Sometimes you can be a little too good.
Before qualifying for this year’s Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona, we looked at last year’s race and (wrongly) predicted a Ford lockout. Last week, Grand-Am officials changed the game by adjusting the Balance of Performance – the secret formula that brings parity among the three engine manufacturers in the series.
Ford engines were dialed back by 300RPMs, and restrictor plates were bolted onto the Chevy-powered Corvette DPs (although the diameter was later adjusted in Chevy’s favor). BMW was kept level from 2012. The result? Victory from pole for the 01 Ganassi BMW-Riley, Scott Pruett’s fifth win as a driver and the team’s fifth win at Daytona.
Ford’s power deficit showed itself on qualifying day. Defending series champion Pruett stormed to pole in the lead Ganassi BMW-Riley, with teammate Scott Dixon qualifying second in the sister car. DP newcomers Team Sahlens took third on the grid for BMW, as Ford and Corvette runners could only shake their heads.
Corvette entrants Wayne Taylor and Max Angelelli cried foul. The Balance of Performance is a controversial method to equalize machinery, and Grand-Am officials are trying to foster competition while keeping the manufacturers incentivized. At the same time, balancing performance takes away the unfair advantage that fans love (think of Porsche’s dominance in sports car racing in the 1980s). We’ve heard rumors in the Grand-Am paddock that your balance of performance might depend on your financial support for the series (related: how many Grand-Am races does Ford sponsor each year? BMW was a late title sponsor to the weekend’s accompanying Continent Tire Sports Car Challenge race, and Chevy is the title sponsor of a race later this year.).
“It costs us dramatically,” Gainsco Corvette DP driver Alex Gurney said of the performance restrictions. “I don’t understand why they did it. I think they felt that a lot of guys were sandbagging and it turned out they weren’t. In my view they put a penalty on the slowest car on the straight. I don’t get that. They halved that difference after qualifying. So, we are a little closer.”
By race day, Corvette had been given a slightly smaller restrictor plate . BMW’s speed remained apparent from the green flag as Pruett took (and kept) an early lead. Angelelli and the Velocity Worldwide Corvette stayed close but could only manage second for Wayne Taylor Racing, while the Gainsco and the Action Express Corvettes just tried to keep up.
Angelelli felt the Balance of Performance destroyed his race: “We have something restricted, okay, just like driving with handcuffs; you can’t do it, can’t drive? I need an answer because there is no explanation” he said. “There’s no point. Everybody could see it yesterday, the day before yesterday, today. I don’t understand. It makes no sense. This is not competition. I am competing against myself, and there’s no chance.”
Ford had nothing for the Ganassi squad, and performance equivalencies don’t mean much if something else breaks. AJ Allmendinger’s car suffered a broken tie-rod that cost last year’s winner a chance at victory. Alex Popow’s Starworks Ford-Riley briefly held the lead, but the second Starworks car struggled to stay in the top 10. Unlike their BMW and Corvette counterparts, Ford runners had difficulty breaking the 1:42 mark while BMWs were running in the 1:41s early in the race.
The only difference between the two Ganassi cars was a small mistake by Jamie McMurray that put the 02 car into the wall and, later, the garage. With the 01 able to run at a comfortable pace, the Corvettes traded positions while Starworks and Michael Shank Racing played catch-up for the entire race. The BMWs showed their outright pace when Juan Pablo Montoya passed a charging Allmendinger on the tri-oval with just over an hour left, and then opened up a 1.1 second lead before a caution slowed the field. Allmendinger nad Montoya put in heroic drives on Sunday. Starworks had late mechanical problems that cost the team a shot at victory. They finished sixth.
In GT, the AIM Autosport Ferrari 458 battled a resurgent group of Audi R8′s, the prancing horse clearly feeling the pressure of Audi’s factory support for “customer” cars. A pair of R8′s took first and second (and another claimed fourth), their first class wins at the Rolex 24. Audi Customer Racing in the number 24 car won with Filipe Albuquergue, Oliver Jarvis, Edoardo Mortara and Dion von Moltke. The R8 was a middling performer in 2012, but Audi has now made a commitment to succeed in the Grand-Am, especially as the ALMS is no longer a viable marketing option for the German marque. The presence in Daytona of Audi’s motorsport director, Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich, should signal the level of attention Audi is giving its Grand-Am effort.
It wasn’t a great day for Porsche. Early in the race, Porsche factory driver and pole-sitter Nick Tandy suffered accident damage to the right rear of his GT3, squandering his grid position. The Momo-NGT and Brumos Porsches also wound up in the garage, and Rubens Barrichello and Tony Kanaan had to park their Dener Motorsports Porsche during the night. At least David Donohue managed to win on the racing debut of the Porsche Cayman in the Grand-Am’s new GX class. Porsche’s nearest competition – Mazda’s three diesel entries – failed to finish after mechanical trouble.
But it was the Balance of Performance that seemed to make the difference in a series that uses a spec chassis and control tires. It’s possible that AJ Allmendinger could have kept Shank in the thick of it but for the broken tie rod. We’ll never know. Almost all of the leading Corvettes had a sniff at victory, but it’s rare for Pruett or Ganassi to drop a victory that’s sitting in their lap. With a horsepower advantage to boot, victory might have been assured long before the race.
Our question is: would the result have differed without the Grand-Am’s balancing act? The rest of the season will tell us.