Editorial

View from the Topside
Some off-season thoughts heading into the holidays

   by Rick Benjamin
December 21, 2005

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Richard Lyons pounds around Sebring in the Rocketsports car during off-season testing

Testing is in full swing now, as race teams worldwide prepare for the upcoming í06 racing campaign. Just another indication that this is now a 12-month a year sport, with virtually no off-season. Itís been a few weeks since Iíve been to the race track, and frankly Iím still unwinding. As we enjoy the holiday period this is truly a time to take stock, count my many blessings, and reflect on some of what weíve seen in 2005, while preparing to kick off the 2006 racing year.

Formula One, Champ Car, Grand Am, teams in virtually every professional series everywhere are getting their first laps in with what will be their í06 packages in the days leading up to Christmas and New Yearís. Thereís action across the spectrum of American LeMans Series teams as well, with several new cars coming to the paddocks of ALMS next season. Support series everywhere are seeing teams reloading quickly as well. Champ Car Atlantic series squads will have a particularly busy winter, as the new-generation Atlantic machines wonít even be in the hands of teams until March, just weeks before the opening race of the new year in Long Beach.

There are many seats up for grabs heading into the new season. Much of the off-season development work in Champ Car and elsewhere is devoted to figuring out who gets the relatively small number of drives available. There are indications that at least a few teams might run three cars in 2006, the final year for the current Lola/Ford Cosworth combination. With all the talent available, it would seem as though there will be far more quality drivers than front-line opportunities available, which would seem to suggest that 3-car squads from Forsythe, Newman/Haas, and PKV might be in the offing. Anything that gives drivers like Ryan Dalziel, Ryan Briscoe, Giorgio Pantano, and others a serious chance to win would have to be a significant plus.

Great to see drivers like Jimmy Vasser and, of all people, Ted Christopher, signed up to drive in the Rolex 24 come next month. With Paul Tracy heading to Daytona to test, and the RuSPORT twins of Justin Wilson and AJ Allmendinger on board, the Rolex will have a decided Champ Car flavor. TC is another story. His name might be unfamiliar to many here on AutoRacing1, but rest assured that Christopher is a terrific racer.

His credentials are largely in the world of short-track stock car racing. Heís a big winner in the NASCAR Modified and Busch North, soon to be Busch East, ranks. TC has proven his skills throwing a big, heavy, NASCAR machine around the road courses at Watkins Glen and Lime Rock Park in the past several seasons, and having him in the Rolex field will surely make things interesting. They donít call him ďTerrible TedĒ for nothing.

It may well be that Grand Am and its proprietary Daytona Prototype rules package hasnít yet attracted significant fan interest. But from my perspective itíd be hard to deny that the DP formula hasnít created an arena where drivers from an amazing number of disciplines can come together for at least one event and face off.

Iíve always been a fan of drivers who donít specialize, who are willing to match their talents against the best from other series. One of my all-time career highlights was getting to call the 2001 Rolex on television, when Dale Earnhardt teamed with Dale Jr. and the other Corvette factory drivers in the Rolex. The Intimidator was relaxed, focused, and interested in helping his team win. He was racing for the pure enjoyment of it, which I think remains one of the charms of Grand Am. Iím sure this winterís renewal of the Rolex will give us plenty of additional thrills.

Things are fairly relaxed for now across our sport, even though there are plenty of questions still unanswered for 2006. For now, hereís hoping you and yours enjoy the best of the Holiday Season. We salute 2005ís great champions, from Alonso to Bourdais to Stewart and all the rest. Iíll look forward to seeing you here come January.

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