Podium of Thoughts on 2020 24 Hours at Daytona
1. Convergence: Even if this was the greatest 24-hour race in the history of the world, it would still have been overshadowed by the news which came out on Friday.
Against all odds -- and even against the optimists -- the ACO and IMSA agreed to come together to ensure all prototypes can compete for the overall win at Le Mans starting in 2022 as well as other WEC events and possibly at IMSA events.
This means the new WEC prototype class, the Hypercar and the various sub-rules within that formula, and the new IMSA prototype class, LMDh, formerly referred to as DPi 2.0, will be able to compete against each other.
This could be the dawn of a new golden age for sports car endurance racing. Manufacturers have been clamoring for a meeting of the minds. Those who wish to continue the Hypercar route because they want to build their own chassis (Toyota and Aston Martin) can continue ahead. Those who want a lower budget solution to take on Le Mans and still be able to race in America, can choose the LMDh route.
The list of manufacturers who have shown interest in this joint decision is massive. Of course, we already have Toyota and Aston Martin. Peugeot by all accounts will most likely switch their focus from Hypercar to LMDh. The three current IMSA participants -- Cadillac, Acura, and Mazda -- are expected to continue even if they are being coy right now.
Those who are now considering entering factory programs with various levels of interest include Ford, Lexus, McLaren, Lamborghini, Porsche, Audi, BMW, and Ferrari. Heck, even Hyundai has been rumored to want to get involved in prototype racing and had representatives at Friday's press conference. And those are just the ones we know about with some statement or rumor.
If only half of those names mentioned above pull the trigger, it will be an outstanding field. One for the ages.
Now, we've been here before. During the original DPi creation, the ACO originally agreed to allow them to compete for the overall win at Le Mans. Then, they backtracked and said they will BoP them to compete in the LMP2 class. Finally, the ACO completed the screwing of IMSA and said DPi cannot compete at Le Mans, period.
So, is history going to repeat itself? The giddiness I felt on Friday reminded me on how I felt while watching the world celebrate the new millennium on New Year's Eve heading into 2000. It seemed all was right with the world, and we had great things to look forward to. Then, ~20 months later, 9/11 happened, and it jolted me back to reality -- the world still sucks.
The devil is in the details, of which we are supposed to get a lot of at Sebring. Plenty of time for all this to fall apart. Will I be jolted back to reality in a few months time, realizing the powers that be in sports car racing still suck?
I don't know. But the pessimist and cynic in me which dominates my life is still planning that dream trip I always wanted to take to Le Mans. And I'm planning it now to go in 2022.
2. Quality vs. Quantity: Now, back to the current IMSA. This year's 24 Hours of Daytona had the smallest field in history -- 38 cars. And as expected, the PR spiel began that it's quality that matters, not quantity. The problem with that marketing shtick is it doesn't hold up in this case for two reasons.
First, we lost quality teams. Is IMSA suggesting the Chip Ganassi Ford GT team was not a quality team? I think not. And how about all those top level Ford drivers who were unable to find a ride this year? Wankers? Absolutely not!
The Nissan team may not have been top contenders, but they held their own for a non-factory backed effort. And many of the GTD teams which couldn't answer the bell this year were no slouch outfits. There was plenty of quality which we lost.
Secondly, in endurance racing, fans love to see lots of cars. Sure, that is usually the case for all kinds of racing, but more so for endurance racing because the nature of endurance racing means there could be lots of DNFs. And no fan wants to see the latter part of an endurance race with a small car count and no worthwhile battles.
Also, part of the fun of endurance racing is watching the driving skill of faster cars getting around slower cars. This happens all the time with the mixed classes, and it's part of the allure of endurance racing. So why suddenly brag there are no longer lesser cars in the field to get in the way? Cars get in the way all the time in endurance racing. The more the merrier -- or at least the more fun for fans to watch.
The lack of cars, however, did lead to many predicting few full course yellows, and combined with beautiful weather (we can finally erase the bad memory of last year's biblical downpours) would lead to a record distance. That's exactly what happened. 2,965.48 miles were completed over the 833 laps. That's 63 more miles than a trip from New York City to San Francisco. And that trip -- without Brock Yates -- according to Google maps would take 44 hours.
Now, having said all that, we're not really worried about the low car count. There are many transitions going on in prototype and GT classes these days. The aforementioned convergence of prototypes should solve that class moving forward. Now, they need to solve the GT issues which will soon face a very similar (lack of) convergence situation.
Quality and quantity. They are not mutually exclusive in endurance racing.
3. Father Knows Best: We all know the story of the family run racing business of Wayne Taylor. He didn't set out to build the team as a place for his sons to drive. But for 10 years, he had his sons race for him.
Then, Ricky Taylor got an offer from Roger Penske. You don't turn down an offer from the Captain. Not to mention a factory drive with the likes of Acura. Next, Jordan Taylor got an offer to drive for the factory Chevrolet Corvette team. Again, you don't turn down an offer like that.
Wayne understood this. And proudly watched his sons take these major steps in their racing careers, wishing them well. And, the sons knew they had to make these moves away from their father.
But in the end, who was the only Taylor winner this year at Daytona? Ricky watched as his Acura was knocked off the track and into the tire wall to eventually finish 22 laps down. Jordan's Corvette was not the one which ran into problems, but still finished a lap down in fourth place for the maiden voyage of the new mid-engine C8.R.
Meanwhile, the father was celebrating in victory lane with the overall win. The family run racing business does it again.
Lobotomy of the Race Award: Harry Tincknell. Just four hours into the race, Tincknell made an ill-advised pass attempt on Helio Castroneves' Acura entering the Bus Stop chicane. The results was Castroneves into the wall hard, costing that car any chance of a good finish. The Mazda was given a penalty.
One could look at how many drivers complain about the driving of Castroneves. The fact that Tincknell was frustrated the way Castroneves weaved around while passing slower cars. And Castroneves seemed to have an opportunity to back out and let Tincknell have the space. However, ultimately, it is the responsibility of the passing car to make the safe pass.
And it's not like Tincknell has a clean reputation. His hard driving style has gotten him into hot water before. The most infamous one was when he seemed to be en route to giving Mazda their long awaited victory at the 2018 Laguna Seca race only to throw it away with a boneheaded passing attempt on a lapped car.
It's a 24 hour race. 24 hours! You can wait a turn or two when you have 20 more hours to go to make the pass, especially if you know the driver you are passing never makes it easy for you.
Luckily, this did not damper the Mazda effort completely. They both finished the complete 24 hours, and the #77 car did so on the lead lap. This is the first time Mazda in it's current form completed 24 hours. Even though they had an excellent chance at claiming victory, ultimately finishing all 24 hours and in second place was a great achievement.
Special Mention: Scott Atherton. We never had the opportunity to give the proper shout out to Scott Atherton at the end of the 2019 season after he announced his retirement as President of IMSA.
Now is just as good as time as any with the convergence announcement. Even though he is retired, he has still maintained his role as the IMSA liaison to the FIA and ACO. He was the one who laid the foundation for the convergence over the past year. And he was the one who brought those talks to their conclusion.
There are many fans who criticize Atherton. But quite frankly, sports car endurance racing in North America would be a lot worse off without him. It was his idea to approach the France family to merge the ALMS and Grand Am and then convinced Don Panoz. And he was the one who led the merger, which despite many stumbles, overall helped sports car racing achieve the status it has now. The same cannot be said for the Indy car merger.
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