Editorial

View from the Topside
Sebastien Bourdais and ALMS are both making news

   by Rick Benjamin
April 19, 2005

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A couple of my favorite racing series made some significant news over the past several days…or more accurately, one series and one driver did a lot to make headlines early in the new season.

First, what a week for Sebastien Bourdais (pictured right in IROC Victory Circle). I freely admit that when I went into the broadcast booth last season for the Champ Car World Series, I was among those who didn’t give the young native of LeMans nearly enough credit, either for his talent or his personality. As 2004 unfolded, Bourdais gained confidence on and off the track week by week. By the end of his first Championship season, Seabass had shown passion, strength, determination, and plenty of talent. He’d made me a believer.

Now, fast forward to 2005. Bourdais made a significant leap by earning an invitation to IROC. Count me among those who think IROC should extend its season to 6 or 8 races, add a couple of cars to the field, and run at least two road races. Such changes would truly make this an All-Star series. But adding Bourdais to a mix of drivers largely made up of NASCAR and IRL stalwarts surely improved the show.

Now Sebastien struggled in his first stock car start at Daytona. But he more than made up for it at Texas Friday night, winning in just his second try, and holding off the guy who’s made a cottage industry of claiming IROC victories and titles, Mark Martin. Martin knows all the tricks in the NASCAR book, and surely understands how to keep his momentum up in the underpowered IROC machines. But Bourdais…just as he’d done last fall in his Champ Car at Vegas….trumped all the moves aimed at him and bagged what might be his biggest victory yet.

Add that to the week that began with his first CCWS win at Long Beach….wrapped around the announcement that he’ll go to Indy for the first time….coupled with spending a few days testing his Champ Car at Portland, and you’ve got not just a busy, successful racer, but in my mind at least, an early candidate for SPEED’s “Driver of the Year” honor. Next, Bourdais goes to Monterrey, Mexico, to try to defend his Champ Car win there and add to his series points lead. No doubt he’ll be the prohibitive favorite.

Then there’s the American LeMans Series, a tour encompassing the best and fastest sports cars in the world. ALMS has suffered these past couple of years from declining entry lists and a lack of challengers to the all-conquering Audi R-8 prototypes, now in the semi-factory hands of the ADT-Champion team. But in the run-up to Sunday’s GP of Atlanta, Porsche (famous Porsche 962 pictured right) threw its hat into the ring in the prototype ranks. Porsche for now is declining to tackle the Audis head-on, opting instead to build customer cars in the P2 category. But some fast new contenders there will greatly improve the show, and the word that Penske Racing is going to campaign the first couple of examples will give the ALMS some much-needed boost.

Add to that the GT2 win by the Panoz Esperante over the all-conquering Porsche GT3’s, plus the word that Riley Technologies is planning to build a new P1 customer car, and you have a couple of needed glimmers of hope for the series.

Let’s hope that Don Panoz, Scott Atherton, and Tim Mayer can come up with some real challengers capable of fighting the Audis for overall supremacy, other than the always-capable Dyson Lolas. Like it or not most casual fans focus on the top of the leader board. That’s where the hearts and minds of race fans are usually won or lost. And that’s where the ALMS leadership needs to make gains, soon..

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Columns by Rick

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