View from the Topside
Rolex 24 Recap: A short day for Champ Car drivers

   by Rick Benjamin
February 7, 2005

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Most sports fans across the land are just finishing digesting yet another Super Bowl win by the Patriots…as well as digesting their nachos and beer, enjoyed in front of televisions nationwide.

The SunTrust team takes ride to Victory Lane

But race fans are replaying a dominant victory in the season-opening Rolex 24 at Daytona by sports car veterans Wayne Taylor, Max Angelelli, and Emmanuel Collard in Taylor’s SunTrust Pontiac-Riley Daytona Prototype.

Taylor and his mates have shared a seat numerous times before; I’ve known and covered Taylor for many years during his run as one of America’s top sports car racers and team impresarios. These three also spent several recent seasons trying futilely to make the Cadillac LeMans Prototypes work well enough to get to victory lane. Take it from one who watched up close: the failure of that program had nothing to do with driving talent or effort.

Taylor and his mates had their hands full up until 2 hours were left on Sunday; that’s when, for the second straight year, NASCAR star Tony Stewart’s Crawford-Pontiac had mechanical woes. Last year it was a busted suspension; this time the gearbox was the culprit. If he sticks with it, there’s no doubt Smoke will add a Rolex trophy to his warehouse before retiring.

Newman-Brockman Daytona Prototype

But the biggest disappointment for me was the inability of any of the great roster of Champ Car stars on hand to have a shot at winning. While the addition of Sebastien Bourdais and Cristiano da Matta to Paul Newman’s team added plenty of speed and star power, it was unrealistic to expect a team mounting a one-off effort to be able to run with the Grand-Am’s best.

It shouldn’t have been a stretch, though, to expect the defending race winners to have a legitimate shot…especially with the addition of ’03 Champ Car champ Paul Tracy to the squad.

The Bell Motorsports team has significant backing from Kodak, and is always well-prepared. And team leader Terry Borcheller may well be the best American racer you’ve never heard of.

But endurance racing has a way of tearing the heart out of even the best-prepared and strongest race teams, and that’s apparently what befell PT’s bunch.

Will Bourdais team with Newman again in Mexico City for another go at Grand-Am?

Brake problems forced Borcheller to start from the rear. Tracy, Christian Fittipaldi, and the rest worked their way nearly into the top 10, when PT handed off to international road racing ace Ralf Kelleners. But nearing halfway the Pontiac
engine in the #54 car developed cooling, then oiling problems….sending ‘em behind the wall for good.

A check of the final rundown shows some former Champ Car stars fared pretty well….Stefan Johansson was part of the 4th place team, Didier Theys helped one of Kevin Doran’s cars to 5th, and Scott Pruett led his Ganassi bunch to a 7th.

But if we’re going to see PT, Bourdais, or da Matta up front in Grand Am competition, we likely will have to wait until November’s Mexico City round…when Grand Am will be on the weekend slate with Champ Car. Maybe Mr. Newman will bring his car back for that event….and maybe some of Champ Car’s finest will spend Saturday racing, not just qualifying.

Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

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Columns by Rick

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Champ Car drivers take on other stars in Rolex 24

Champ Car is in the driver's seat

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