Grand marshal David Hobbs lauds union of sports car series

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — "No downside."

That's how former driver David Hobbs, grand marshal for the 52nd Rolex 24 At Daytona, views the merger that produced the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship.

"I think now that we've got the two factions together again in sports car racing, we could be entering another golden era of racing here; I really do," Hobbs said of the merger that united the GRAND-AM Rolex Series and the American Le Mans Series under the IMSA sanction. "As you can see, there's a heck of a lot of cars out there and a heck of a lot of drivers who obviously want to take part in it.

"So I really think it heralds a new era in sports car racing, which it needs. It really does, because sports car racing was languishing a little bit, and I think it will be great for it."

Hobbs, 74, speaks from a position of authority. As a driver, he competed in what is considered the first version of the Rolex 24, a three-hour race in 1962. The former Formula One competitor also distinguished himself as a television analyst.

"Sports car racing couldn't have been any worse than it was before, when you've got the two different sanctioning bodies and completely different rules and regulations, and the drivers didn't know which one to do," Hobbs said Saturday after the start of the race. "So I think combining the two can do nothing but good for sports car racing."

To Hobbs, the proof was in the grandstand.

"I was very impressed with the crowd here today," he said. "I've never seen so many people in the grandstand. And the infield … [Daytona International Speedway President] Joie Chitwood was telling us the other day there's not a spare inch of space out there.

"When I went around in the pace car at the beginning of the race, that infield is packed. So I hope it's a good competitive race which will attract those people to come back and see more of it. I really can't see any downside [to the merger] at all.

"I know it's taken them a long time to get the rules and regulations together, and there'll be some more fettling and a bit of changing, I'm sure. But overall, sports car racing is a very small slice of the pie anyway, and if you're going to cut it in half, to make two slices of an even smaller size, that's the trouble with what it was. That's what happened to open-wheel racing."

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