Is professional sports car racing finally living up to its name? | Column

J.G.
By J.G. Pasterjak
Jul 3, 2022 | Endurance Racing, Rolex 24 at Daytona, Column, Sports Car Racing | Posted in Columns | From the April 2022 issue | Never miss an article

Photography Credit: Chris Tropea

We’ve had this discussion before, but it’s still not entirely unfair to say that sports car racing at every level is basically club racing. That’s not meant to denigrate it by any means. 

In fact, I think it’s quite fabulous that you, or I, or pretty much anyone, given the financial resources and training, could compete against the best drivers in the sport on the largest stages it has to offer. That’s true nowhere else in the world of major sports.

But for a long time, this lack of barriers to entry affected the product in ways that weren’t always positive.

Sure, I miss the days when a group of ragtag locals could pool their resources and run their SCCA GT car–or maybe a decade-old IMSA or Trans-Am machine–in the 24 Hours of Daytona, but also I kind of don’t. While it was cool to see the scrappy independents make the big show, just as often it could turn the big show into a bit of a circus.  

And ultimately, the best-funded, factory-backed, professional teams won most of the races, sometimes by several laps. The racing looked great. The cars were cool, very aggro and impossibly flared, and they made wonderful, wonderful noises, but the racing–even through the filter of nostalgia–wasn’t always the most competitive.

[Daytona: What happened, did the BoP work, and what to expect at Sebring?]

So let’s talk about competitive, and what makes for a thrilling viewing experience when it comes to sports. Take, for example, this year’s NFL playoffs. While the Rams and Bengals have yet to face off as of press time in the game so beholden with copyright protection that we can’t even write its name without sending someone a check, the route those two teams took to get there was a parity-soaked journey of nailbiter after nailbiter. 

Of the six games comprising the Divisional round and the Conference Championships, five of them were decided by just three points each. The sixth was decided by a full six points–scored deep into overtime after Buffalo and KC just couldn’t come to an agreement on who would move on in regulation time.

But that’s football, you say. Parity is what the F in NFL stands far, after all. Sports car racing may have its thrills, but–particularly in endurance racing–it’s not about down-to-the-wire finishes, it’s about the journey, right?

Ha.

Now I direct your attention to the little sports car race that finished up right before that pair of Conference Championship games kicked off a few Sundays ago. Let’s scan down the results of the 60th running of the 24 Hours of Daytona and see what we see.

Well, after 24 hours and over 2700 miles of racing, the fastest DPi class wrapped up with four cars on the lead lap, three of them doing battle for position right to the end. Just think about that. An entire day of racing, with freakishly cold temperatures throwing setup data out the window, and four cars finish within frisbee-throwing distance of one another. 

Oh, and did we mention that the third-place car even had an FIA Bronze-rated driver on the team? That’s right, Ben Keating took an overall podium in one of the most intense sports car races in the world in the fastest class.

So it was pretty impressive that one class could come down to the wire like th–wait, hang on. I’m being told that in the LMP2 contest, the second-fastest class in one of the hardest races in the world, the top four cars also finished practically in formation on the same lap. Also, Ben Keating finished fourth in that class as well, although he probably wasn’t driving both cars at the finish. (But really, if anyone could pull that off, it would be Ben.)

Wow, imagine: Two classes racing to the flag af–no. Come on. Now you’re screwing with me. GT Daytona. Four cars. Lead lap. Practically back to back. 

GT Daytona Pro, also, four cars–two of them shoving and pushing like they were trying to get that last Blu-ray player on Black Friday at Target to the final corner of the race–lead lap, in formation.

Friends, if that ain’t parity, I don’t know what is.

Yes, there are still some bugs to be worked out of pro sports car racing. For one, there are too many prototypes that look too much like each other in too many different classes. But the gripes are minor at the moment, and if what we saw at Daytona can be continued, then IMSA seems to have finally cracked the magic formula to producing a show that’s as thrilling as it is cool. 

We’re nuts. You and me, we’re going to watch sports car racing whether it’s a chase to the flag or not because we love road racing. But that’s maybe not true for Joe 12-pack out there who’s used to auto racing being a bumper-to-bumper run for the length of the race. And there are way more “casual” fans out there than there are hardcores, and unless a product can be presented that satisfies the millions of them and not just the thousands of us, sports car racing might not survive forever. 

If Daytona was any indication, sports car racing is in a good spot to survive. Our nerves, maybe not so much.

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Comments
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Tig
Tig
2/21/22 1:19 p.m.

Hmm...how about those 'nascar' yellows bunching up the field? 

dhale
dhale
2/21/22 1:32 p.m.

It is not really parity when, almost every hour, lost laps are given back, and the field is bunched up under yellow flags that are much longer than necessary.  

Noddaz
Noddaz GRM+ Memberand UberDork
2/21/22 2:22 p.m.

Now, now guys.  The story is talking about actual racing...

AnthonyGS (Forum Supporter)
AnthonyGS (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand UltraDork
4/17/22 12:31 a.m.

JG "That’s true nowhere else in the world of major sports."

False.  I just sold a car to a guy running the Boston Marathon.  Once upon a time I did a few long distance triathlons.  You can go head to head with the pros if you do the work and put in the time.  In triathlon some of them even hang out and cheer for the slower people.  
 

But yes, sports car racing is seriously cool.  I really loved seeing Porsche 956s going at it when I was a kid.  It's nice to see sports car racing getting its grove back.  

racerfink
racerfink UltraDork
4/17/22 8:46 a.m.

The racing is not better because of the people in it, it's because rules makers understand so much more than they did 35 years ago.

"Hey, that car with the smaller motor that gets better gas mileage, and therefore carries a smaller fuel cell, is constantly 15 seconds quicker on their fuel stops.  Why is that?"

Part of what made me love going to IMSA races in the 80's was seeing my friends from SCCA club racing running.  Now, I don't feel like going because they have made a concerted effort to push out locals, unless they have a fat bank account.

hardwebb
hardwebb New Reader
7/6/22 8:32 a.m.

So what the author is saying is to push out the little guy and make the sport a rich guys only sport. Basically turning  the series into spec racing filled with a bunch of no talent rich guys. Many other series have gone this way and have failed. Sorry if it offends your ADD ideology but not every race has to be a nail biter and shouldn't be. That's just the nature of racing. It's a team sport, finding a mechanical advantage in a car and winning as a result is part of the excitement and it promotes a progression in technology .  I'd much rather see something like the GTP, GT, GTO, GTU of days gone by. Not perfect but a hell of lot more fun. 

wvumtnbkr
wvumtnbkr GRM+ Memberand PowerDork
7/6/22 8:55 a.m.
hardwebb said:

So what the author is saying is to push out the little guy and make the sport a rich guys only sport. Basically turning  the series into spec racing filled with a bunch of no talent rich guys. Many other series have gone this way and have failed. Sorry if it offends your ADD ideology but not every race has to be a nail biter and shouldn't be. That's just the nature of racing. It's a team sport, finding a mechanical advantage in a car and winning as a result is part of the excitement and it promotes a progression in technology .  I'd much rather see something like the GTP, GT, GTO, GTU of days gone by. Not perfect but a hell of lot more fun. 

The gtp, gt, gto, and gtu days had a bunch of amateurs racing in those fields as well.  There has always been smaller teams even in the highest classes with paid drivers.

 

I like rooting for the "underdog"!

 

Sorta related....  I like watching the Ferrari challenge to see how badly we'll funded drivers can suck at racing.  Pretty sure I could finish upper 3rd in those races!  Haha.

jerel77494
jerel77494 New Reader
7/7/22 4:20 p.m.

In reply to hardwebb :  I know it's a different kind of racing, but the reason NASCAR went to the chase format was because Matt Kenseth once won the championship with three races left in the season.  TV ratings tanked, which made the paid advertisers (both on the air and on the cars) unhappy.  Competition creates viewers, which draws sponsors, which brings money, which brings other good things.

 

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