Climbing Out Of A Bomb Crater
A Conversation With Kevin Doran
© Andrew S. Hartwell
Every team owner looking ahead to the next
season knows that you make a plan, you set
up a budget, you line up the drivers, and then
you go racing. But sometimes the plans go
up in smoke, just like an area that has been
hit with a bomb. Or like a tire that is on fire.
Or a tire deal that just burns you up.
Along with team owner Fredy Lienhard, Kevin Doran heads up the Doran-Lista sportscar team. They are always in the hunt for a win be it with their 'stock' Ferrari 333SP or the Ferrari-Judd they have run the last two seasons. Doran also has a wealth of experience in several other forms of racing and he builds cars for a spec racing series. Most recently, he made a run at putting together a car to run in the AGT class in Grand Am. But the rules later changed for that class and so that particular effort has gone 'back to the garage'. Doran explains, "Our car doesn't fit into the current AGT rules. We have Winston Cup wheels and tires on it. I don't see running that car at all (in 2002)."
OK, so the AGT idea went south. For 2001, Doran and Lienhard decided to try the all-new, and unproven Crawford SSC2K. But after a trying time of struggle to try and get the car to slip through the air faster than the competition, the team decided to pack that attempt in at mid-season and go back to the Ferrari-Judd.
Doran, "The Crawford had an aerodynamic problem. We eventually sold the car back to them. They spent a lot of time in the wind tunnel this summer so they may have worked out the problem, I don't know. They spent four times as much time in the wind tunnel this summer as they did before they built the car. The base is now 400% further down the aerodynamic road, and that is where the problem lies. I do think they will get it going, it is just going to take a little time. "
But it won't be Doran's time that is taken. For Kevin Doran, the Crawford chassis just didn't get there fast enough so the man decided to look for his next spark in another man's campfire.
Never one to stand still and watch the competition drive by, and with the Ferrari growing long in the tooth - and short on the straights - Doran decided that 2002 would be the time to try moving on to yet another new chassis. The choice this time was one of the Team Oreca Dallara LMP900 cars that ran at Le Mans this year. (They picked up Chassis #1.)
This set Plan "A" (developed with purpose and vision from inside the Doran-Lista headquarters) in motion.
Doran was looking to find the same kind of fire-on-four-wheels that he had when the Ferrari was new, and still had for many years afterwards as well. The venerable Ferrari chassis (built by Dallara) just continued to improve and stay competitive.
Looking ahead to 2002, Doran-Lista racing set their sights on pairing their Yokohoma-shod Dallara with a Judd engine and running the entire Grand Am series. Why that combination? "Because we have had a long sponsorship arrangement with Yokohoma tires." Why a Dallara chassis? "Because it is just a solid company and they have been involved with a lot of good sports cars in the last ten years so I feel sure this is just one more." Why a Judd engine? "Because the Judd is a strong engine."
Until the Daytona Grand Am 2002 finale in November, his move was all set, at least on paper. But strategy and execution occur in separate dimensions. For Doran, the strategy was written in his office, but the execution seemed to come at him out of the Twilight Zone. A bomb was dropped when Grand Am announced they were signing a deal with Goodyear/Dunlop to use those brands exclusively in all Grand Am Rolex races, beginning with the 2002 season.
From inside the crater created by the announcement, Doran talked with me about what lies ahead. "The new Grand Am spec-tire deal pretty much eliminates us from running in that series. It certainly eliminates us from running Yokohomas in Grand Am, so I don't think we will be running many Grand Am races."
When pressed for what was behind the announcement to go with spec tires in Grand Am next season, Doran commented, "I'm not on the inside with Grand Am so I don't know anything about what they are thinking. In fact, I had heard some innuendos about the tire deal but I didn't know anything about it until it was announced at Daytona. I had even asked Roger Edmondson and Dave Watson directly about it as close as two weeks prior to Daytona and they both told me there was nothing in place and I didn't have anything to worry about."
Is that the theme from the Twilight Zone
I hear playing in the distance? More
from the crater's rim: "I think it is
incredible that Grand Am can just
turn their back on a sponsor
(Yokohoma) that contributed over
$2.5 million to their series last year.
I don't know what their ultimate goal is.
It is hard for me to understand. It is not
a good time to be giving sponsors a
reason to quit.
"Every car that ran the Grand Am on
Yokohoma tires last year, got the tires
for free. We were the only SRP car,
but every GT car got 'em free. Over
the course of the year, I think that was maybe about 12 cars. Maybe on any given weekend it could have been six or seven cars.
"Goodyear is not going to supply tires for free. Everybody who wants them can get them but they will have to pay. I think Goodyear will have a contingency program based on performance, where winners will get a free set, or something like that. Tires for one weekend can set you back between $18,000 and $25,000 for a sprint race. The 24 hours at Daytona can run around $60,000. And that is just the rubber, not the wheels."
OK, scratch Plan "A", time to switch to Plan "B" (created inside the crater).
The calendar says we are just a few months away from the year 2002 which means decisions have to be made about where Kevin Doran will hang his wrench. "We don't have the sponsorship in place to be able to run for a championship (in either Grand Am or ALMS). There just isn't a whole lot of money out there to be had. I don't think there are too many sponsors that are looking forward to going Grand Am racing next season. Maybe they will go for ALMS because they have a substantially better TV package and maybe something could be done there, but I don't think for Grand Am they would be interested.
"We can't afford to do all the races with our current budget so we will do some of the bigger events. We will run Daytona - with Goodyears - but then we plan on Sebring, Petit Le Mans, and Nurburgring. We were going to run Monza but they just cancelled it. We will also try to do a few other ALMS races."
Disagreement with the Grand Am's decision aside, Doran feels good about his choice of chassis going forward. "The Dallara is a really good car, and the Judd is a strong engine." Doran ran the Dallara chassis at the Grand Am finale in November and for a while the car appeared to have what it needed to stay ahead of the rest of the pack. Doran was pleased with the maiden run of the red and white car. "It was our first time out and I think it was a reasonable first race. It wasn't fantastic but it had several signs of promise so I think it is going to be a very good car."
What is the line up Doran expects to go with at the 2002 Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona? "Probably Mauro and Ross joining with Fredy and Didier. We are talking with others as well but we have nothing solid yet. Unfortunately what we need are guys with some sponsorship who are worthy of being paid for their talent. Guys who should be getting paid for what they can do. If we had a guy that could put together some sponsorship that could possibly pay him and, at the same time provide a little bit of money to the team, well that would be ideal.
"I suppose our team (with this car) could be one of the better private entries in the ALMS, if not one of the best. For me, the best deal in racing for a company or a team right now would be to run ALMS, if you can get the money for it."
Money is the one common denominator that is always a problem for most people, regardless of their ambitions or ability. Finding ways to get money can be a real challenge. Doran knows that as well as anyone. And the risk of losing Yokohoma's sponsorship dollars is not one he wants to contemplate.
"If I had all the money I needed to go racing and I didn't care about next year or the future, I guess I would run ALMS. I like sportscar racing. CART has kind of taken a dive. IRL looks interesting but it doesn't interest me as much as sportscar racing. Winston Cup is kind of cool but you got to work your ass off 30 something races a year so there is no time to do anything else. The Trans Am is also a good-looking series. It is just not something I'm interested in. If I wanted to run stock cars I would probably choose Winston Cup. Trans Am is fewer races though and it is good competitive racing, but I'm just not too interested."
"Of course the prize money is never enough to sustain a race team. Traditionally a win only pays you back about 20% of what it cost you to run the race. Also, typically the drivers and the crewmen get a large portion of it so it doesn't really help the general budget. To be honest with you, we are looking for more non-racing income because I think racing income is going to be tough to find. We have our machine shop and we do a lot of general commodity work and we need to focus on that for a while.
"Fredy is a realist. He knows how much money he wants to invest in motorsports each year and basically we recognize that we have come to that limit. I think he would like to race every two or three weeks but..."
But it's hard to get a race team out of a crater.