of the American Le Mans Series into the NASCAR family of racing still more than a year away, this year’s Petit Le Mans is already showing some early signs that one era of racing is winding down; another is taking shape. Much of the talk on the paddock and infield centered on 2014 and what it means to everyone in sports car racing. Opinions were, well, what you might expect:
“At last, we can address the need for restrictor plates at Sebring!”
“Hey, wouldn’t it be great if NASCAR bought its way into a monopoly of road racing in America – no, wait, nobody’s ever asked that.”
And then there’s the High Octane love-it-or-hate-it truth: “It had to happen, eventually.”
The pros and cons of the unfortunately-named ISCAR deal have been hashed-out for more than a month now, and will continue long into the year to come. What should be a clear plus for manufacturers and sponsors still leaves question marks lingering in the minds of various teams, tracks (none of whom is anxious to lose a date), and most of all, the fans.
It was, for some, easy to forget that we still have a full season of both ALMS and Grand Am to come next year – and we also had one pretty big ALMS season finale over the weekend.
Despite the absence of traditional European turbo-diesel heavy hitters Audi and Peugeot (the former gone to WEC, the latter just… gone), the crowds still turned out in huge numbers to see their perennial series favorites throw down on the hot Georgia asphalt (and sometimes red clay) with a sprinkling of European Le Mans Series regulars who made the trip, as the ELMS’ own late season schedule has been cannibalized by the FIA’s World Endurance Championship.
Also absent from the week’s racing schedule were some of the regular support series, so no SCCA World Challenge Touring and GT races, though the hole in the schedule was filled with some dramatic and close racing from the Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup series.
With the ALMS GT title already decided (and LMP categories all but finally sorted), some of the most fun was in watching what were effectively exhibition and development entries – the first proper endurance race for SRT’s new Viper GTS-R team was a success, with the #91 car finishing a respectable 8th in class as SRT boss Ralph Gilles watched from his team’s pit box.
However, the bigger (no, biggest) fun-run of the week was without question the US competition debut of the Delta Wing. After being crashed-out by a competitor’s imbecilic move at Le Mans in June, the program was supposedly dead – only to be resurrected for Petit. The joy was momentarily put on hold, however, when another imbecilic move (this time from Green Hornet Porsche driver Peter LeSaffre, who later went on to take out the Muscle Milk HPD car during the race) wrecked the Delta Wing during practice on Wednesday. No strangers to rebuilding a wrecked car overnight at Petit Le Mans, Duncan Dayton’s amazing Highcroft Racing team reconstructed the car overnight – complete with the headrest tips painted high-visibility red to make the otherwise stealth-fighter black Batmobile easier to spot. It worked, and the Delta Wing not only went the distance, but finished an impressive 6th overall.
In an earlier era, another great American racing team once used the term “Competition Proven” on its cars. Decades later, the Delta Wing and all those involved in its effort, have made it Competition Proven.
That’s it for this season – I’ll see you at Sebring.