This is the 19th installment in RACER’s ongoing 25th anniversary celebration during which we share the 25 most important issues from our first quarter century.
The 165th issue of RACER came in a time of transition, starting with the arrival of the new Porsche Spyder RS that also marked the return of the German manufacturer to prototype sports car racing in North America with a factory-backed team after a long absence. As Rich Conklin related in our cover story, excitement over Porsche’s return was tempered by concerns over a potential upset of the delicate competitive balance of a category that had often run aground over the years following the appearance of a dominant player.
That concern was raised all the more considering the team involved was Penske. Long a superpower in Indy cars, sports car fans also remembered the last time Penske had teamed up with Porsche in Can-Am, resulting in some of the most spectacular racecars ever seen but also such a degree of dominance that it literally killed the series. Would history repeat itself?
Transition was also a theme in the Indy Racing League, where Dan Wheldon had completed the evolution from promising newcomer to ace, managing the rare double of an Indy 500 victory and series championship in the same year in 2005. Ahead of the new season, Jeff Olson profiled the influences and insights Wheldon had gained from his Andretti teammates and what prompted him to move to Ganassi for ’06 despite his title-winning campaign.
Jeff Gordon wasn’t going anywhere for 2006, deep into his career-long stint with Hendrick Motorsports in NASCAR. But it was still a time of change for one of stock car racing’s most popular stars. After a worst-ever 11th-place finish in the point standings, Ben Blake related how Gordon was working to relaunch himself and cope with the challenge of teammate Jimmie Johnson, who had replaced him as Hendrick’s wunderkind.
Change was in the air at RACER, too. No. 165 marked the final issue for RACER founder Paul Pfanner and publisher Bill Sparks, who opted to leave the company they had created but had sold majority ownership in to Haymarket Media in 2001. But their departure also would prove to be only a transitional phase…