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
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.
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
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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