Three Thoughts on 2018 24 Hours at Daytona
Call it the podium of thoughts.
1. An Old Fashion Endurance Race: It may not have been the most exciting race on track, but it was what endurance races used to be all about. A lot of that was thanks to so few full course yellows (more on that later), resulting in prolonged running causing various issues.
Modern day race cars have become so reliable, endurance races, even 24-hour events, have turned into all out sprints. Not so this time. Tires exploding at worrying rates (causing the defending champions to drop out for safety concerns), new teams teething problems, and leaders having to keep one eye on temperature gauges and the other on the track, kept the final result a mystery till the end.
Sure, in the end, it was Cadillacs again and Ford GT dominating GT Le Mans. But look deeper, and there is more to the story. The Cadillacs, running a new, smaller (relative to themselves of course, not to the other manufacturers) engine suffered various overheating problems. This forced the remaining two cars to go into early survival mode (and a lot of sweating and crossed fingers from the pit boxes).
The Team Penske Acuras were competitive. So were the Nissans at times. Now, it's a matter of fixing their reliability concerns. The LMP2 independents were extremely reliable. We don't see a Cadillac domination (other than they have the numbers on everybody else) for half a season until Balance of Performance catches up like last year.
As for GTLM, let's face it, the Ford GTs are built for one track and one track only -- Le Mans. Daytona happens to come pretty close to fitting those specs -- long, fast straights, which fits the Ford GT to a T. They don't perform as well on other tracks, and Corvettes do much better on tracks with tight corners thanks to their superior torque coming out of those turns.
Meanwhile, GT Daytona is going to be a slugfest all season.
2. Quality Driving: Just four full course yellows for the entire race (the safety car drivers must have been bored out of their wits to sit in a car for 24 hours and only go out four times). Complaints have run rampant the past few years over IMSA's overuse of FCYs, many putting the blame on the parent organization, NASCAR. So, let's give credit where credit is due.
There were times in the past where a quick FCY would have been thrown. IMSA was patient this year. But, the biggest factor was the driving quality (with one notable exception, more on that later). Very few incidents between cars or even solo brain farts. And we can't help but wonder how much of the lack of FCYs is due to the Prototype Challenge class no longer being around. Just look at Watkins Glen last year for the number of FCYs PC cars caused despite having a meager number of entries. And we mean meager in many different ways...
If this level of driving stands up, we are going to have cracking races full of all out green flag running. Combine that with a successful DPi rules package, large fields, and top flight teams, cars, and manufacturers (and of course outstanding tracks) and 2018 will truly be the renaissance of sports car endurance racing in America.
3. Same Old, Same Old: There is no other way to put this. So, we'll just be blunt. The Mazda DPi program is still an unmitigated, utterly complete, literally flaming, disaster.
Mazda pulled out of the series last summer and spent gobs of money hiring Joest to give themselves time and expertise to redesign the car for more speed, work on engine reliability, and get their logistical act together. All led by the most famous and successful endurance racing team of this century. You know, the ones that made Audi a dynasty.
An unattached wheel after their first pit stop. As one fan wrote on the racer.com message board, "SpeedSource could have done that for a fraction of the price."
Then, an engine explosion so comprehensive it ignites the entire rear end of the car with an early morning bonfire. (Gee, the rear half of a Mazda prototype alight ... oh, what long ago memories that brings up...) Not to mention various problems and most of all, lack of speed.
Where does Mazda possibly go from here?
Lobotomy of the Race Award: This one is obvious -- Robert Renauer of Wright Motorsports in the #58 Porsche 911 GT3 R. Somehow, he manages to wad up the car on the pace lap ... no, not even the pace lap ... on the formation lap.
It's a mystery how it happened and no one is talking. But the end result was obvious to the world -- extensive front end damage apparently from a shot into the wall.
This team was a bona fide contender for the GTD class win with a loaded lineup, including Christina Nielsen, two time GTD class champion, and Patrick Long, America's only factory Porsche driver, defending Pirelli World Challenge overall GT champion, and all round sports car ace, along with Mathieu Jaminet, one of four Porsche Young Professional drivers. But, there was also Renauer...
Special Mention: Scott Pruett. What a career. But, how will his family get hellos from him now...?
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