Grand days for Pruett

Gordon Kirby, The US scene

The Rolex 24 hours at Daytona kicks off the American racing season. Coming in the middle of the norhern hemisphere’s winter, Daytona’s long-distance grind attracts drivers from many disciplines and is equally attractive to fans looking to break out of winter’s cold and snowy grip. But over the past few decades the race has lacked some of its original lustre because American sports car racing has been divided into two series the Grand-Am and the American Le Mans Series.

In 2014 the rival series will come together and for the first time in many years both Daytona and March’s Sebring 12 Hours will feature the same field of cars and drivers. It remains to be seen how the different formula will work as one, but everyone hopes that American sports car racing will enjoy stronger fields and a wider range of interest from fans and the media.

Meanwhile, this winter’s Rolex 24 will continue to feature the rather boxy, unattractive Daytona prototypes led by Chip Ganassi’s six-time champion team and its star driver Scoff Pruett who stands today in a class of his own as America’s quintessential sports car racer. Pruett 52, has raced everything from lndycars to NASCAR stock cars, IMSA GTP, GTO and GTU cars, Trans-Am cars and even Aussie V8s, and of course Daytona prototypes.

Scott won two IMSA GTO and three Trans-Am championships before moving up the ranks. His record includes 38 Daytona prototype wins, four outright Daytona 24 Hours victories and five more class wins, plus two lndycar victories the Michigan 500 in 1995 and Surfer’s Paradise in ’97 scored during CART’s heydays.

Pruett is proud of beating more powerful Ford and Chevroletengined prototypes to last year’s Grand-Am title with Ganassi’s Riley-BMW. The new Corvette Daytona prototype in particular made more downforce than the Riley, and Chevrolet won the manufacturer’s championship. Pruett feels Grand-Am rules allowed the Ford and Chevrolet prototypes to outpower his car.

“I think everybody in the paddock agreed that Ford had the best powerplant, without a doubt,” Pruett says. “The Chevy was probably the most efficient and made the highest amount of downforce and it showed. We were lacking in downforce and we were lacking in power, without a doubt.”

Scott hopes the Grand-Am officials will create a more level playing field in 2013. “Grand-Am told us they know things are askew and they’re going to come up with an equalising formula for next year, which they need to. Quite frankly, BMW is frustrated and why wouldn’t they be? Car-wise, we’ll just have to wait and see. The Riley cars need help on short, high-downforce circuits, no question. So we’ll see what the governing body comes up with and how they can equalise things.”

He’s also quick to give credit to lesser-known Mexican teammate Memo Rojas. “Memo has done a great job. He’s really come along well and Telmex activate their sponsorship programme very aggressively in Mexico, so there’s huge visibility for the programme which has helped make Memo a big star in Mexico.”

Looking further down the road to 2014 Pruett is bullish about Grand-Am’s merger with the American Le Mans Series. “It’s going to be huge for the sport” he declares. “Absolutely a great thing.”

Scott believes the only way forward for the new combined series will be to apply NASCAR’s formula for setting a level playing field rather than trying to encourage factory teams and hightech machinery. “Will there be some heartburn in 2014?” he asks. “Without a doubt. Not everybody is going to be happy.

“But I am very optimistic that Grand-Am will do the right thing and stay with the mission statement of NASCAR: hard, close, competitive racing at a reasonably affordable price. I’m confident they’ll get it right and they need to. The sport needs it.”

For all of us, Pruett included, it will be intriguing to see the results of the combined formula for 2014 and beyond.