Editorial

View from the Topside
A look back at Sebring

   by Rick Benjamin
March 22, 2005

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Surely a special week in motorsports, given all that went on in the just-concluded two days of big-league racing.

No one could be surprised that the two ADT-Champion Audi R-8’s ran 1-2 at the 12 Hours of Sebring on Saturday. The Audis are perhaps the fastest sports cars ever, and their durability is unquestioned. Now that Dave Maraj’s Champion squad is fully adjusted to working with the German machines, there’s no reason to think they won’t win another ALMS P1 title, and perhaps can score a long-awaited win at the 24 Hours of LeMans in June.

Rob Dyson’s Lolas were fast, and nearly as durable….but their fragility compared to the Audis is a handicap too big to overcome in an endurance contest.

The Lola will likely win its normal race or three this season, a testimony to the Dyson group’s talents and to the driving skills of their tremendous team. But for the Thetford/Norcold guys to take the series title, the Audis would have to encounter some unforeseen disaster, probably several times in the course of the year. There may be some Audi missteps but the championship is clearly theirs to lose.

In GT1, I’m as amazed as anyone that the Aston Martin team led by the incomparable David Brabham grabbed Sebring honors. Surely Prodrive knows how to build a fast GT1 race car; their Ferrari 550s were the only GT machines anywhere close to the factory Corvettes the past several ALMS seasons. But to expect them to find enough speed in a couple of days’ time, and then to have the durability to outlast the ‘Vettes….well, no one could have anticipated that outcome.

I’m sure the Florida finish will keep many in GM Racing up nights for some time to come, and that the Pratt and Miller guys are hard at work right now trying to massage the new C6 package and get it back to victory lane. The saving grace for Chevy is that Aston will now focus on European racing through the summer; ALMS officials can only hope Prodrive can be persuaded to bring the green machines back across the Atlantic to the series for the second half of the year.

This is finally the week the Champ Car World Series goes public, so to speak, with many new car and driver pairings due to fire up at Sebring for a day of testing. Rumor has it we’re going to shoot some pieces for a season preview show on SPEED as well that day.

Just a couple of weeks remain until we get to work on NBC Sports at Long Beach, with Trans Am coverage coming as well on SPEED. I believe Andrew Ranger will be very strong at Mi-Jack Conquest, and that Alex Tagliani will give Derrick Walker his best chance at victory in several years. Some dominoes remain to fall, but I expect those moves to make the Champ Car grid substantially stronger this season than last.

See you soon on television.

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Columns by Rick

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