The Promise Of 2004
© Andrew S. Hartwell
This appeared on TheRaceSite.com on 12/03/03
It is still early in the "tweener" season the time between the end of one sportscar racing season and the start of the next but already there have been a number of promising announcements about next year. And, while some will always argue that one series is going to be better than another one, the good news is sportscar racing will continue, with some new blood being pumped along the asphalt arteries that bring this sport to life.
In the sportscar racing paddocks of 2004 we can expect to see some old faces in new cars, some new cars in old places, some new faces in old cars, and some old cars running in some new places. In other words, variety, diversity, tradition and new beginnings will abound and that should mean a most entertaining and enjoyable season for competitors and spectators alike.
The New Year holds promise for fans of sportscar racing both in Europe and North America. In some cases, it is the promise of new cars and new teams. In some cases it is the promise made by those who hold the races. In any case, the New Year looks promising indeed.
Lets recap a sampling of the announcements made to date and see if all this early activity doesnt get you hunting around in your closets this winter, looking for that old Ferrari tee-shirt or that race program you had autographed by your favorite driver. After all, the cold winter months are the time to look back on what we have already enjoyed and start to think ahead to what pleasures are to come.
In Europe, the Le Mans European Series (LMES) has announced its short 4-race schedule with stops coming at Monza, Nürburgring, Silverstone, and Spa. Several teams have said they will run the full schedule. Most recent of these is the announcement that Team Veloqx and Audi Sport UK will join forces to campaign an Audi R8. The team also plans to contest the Sebring 12 Hour ALMS race, as well as the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Sam Li, Veloqx Team Director, sounded extremely optimistic when he said, No other team will be more committed to winning the 2004 Le Mans Endurance Series and 24 Hours of Le Mans itself than Audi Sport UK Team Veloqx - that I can be certain. Veloqx Motorsport captured class honors in the Le Mans 24 Hours and in the recent Le Mans 1,000km race and we aim to return to La Sarthe next June with Audi UK and claim overall glory.
Across Europe, the LMES, British GT and the FIA-GT series give those fans several choices. Here in North America, there are two primary prototype series for those who also prefer that their racecars turn in all directions and not just left. (Should we call it NASCAR NOT racing?) The Grand American Road Racing Association (Grand-Am) and the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) will once again sanction events (independently that is) that will cover the continent from Miami, Florida in the south to Mt. Tremblant, Canada in the north, to Laguna Seca in the west and Lime Rock Park in the east.
The ALMS schedule includes 9 events, including a first-ever visit to beautiful Lime Rock Park in Connecticut. This event will mark the first foray for the series into the metropolitan New York area. A move many expect will awaken the masses to the appeal of sportscar racing. Certainly no better location than scenic LRP could aid that cause, with the circuit located about 100 miles north of New York City.
Teams that have already announced for the ALMS in 2004 include a two-car Saleen GTS team from Acemco Motorsports, with Terry Borcheller and Johnny Mowlem to be the primary drivers. Borcheller was the 2001 ALMS GTS Drivers Champion (in a Saleen) and just wrapped up his 2003 season as the Grand-Am Rolex Cup Drivers Champion driving for Bell Motorsports in a Doran-Chevy Daytona Prototype. Mowlem is a sought-after veteran who had seat time in 2003 with Risi Competizione, taking second overall in a Ferrari 360 at the Rolex 24 Hours. He also ran an ACEMCO Ferrari 360 in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and campaigned in the ALMS in the Peterson Motorsports / White Lightning Porsche.
Others to announce plans to run in the ALMS include a 2-car LMP2 class effort from American Spirit Racing, two GT Porsches from J3 Racing, another from British American Motorsport (BAM!), and still another from Flying Lizard Motorsports. Add in the Dyson and Intersport team entries in LMP900, the Champion Audi, the (probable?) return of the Ferraris and Corvettes and the possible entry from Jaguar (Hey, we can wish can't we?) the year holds some real promise.
And that brings us to Grand-Am, the series that made a promise for the future, and is really starting to show some promise for a bright future indeed. The promise made by Grand-Am is to maintain the same rules and regulations governing the construction of the Daytona Prototypes (DPs) for several years. The thinking is to contain the costs of racing, keep everyone competitive on the track, and allow teams to recoup their investments through sustained seasons of competition using the same cars they started with. And the series seeks to minimize the variables for the fans as well, limiting the races to just two classes. The promise seemingly made here is to keep the race action simple to follow, as is the very successful NASCAR way. As it is the NASCAR family from which Grand-Am was born, this approach really shouldnt come as a surprise to very many people.
While the promise of reduced costs and competitive racing have proven very popular with the people who work the paddock, it remains to be seen whether the idea of simpler racing will prove popular with the people who walk the paddock. The team owners are in, but are the fans out? It is expected that the season ahead will help answer that question.
The DPs started 2003 with just 6 cars taking to the track at the season opening Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona. By the time the season concluded also at Daytona the DP count was up to 10. And several teams and DP constructors have said they will be at the 2004 season opener. The current count is moving north of 18 entries. A series that boasts a single-season growth rate of nearly 300% cannot be easily dismissed. Even by those who argue against the Grand-Ams unconventional approach to sportscar racing.
Teams expected for the 2004 Rolex 24 include Brumos Racing (2 Porsche-Fabcars), Cegwa Sports (Toyota-Fabcar), Doran-Lista Racing (Toyota-Doran), SunTrust Racing (Chevy-Riley & Scott) BOSS Motorsports (Chevy-Crawford), Silverstone Racing (Chevy-Chase), Bell Motorsports (Chevy-Doran), Essex Racing / Quantum Motorsports (Ford-Multimatic), PAP Parts (BMW-Fabcar), Spirit Of Daytona Racing (Chevy-Crawford), SpeedSource Engineering (2 Ford-Multimatics), and Crawford Racing (Chevy-Crawford). Other cars that may come along in 2004 include the FTS Sabre and Rohr R01. And just this week both G&W Motorsports and Michael Shank Racing announced they had purchased Doran JE-4 chassis. There is also speculation that Heritage Motorsports will move from the GTS to DP class in the near future.
ALMS, GA, LMES: A very nice collection of acronyms indeed. And we didnt even mention the Trans-Am, Belcar, SPEED World Challenge, or the other sportscar series out there. As fans, we have so much to choose from and so much to enjoy. Of course, you can spend time arguing about the merits of each series or you can spend your time enjoying the variety they provide. Its your choice.
So, here we are, several weeks away from the day when a certain jolly fellow wearing a bright red suit will zoom silently across the skies in a bright red sleigh, lapping from chimney to chimney. If St. Nicholas promised you something, it is possible you may get it - if you have been good. But bad or good, if you enjoy sportscar racing, the gift of a brand new season filled with variety and drama is just a few short months away.