Grand Am's Daytona Prototypes - Gaining Momentum
© Andrew S. Hartwell(Appeared on dailysportscar.com - August 2003)
"We started this project with a simple goal, to offer the broadest opportunity for people interested in sports car racing to participate in a major professional racing series. With a reasonable cap on technology designed into the rules, major championship racing will be open to more people than ever before."
– Grand American President, Roger Edmondson (GA Press Release, January 30, 2002)
With eight races down and four to go, the Grand American Rolex Series – the instrument of Edmondson’s quest for a ‘major professional racing series’ - finds itself rolling along on four fairly steady wheels and gaining speed with every new event. The critics are not yet completely satisfied on all counts - issues ranging from aerodynamic aesthetics to horsepower and field counts - but some of the nay Sayers have found cause to tone down at least some of their objections to this “grand” experiment. And the people who actively participate in sportscar racing - at many levels - are starting to take things very seriously.
Looking back over the 2003 season, the eight races run so far have not seen a lot of new additions, but the headlines of the last few months scream of new entries to come. And new interim rules for the "cup" classes have been written, in an effort to shorten up the list of variables before the fans.
The races have, for the most part, been good shows. And the Daytona Prototypes, for the most part, are getting through the events without disassembling themselves at speed. The point’s battle for the driver’s championship is very tight with just four points separating the top-three teams and top-five drivers. Brumos Porsche-Fabcar drivers Mike Borkowski and David Donohue are ahead of teammates Hurley Haywood and J.C. France by just two points. Terry Borcheller, in the Bell Motorsports No. 54 Chevy, is just another two points behind them.
While the fields have been propped up by an infusion of Grand Am Cup cars and the odd GT/GTS or SRPII vehicles, the on track action has made many sit up and take notice. And some are even taking out their checkbooks to buy new cars. Actually, quite a few checks are being written. And the team owners all seem to be putting ink to paper for one reason, because they feel good about the future of the series.
One example is Sylvain Tremblay, owner of SpeedSource Race Engineering, an active Grand Am Cup team. He is moving into the DP class, having ordered two new Multimatic Ford Focus DP’s “My two top team owners in the Grand-Am Cup, Paul Mears and Selby Wellman, will be leaving the Cup Series after the race in Ohio to move up to the Rolex Sports Car Series. Both Selby and I tested this year's Daytona winner at Mosport Raceway and that was all it took for us to place our orders on the spot.”
In an earlier DSC interview with Tremblay, DSC asked:
Can these cars capture the interest of fans and start to build a sizeable fan base?
His answer provided a glimpse into what many potential buyers appear to be thinking about with regards to becoming a part of this unique form of “sportscar” racing.
"Stability is the key, both in terms of rules and teams. The rules are going to be the same for years to come, so teams can plan to run the same cars for years and the initial investment makes more sense. The quality of racing will build the fan base with time."
This became a familiar theme when doing research for this article. Essex Racing Services President Michael Gue recently announced he too was buying a new Multimatic Robert Yates-powered Ford Focus Daytona Prototype. His comments echoed those of Tremblay.
“With Grand American's commitment to rules stability, we are taking the long view and believe that the series will grow, so now is the time for us to commit to a car and be in on the ground floor.”
Larry Huang too joined the prototype parade when he recently announced that he is buying a Chase Competition Engineering DP and will have Chris Hall (Panoz driving school instructor) as his co-driver. The car will run under the Silverstone Racing Services banner.
With several teams making recent announcements to join the series, we wondered who else might be out there getting ready to buy a Daytona Prototype. We did a little checking around and came up with the following recap of how the current Grand Am approved constructors are coming along with their respective creations. Understandably, some folks have deals in the works and did not want to reveal any details just yet.
What we found to be most interesting is the number of constructors who are building cars before securing buyers. It takes a great deal of faith to commit the dollars to construction when you aren't certain you will see a return on your investment. The constructors seem to sense that the Grand Am experiment will succeed, and quite probably, succeed beyond expectations. While the traditional sportscar racing purists may not concur, for the constructor’s sake we certainly hope so.
One designer we spoke with said it best, "I think people are making up their minds that – like it or not – Grand AM and the Daytona Prototypes are going to happen."
Kevin Doran was there to debut the Bell Motorsports Chevy - Doran JE4 at the season opening Rolex 24. After struggling a bit through the first few races, the team took the overall win at Barber Motorsports Park in May and went on to wins at Mid Ohio and Daytona. A second - Toyota powered - JE4 is currently being taken to Mid Ohio for testing and is expected to debut at the Glen event.
We caught up with Doran as his crew was loading the car for the ride to Mid Ohio. Never one to see through rose-colored glasses, this reluctant optimist feels the momentum is building for the DP class and he is planning to debut the second car at the Glen. The plan is to show prospective buyers that the Bell Motorsports chassis was no fluke.
“The second car is a Toyota powered car which will be entered at the Glen as a Doran-Lista car. I own the car and Lista is our sponsor. This is to be a house car for Doran Designs. We are using it to develop the Toyota package and to try and attract additional buyers. Chassis 3,4 and 5 are currently under construction at our shop
“I would say that almost anybody in road racing is an eligible candidate to buy our car. It isn’t so complex that someone from Speedvision or Grand AM Cup would feel intimidated to step up to this class. And there are people from all sorts of road racing classes that are asking questions and looking at all their options for next season.
“I don’t think the Grand AM is all rosy and beautiful but there is a definite increase in momentum and there is definitely enthusiasm for the series right now from a wide variety of people. So there are a lot of potential buyers out there. I would say the series is moving forward. They have had some really good races this year. It gives a wide variety of entrants the opportunity to win overall and it’s much more economical than the LMP 900s. I see it as a good solution for a lot of entrants.
“Our plan at Doran Designs is to be a proactive constructor and provide support for our customers at a very high level. We plan to provide a level of support that is higher than they have ever received before. I think Jim Bell would say we did a reasonable job of transitioning their team in the new car. We worked with their guys for the first few races. Their guys did the majority of the work and then after two or three races their guys were doing the entire job. And they have been out there winning races as Bell Motorsports, running a Doran car.
“They have won three times in the last four races so what more could you ask for?”
Brumos Racing were first to announce they would compete in the Rolex Grand Am DP class. With a leg up on the rest, they tested and tested their new Fabcar chassis in the days leading up to Daytona, and the effort has resulted in four wins and four second place finishes in eight events. And they seem to feel positive about the future with several chassis in process.
A quick check of their website tells us that “Chassis 005, 006 and 007 are in the works.” And work is “nearing completion on the Toyota-powered Chassis 005. The car will be leaving early next week for Watkins Glen, where it will be on display August 7-8.”
“Chassis 006, which is sold, will be Porsche-powered. Interest has already been expressed in the 007 car, which is currently unsold.”
No definitive word on who the buyers are just yet.
Campaigned by Cole Scrogham’s very capable G&W Motorsports team, the car has not completely passed the ‘bugs be gone’ stage. The team’s best showing came at Miami, where the car finished second in class, just three laps behind the overall winning Brumos Porsche-Fabcar. They also finished two laps down at Phoenix, coming third behind the two Brumos entries.
In a DSC interview with Gary Horrocks, Scrogham expressed a measure of optimism for the future.
“The Daytona Prototypes will have to be built into a successful program; this will take time and perseverance. Ultimately, I believe in the concept, we will just have to see where the long term takes us.”
This news item just hit the Picchio website as this article was wrapping up.
“There has been a new revolution at Picchio: the aerodynamics, technical and style work on the car (have shown such improvement) that (we have) decided to upgrade the name as well. The Daytona Prototypes ... with the n.003 and 004 chassis will not be DP2’s any more, but DP3’s. Innovations and improvements were made on aerodynamics, chassis, bodywork, engine and cockpit comfort.”
Picchio also announced that they are “evaluating a proposal to form an official team with Italian and USA drivers.” Negotiations are underway with the anonymous group who are looking to create a team “mainly composed (of) Italian drivers, who are interested in (racing in the USA)... most of all in the next Daytona 24 hours.”
The site suggests that the team would become a Picchio “factory effort.
Max and Jan Crawford have been working feverishly to ready their latest creation, the Crawford DP03 Daytona Prototype, in time for the start of the 2004 season. Jan Crawford: "The things we have learned over the years are all being applied to this new car. We see a bright future for the Grand American Series and are proud that Crawford Race Cars will be part of it."
Catherine Crawford and Andy Wallace recently spent several days working with the Crawford DP03 at the Mooresville ARC wind tunnel. Catherine, an ex F1 aerodynamicist, has rejoined
the family company's engineering staff. Andy Wallace is the test and development driver for the Crawford DP03 program.
The Crawford DP03 appears to be well on schedule, and an appearance on the track is just a matter of time. One thing is for sure; any car emanating from the Crawford's shop would be a welcome addition to any series.
Riley & Scott
A DP car was expected from this veteran chassis building enterprise but alas the money from orders did not flow in and the money for expenses continued to flow out. Bill Riley has since moved on to work in NASCAR and it remains to be seen if the R&S DP2 will ever be born and raced.
We asked Bill Riley for an update on the DP2 project.
“Bob (Riley) is working on the car now. It is customer dependent if we will build one. There are a couple of potential customers talking to Bob. There are two chassis started. The design is being finalized and there is a new body shape to be approved.”
While we had Bill available, we asked him to update his status with R&S.
“Bob is still the president with Ron McMahon running the shop. My responsibilities were mainly the race team and some engineering. With JM (Jim Matthews Racing) pulling back there really was not anything for me to do. If or when R&S gets another race team we will hire a trackside engineer to take my place.”
Riley moved over to work in NASCAR for the immediate future. “I am the chassis engineer for the #38 and #88 cars (Elliot Sadler & Dale Jarrett – Robert Yates Racing).”
Lastly we asked if he saw R&S fortunes improving and if so, would he be directly involved in the operation of the business? He replied, “R&S still has a lot of irons in the fire. I'm sure one of them will happen. With my current workload it will be tough for me to be involved. Bob and I talk daily about projects both on his front and on my front.”
Chase Competition Engineering is a racecar constructor based in Ashland VA. The CCE-001 Daytona Prototype is currently under development with one customer on line, the Silverstone Racing Services Team of Larry Huang. Delivery isn’t expected before October so this car will have to be sorted over the winter. Maybe that will give it a jump-start on the 2004 season?
Their website shows several photos of two chassis under construction. To this eye, the CCE-001 under construction sure looks a bit Mosler-esque. I wonder if the overall look, once completed will bear any resemblance?
As mentioned earlier, Multimatic have been taking several orders for their chassis with both Essex Racing signing on and SpeedSource buying a pair. We tried to reach them by telephone for this review but were told we would need to set up a “proper interview”. Deadlines being what they are, there was no time to schedule one.
Gary Horrocks talked with MultiMatic’s Barry Sherry a short time ago and his comments are typical of the mindset most constructors have been operating under.
“I think cars such as the Lola MG are beautiful racecars. They are well made, but they do require significant engineering effort to run to their potential. And what do you have in a few years, after the rules change; a car that isn’t really worth much.
“Racing is not an inexpensive sport, but comparing a racing budget between the two series, I think a Daytona Prototype can be run for about a third of the cost of an IMSA Prototype. And after a few seasons, you still have a car that is worth something due to the stability of the Grand Am rules package.
“At $425,000, ready to go, I really feel that our Focus is a good value. With the engine rules such as they are, our Ford engine will last three races, and with the lower maintenance requirements, a small team can run this car affordably.”
A quick look at their website told us nothing we haven’t known since 2002 so we really can’t offer much more on this. Track time has been hampered by a lack of sponsorship, but despite the lack of additional race experience, the MultiMatic group must have made a favorable enough impression at test sessions to attract two new buyers. Perhaps Grand AM should hire these guys to do the series PR work?
Other approved constructors (chassis and bodywork) include FunTech and Rohr Racing. No news available yet on how they are coming along with their contribution to the DP derby.
Chassis designs (not bodywork) have also been approved for Quaife Engineering and Ursine Associates. Again, we have nothing to report to date.
Next Race – # 9 of 12
Watkins Glen – the sequel - is next up for the series as the Daytonas once again ‘duel’ (Perhaps we should say ‘dual’?) for the fans attention with the mighty cars and stars of NASCAR. The N boys race on Saturday and Sunday so the D boys got to get done ‘runnin ‘round by the close of the day on Friday. Start time for the Bully Hill Vineyards 250 is set for 6:00 PM “or after NASCAR Winston Cup qualifying”.
Sportscar racing at the Glen just doesn’t draw the crowds, as does NASCAR. Having been to Watkins Glen for sportscar races - and finding myself among the few, often – it makes excellent business sense to parade your alternate products before your current customers. Since you’ve already got the behinds in the bleachers why not try and sell them your entire product line?
MultiMatic’s Sherry recently told DSC contributor Ken May: “Obviously there are differences in cars, but NASCAR has the following that can benefit GARRA… The more we can tie in to the success of NASCAR the better.”
What lies ahead for the DPs?
By 2005, the Grand Am's senior officials should have a firm grasp on how successful a product they have been promoting. The 2004 version of the Rolex Series will include three classes: DP, GT and SGS. For 2005, the racing will become a bit simpler for fans to follow when Grand Am brings it down to just two classes: DP’s and GT. The rules changes certainly seemed geared towards appealing to the non-traditional sportscar fans that Grand Am has targeted. Keeping it simple seems to be the goal across the board: start up costs, engineering / specification changes, operating expenses, and fan interest.
What follows is a review of the Daytona Prototype car counts, with all of the cars that are projected to be ready to run at the 2004 Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona, pending realization of all announcements and suggested expectations to date.
2 Brumos Racing Porsche – Fabcars 1Multimatic Motorsports Ford Multimatic 1 G&W Motorsports BMW Picchio DP2 1 Cegwa Sport Toyota Fabcar 1 Bell Motorsports Chevrolet Doran JE4 1 Doran-Lista Toyota Doran JE4 1 Essex Racing Services Ford Multimatic 2SpeedSource Ford Multimatic 1Silverstone RacingChase Competition CCE-DP 15+ Crawford? + Ursine? + Rohr? + Riley & Scott DP2?
There are 24 cars in total entered at Watkins Glen for the next race in the Rolex series and just 7 of them are DPs. We count a possible 15 – 19 Daytona Prototypes that could take the green next February. Increasing car counts by 100% after just a single season has to be viewed as a measure of real success. That is, of course, if they all make it to the grid. But I, for one, will not bet against the steamroller this series has become.
"Grand American Road Racing exists to produce and promote road racing in America. That means we have to have racing that fits the needs of American racers and provides the entertainment that American fans want to see. All of our planning and operations are within the context of the need to provide a stable platform for an American championship series that will stand the test of time."
- Roger Edmondson (GA Release)