CHARLOTTE, N.C. – This is a historic week.
On Friday, the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series will stage the first ever sports car race on the grounds of Indianapolis Motor Speedway as part of NASCAR’s traditional Brickyard weekend.
How the NASCAR-sanctioned Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series got to the 2.5-mile, low banked oval and its interior road course is perfectly obvious.
Less so, however, is what the Rolex camp will do with the opportunity. For all its faults, the Rolex’s opposite number, the American Le Mans Series, has a presence, which if waning, still commands more than a minimal amount of attention.
The Grand Am championship, sad to say, does not – at least not up to this point. While it is highly competitive, perhaps the most competitive in terms of its result of any road racing title chase, including Formula One, the very things that make it that way, are the very things that so far have caused it to be unrespected.
Boiled down to their essence, they are the extreme limits series officials have placed on technology, something which goes against the grain for the majority of sports car racing fans.
while the Rolex camp has run on some of America’s most important courses, including its signature Rolex 24 season opener at Daytona, coming to Indianapolis to follow in the footsteps of Formula One is something else again.
True, this inaugural appearance comes on a Friday, a day that normally, including this case, is a time when even the most hardened of fans are thinking about their work, rather than the sport they follow.
Even so, it is an opportunity, one that the usual “no holds barred” style of competition that is a hallmark of Grand Am should make for an excellent show. A show that, in truth, could be quite memorable if the officials don’t get in the way as the did in the German Grand Prix last Sunday, when they summarily dropped Formula One championship contender and reigning crown holder Sebastien Vettel from second to fifth.
His crime was that he, with apparent due deliberation, put all four wheels over the white line marking the limits of the track in passing Jenson Button in the closing laps of the Formula One contest.
To be fair, it is a rule, but one put into the regs because the tracks have been “sanitized” in the name of safety with huge paved runoff areas that any self righteous race car driver wouldn’t ever pass up if he thought no one was looking.
Unfortunately, the officials were. But, so too were a hundred or more thousand fans at the Hockenheim track and millions of others on television around the world.
The regulations governing the World Championship are so complex and unfathomable as to make any Medieval Italian prince proud.
Vettel broke the rules. However, in doing so, he added an extra bit of excitement that Formula One, even in one of its most competitive seasons ever, badly needs.
If you think it’s just the Grand Prix universe that involves itself in complexity and obscurity, then think again and ask anyone to explain to you the individual factors that lead to winning the ALMS Michelin Green-X challenge for having the smallest “carbon footprint” at the end of one of its events.
Car owners hate crashing and banging, particularly in the “gentleman’s” sport of befendered road course competition.
Yet, that’s what has so long characterized Grand Am. It may cost money, but it makes for the kind of excitement that commands attention and respect.
Let’s hope that on Friday we have a ground bound dogfight of epic proportions. After all, as a rich man once said, “If you have to ask about the cost, then probably you can’t afford it in the first place.”
Presumably the Rolex participants can, so lets keep the penalties for “avoidable contact” on the shelf and watch what should be an excepting and memorable Rolex Indy debut.