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 nearly impossible. But there are certain periods where most agree it all came together to create some very fantastic years of amazing cars and great competition.
Did the 61st Rolex 24 at Daytona usher in a new golden era of sports car racing?
Let’s see… 61 cars in 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 other fields — IndyCar, NASCAR and even dirt. World class drivers? Oh yeah… Blomqvist (if his qualifying performance alone doesn’t prove his world class status, nothing will), Bourdet, Castroneve, Derani, Albuquerque, Hartley, Taylor, Tandy, Bamber, Westbrook, Hertha, Nasr, van der Linde … to name 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, Vanthor, Auberlain, Pierre Guidi, Serra – again to name a few. Not to mention dozens of names across the field that would be on such a list in the future. What are we forgetting?: Oh yeah… Did you see that LMP2 final?!?
And we just talked about what happened on the track. Have you ever seen so many people in the stands for the start of the 24 Hours of Daytona? And the crowds on the avenue were absolutely crazy.
So yes, based strictly on this past weekend at the legendary Daytona International Speedway, it’s a fair assessment that we are indeed entering the golden age of sports car racing.
Were there any imperfections? Definitely. Reliability among 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 performance balance issues with the new cars in GTD…again, history has shown that these will be fixed and as teams get to grips with new machines they will certainly be competitive as the calendar progresses .
Looking at Daytona and what will happen the rest of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season, however, is only looking at part of the picture. The convergence of rules between IMSA, FIA and ACO is what is really creating this renaissance. Looking ahead to the season-opening Mobil 1 Twelve Hours and the FIA World Endurance Championship 1000 Miles of Sebring, this is where we’ll really start to see it all come together as the LMDh cars and Le Mans Hypercars race side by side. The Cadillac that finished fourth at Daytona? It will compete in the WEC race, as will another pair of Porsche Penske Motorsports 963s, along with Toyota’s GR010 Hybrids, Ferrari’s 499Ps, Peugeot 9x8s and the Glickenhaus 007. And all of these cars, plus more, will be in the 24 Hours at Le Mans in June for the 100th anniversary of the legendary race, which is already sold out.
Looking further into the future, we see Lamborghini and Alpine joining the LMDh/LMH ranks in 2024, as well as other manufacturers whose interest is clearly piqued. BMW will be in WEC in addition to IMSA and possibly Acura/Honda as well. And it’s a near-certain bet that the lure of the Rolex 24, if not full seasons of the Michelin Endurance Cup or the WeatherTech Championship, will be hard to resist for those hypercar manufacturers with a commercial interest in the U.S. — notably Toyota and Ferrari. The possibility of seeing seven or more different manufacturers competing in the GTP next January is very real.
It’s amazing what can happen when great minds come together. While we’ve yet to see exactly how LMDh and LMH compete together, the fact that we’ll find out next month is something to celebrate. The collaboration 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 Frédéric Lequien has produced something quite successful and perhaps even magically.
These are things I pondered on the plane from Florida back to the West Coast — a plane, by the way, that seemed half full of hardy souls en route from Daytona to Bathurst for this weekend’s 12-hour race. As I processed the Daytona scene, I also reflected on my first personal IMSA race, San Antonio in 1989 during the original GTP era, and my first 24 Hours of Daytona 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 looks pretty golden, doesn’t it.