Skip to content
Formula Motorsports

On The Beach

By Michael Tashjian • February 9, 2015
Beautiful Porsche in purple on the coast overlooking the highway.

You Cannot win at Daytona. You can only manage not to lose. As tile Rolex on the press room wall Swings past 10 PM EST the weirdness of fast paced diminution continues. Rumblings about an louder, especially since the three-car Team Oreca overall win by a Viper (Ugh!) are increasingly
Vipers now run in second, third and fourth overall. That’s right, second, third and fourth overall. Tile unbelievable attrition that rocked the 80 car field has, not abated and there’s almost as much traffic back and forth to the garage as there is going around the circuit.

Hours later, as the result of an engine misfire, the decimated Sports Racers, aka Prototypes, headed by Rob Dyson’s Riley & Scott, would be harried by the onslaught of the eventual overall and GTO winners from tile Daimler/Chrysler consortium. This was a far cry from tile “evacuation” of the “flapjack flipping” Mercedes team at Le Mans. It would mark the first time in the 36-year history of this. tile most important sports car race in the U.S. that a production based American car would cop ail overall win.

I had observed this team at Le Mans and it proved to be the class of the field; but no one expected such a storybook climax to their pursuits, such as we witnessed in this new millennium. Interestingly, one of the Team Oreca pilots from Le Mans moved to an underestimated Porsche GT3R ride and took the top GTU finish. The Harberthur Racing 996, although strong at Le Mans, was not factored in as a front runner, even though they posted an 8th place starting position. Stories along the way? I’ve got a bunch.

As I mentioned last month, we were invited to join tile Champion/Texaco/Gunnar GT3R Team. Having had more than a dozen rides at the Rolex Sunbank Pepsi Challenge, and the Whatever 24 at the French facility, the capturing of that handy wrist timepiece has been somewhat elusive for me, and I was hoping my team’s drivers would get their chance at this, a most coveted prize in endurance racing. Alas, P.L. Newman fans (oldest driver in Daytona history and still very fast, indeed) would see their hero pack up along with the rest of us at the unusually early time of about 9:00 in tile evening. Clearly, P.L., as a prior GTO winner here and multifaceted motorsports entrepreneur who commands significant respect, should and always will be considered a career driver: a no BS kinda driver getting the job done. At 75, 1 hope to be in as good shape as he is.

The race started early this year, an hour past high noon. Why? I guess the traditional 3:00 o’clock cacaphony of engine sounds was too traditional. The Rolex organization intended to change forever my impression of the crudeness of the event layout. They ran an exceptional week of events. Our team’s drivers were flawless in their execution and one was the son of a close friend. Gunnar Jeanette, at 17 years of age, was the youngest driver in the field—ever! Sponsor Texaco offered up a sumptuous array of feasts and accommodations. They suited my style perfectly, as overall tuning or driving are my specialties and the thought of inhabiting a cold, damp pit in the dark before dawn is a thing of the long past.

Who is Michael Lauer? This was the inside running gag on the team. As our Metro members are aware, Michael has been a long time participant at our driving events and has managed to improve his capabilities to the point of being the fastest driver on the team. His exploits Friday were equally impressive when driving the 1986 GTP Championship winning prototype, only to be “shunted” at the end of a fabulous Vintage Race. Incredibly, his nearest risk of personal injury came at the very end of this most serious exercise of fast racing machines. A blown rear tire caused the leading (Le Mans winner) Fat Turbo 962 to head uncontrolled toward “Laver” as he was inspecting his own bruised P-Car. Only a jump over the pit wall saved this “unknown” driver from serious injury. Jokes aside, his moving from prototype to GT3R during the several days here proved a benefit to his style of driving, shown by his ease at executing quick laps in the 2000 lb. 996-based GTU contender.

As Team Manager, my friend Kevin Jeanette has won this race before; and his game plan was simple: Conserve the equipment. As with most front running teams in the GTU category, engine problems on the “waterpumper” were rampant. The “factory” guys were responsible for the engines and water pump failures kept them busy, along with an occasional overall blowup here and there.. Having carefully observed the Teutonic approach the “3R’s” took at “The Sarthe,” I did not come away from “The Beach” nonplused. You come to Daytona with about 20 “new” machines, tested in Europe under relatively unstressed conditions, throw into the mix a “bumped up” power level and voila: Unreliability! Okay, now what? New Ballgame!

This is of major concern. How competitive will these GT3R machines be, and how marketable in the future? In fairness, no one builds a racecar as complete as the Porsche factory and the GT3R is an easy car to drive fast. However, many in the P-Car business realize how popular one-or-two-yearold Porsche factory race cars are on the resale market, because of the long lived qualities they offer. Our car gave no indication of premature engine failure – no gauge deviations – No idiot lights! Nothing but Boom Boom Room time! Hmmmm….

Along with my compatriot Nick Ventura, I did some most enjoyable socializing with my guys Randy Sasson and (King) Henry McClure. An “observation deck” set up at the International Turn enabled us to view most of the track and entertain some of our Metro friends, Speed Slawson included, between stints at the pit wall. Joining the usual suspects (crew) in the pits, we had a great group of mechanical engineering students doing “chores” that freed us to plan strategy. The arrangement of lower end 993 grafted onto upper end 996 seemed to solve prior reliability problems, but alas, I fear not. This too will be resolved. In engine building, the most important part of the process is the disassembly. This separates the men from “the mechanics”; and there will be plenty to disassemble, as usual.
Regarding Water Pump Failures: According to sources in Porsche Motorsport, unusually high engine attrition has been attributed to a factory subcontractor’s improper cleaning of cylinder heads (of manufacturing debris). Ahem… I am bewildered by how quickly this questionable explanation has been manufactured. There is still no answer to the plethora of other engine failures at Daytona.
Drive Porsches Have fun. Solve problems.