Welcome to The Missed Shift, a new weekly column about my favorite subject, racing. What else, right? I’ll do my best to be thought-provoking, entertaining and even insightful on occasion. I welcome discussion, contrasting opinions, criticisms and suggestions. I’m honored to be a part of the OpenPaddock family. I’ll try not to be that one relative that everyone tries to avoid at Thanksgiving dinner, but I can’t promise anything.
This past year has been a tough one for a lot of reasons. First and foremost, the loss of my brother-in-law and partner in crime, Kevin Neely, has taken an emotional toll. Then we have the forced retirement of Dario Franchitti and the skiing accident that has kept Michael Schumacher in a coma for two weeks as of this writing. It brings into sharp relief that we are all human, whether you’re an average joe or at the top of your game.
But this is a new year and we have a fresh start. The Roar Before The 24 (a silly name, I know) has concluded and the excitement about the first road racing of the year is ramping up. There’s a lot coming out of Daytona with the merger of ALMS and Grand-Am into the new Tudor United Sports Car Series. I’m happy to see that there’s no shortage of entries for Daytona across all the classes. There were some rumors of teams getting out because of the NASCAR affiliation and that car counts would be low. I think the way that they’ve handled the inclusion of the classes from both ALMS and Grand-Am has worked out well, and entries for the Rolex 24 at Daytona are impressive.
After testing, Corvette seems to be the car of choice. The Corvette-based Prototypes are fastest after testing and the GTLM C7 Corvettes dominate as well. I think the new North American unified sports car series being dominated by an American brand will help bolster the series in the hearts and minds of American race fans. Because ‘Murica! It’s very likely that there will be some measures taken to equalize the field somewhat so no one manufacturer has a significant advantage.
In addition to Daytona, there’s this little junket in the wilderness of South America known as Dakar. It used to be the Paris-Dakar Rally when they actually went from Paris to Dakar through the North African wilderness. Several years ago, terrorist threats against the race and the competitors forced the organizers to relocate the event to a safer haven, South America. This year’s route takes the team through Argentina, Bolivia and Chile and includes some of the most vehicle-unfriendly terrain on the planet.
Unfortunately, the TV coverage of Dakar in the US is relegated to a 30 minute highlight reel on NBCSN each night, either on the cable network or streaming on their website. It’s a shame that an event of this magnitude gets so little attention in the U.S. If you want more in-dept coverage, including live positioning during the stages, The official Dakar website has everything you need to follow along live, as well as quotes, video clips and some outstanding imagery.
In the early running, the Minis are dominating the car class, as expected. Robby Gordon’s insane “car” based on his Baja trophy trucks is running fast, but some early vapor lock issues and a time penalty have him mired mid-pack. The one shocker so far is that the class leader of the Quads, Marcos Patronelli withdrew in stage 3, apparently with medical issues. In the last five years, Patronelli won twice and finished second twice, and was the hands-down favorite this year as well.
The other event that marks the start of racing season is the AMA Supercross season opener from Anaheim. I’m not a huge SX fan, but it’s racing, dammit! It gives me a speed fix after a long drought, so I look forward to it. Besides, James ‘Bubba’ Stewart is always entertaining, and he either wins or faceplants, the latter being more and more frequent. A group of other race fan friends usually have a pool for when he eats dirt, so it adds some comedic value.
So now that 2014 racing season is here, what are you most looking forward to? The Chili Bowl? Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona? Formula One testing at Jerez? USF2000 WinterFest? 100 Acre Wood Rally? Maybe something a little more local? Let us know, race fans!
If you’re really desperate, feel free to follow me on Twitter. I’m @JohnTheRaceFan. I try to live tweet when I go to an event and sometimes add my own commentary during races while I watch on TV.