Ask five people what the golden age of racing was, and you’ll get five different answers. Picking THE golden age of one form of racing (let alone all of them) is next to impossible. But there are certain periods where most agree everything came together to create many fantastic years of amazing cars and great competition.
Did the 61st Rolex 24 At Daytona mark the beginning of a new golden age of sports car racing?
Let’s see … 61 cars across five classes. In the new top class, GTP, four major manufacturers in BMW, Porsche, Honda (Acura) and General Motors (Cadillac). Six teams that have proven themselves in sports car racing, and most in fields beyond — IndyCar, NASCAR, and even on dirt. World-class drivers? Oh, yeah … Blomqvist (if his qualifying performance alone didn’t prove his world-class status, nothing will), Bourdais, Castroneves, Derani, Albuquerque, Hartley, Taylor, Tandy, Bamber, Westbrook, Herta, Nasr, van der Linde … to name but a few.
On the GT side, 10 manufacturers, 35 cars, and an equally impressive list of quality drivers — Garcia, Hawksworth, Conway, Caldarelli, Grosjean, Sellers, Estre, Vanthoor, Auberlen, Pier Guidi, Serra — again, to name but a few. Not to mention dozens of names throughout the entire field that would be on such a list in the future. What are we forgetting?: Oh yeah … Did you see that LMP2 finish?!?
And we’ve just talked about what happened on track. Have you ever seen as many people in the grandstands for the start of a Daytona 24-hour? And the throngs on the gridwalk were absolutely nuts.
So, yes, based strictly on this past weekend at the legendary Daytona International Speedway, it’s a fair assessment that we are indeed entering a golden age of sports car racing.
Were there imperfections? Certainly. Reliability among the GTPs was an issue, although less so than widely predicted. There were only four cars on the lead lap, compared to last year when there were four cars on the lead lap. But rest assured that will change as the season progresses. Then there were what appeared to be some Balance of Performance issues with the new cars in GTD … again, history has shown that those will be corrected, and as teams come to grips with new machinery, they will certainly be competitive as the calendar moves along.
Looking at Daytona and what will happen for the rest of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season, though, is only looking at part of the picture. The convergence of rules between IMSA, FIA and ACO is what’s really creating this renaissance. Looking ahead to the twin-bill Mobil 1 Twelve Hours and FIA World Endurance Championship season-opening 1000 Miles of Sebring, that’s where we’re really going to begin to see it all come together as LMDh cars and Le Mans Hypercars are competing side by side. The Cadillac that finished fourth at Daytona? It will be competing in the WEC race, as will another pair of Porsche Penske Motorsports 963s, alongside Toyota’s GR010 Hybrids, Ferrari’s 499Ps, Peugeot 9x8s and a Glickenhaus 007. And all those cars, plus more, will be at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June for the legendary race’s 100th anniversary, which is already sold out.
Gazing further into the future, we see Lamborghini and Alpine joining the LMDh/LMH ranks in 2024, and other manufacturers whose interest has clearly been piqued. BMW will be in WEC in addition to IMSA, and possibly Acura/Honda as well. And it’s an almost sure bet that the pull of the Rolex 24, if not the full Michelin Endurance Cup or WeatherTech Championship seasons, will be hard to resist for those Hypercar manufacturers who have a commercial interest in the U.S. — Toyota and Ferrari in particular. It’s a very real possibility that we could see seven or more different manufacturers competing in GTP next January.
It’s amazing what can happen when great minds get together. While we have yet to see exactly how LMDh and LMH race together, the fact that we will know next month is something to celebrate. The cooperation of IMSA president John Doonan, IMSA chairman Jim France, IMSA CEO Ed Bennett, L’Automobile Club De L’Ouest president Pierre Fillon, and FIA WEC CEO Frederic Lequien has created something quite successful and perhaps even magical.
These are things I was pondering on the plane from Florida back to the West Coast — incidentally, a plane seemingly half full of hardy souls on their way from Daytona to Bathurst for this weekend’s 12-hour race. As I processed the scene at Daytona, I also considered my first personal IMSA race, San Antonio in 1989 during the original GTP era, and my first Daytona 24-hour race in 2008. The contrast between the Rolex 24 of 15 years ago and what I saw a few days ago is quite remarkable.
Yeah, the future is looking pretty golden all right.