John Lacey, the owner of Doncaster Racing, whose Porsche 911 finished eighth in the GT Class at last weekend’s Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona, said these exact words to me a year ago March:
“If you look at motor racing as a benchmark around the world, whether you’re talking about Villeneuve or Tracy, we have produced many world-class racing stars disproportionate to our population and significantly disproportionate to our weather and the length of our racing season. For whatever reason, Canada doesn’t seem to embrace that.”
I don’t know about the country, but the media sure don’t.
While Canadian drivers owned the Rolex 24 in so many ways last weekend, most newspapers ignored the event entirely and the one or two that did publish stories (including the Star) carried not much more than a paragraph about Juan Pablo Montoya and Scott Pruett being the winners.
Radio and TV (other than the Speed Channel) apparently don’t consider the Rolex 24 worthy of much attention either, even though it is one of the three mega-sportscar races in the world.
So, although a week late, here’s the news.
Canadians finished second, fifth and 10th overall (out of 69 cars) in the 24-hour race, finished first in the GT class, finished one-two in the three-hour Grand Am Koni Challenge that preceded the headline event and won the secondary class in that support race against more than 100 other cars.
Pretty impressive, eh?
Even better is that Toronto’s David Empringham won the Koni Challenge on the Friday and then came back Saturday-Sunday to guide AIM Autosport of Woodbridge’s Daytona Prototype entry to a fifth-place finish in the Rolex 24.
Empringham was in a gleeful mood Monday when I caught up with him in his office, which is above fellow driver (and arch-rival) Scott Maxwell’s Mini-Grid bookstore in midtown Toronto.
And why was Empringham so happy? Because the fellow he beat in the Koni Challenge was none other than his landlord, Maxwell.
“We had so much fun,” Empringham said.
“We’re best friends and just had a ball out there. We’d gone to a test in January and at the end of the day we were both a second clear of the rest of the field (100-plus cars, remember) and he beat me by about a hundredth of a second. We were joking that the race was going to come down to the two of us and that’s how it turned out.”
Maxwell, it seems, even gave his buddy â€“ they were running one-two at the time â€“ a “push” at one point.
“I was having trouble getting past this one guy,” Empringham said. “I was kind of stuck behind him. So Scotty just rammed me. The momentum shot me past that guy. I was a car-length behind him and before you know it I was a car-length in front. So I took off.
“Scott finally got past the guy himself and told me later that he was mad at me because I didn’t wait for him.”
Maxwell, who lost the lead to Empringham on the last lap (they’d traded it back and forth), said if he had to finish second in a race to anybody, he was glad it was Empringham.
“It was one of the best races I’ve ever been in,” he said. “We must have made contact eight or nine times on the last lap. (Bill) Auberlen was running third and said later that he was just waiting for us to take each other out. But there was no danger of that: we were racing hard but we were giving each other the benefit of the doubt.”
The next time the two friends and rivals will be able to race head-to-head will be Father’s Day weekend, June 15-17, at Mosport International Raceway when the Grand Am Series and the NASCAR Canadian Tire stock car series will be featured.
Empringham has other duties in the meantime â€“ primarily coaching drivers James Hinchcliffe and Raphael Matos in the Formula Atlantic series â€“ that will keep him out of the Koni Challenge races till then.
“We’re already arguing about whose home track it (Mosport) will be,” he laughed.
Said Maxwell: “Leave the other 100 cars at home. That race is going to come down to the two of us anyway.”
Not one to be missed, for sure.
Here are other Canadian/Daytona success stories:
- Patrick Carpentier (with non-Canadians Darren Manning, Ryan Dalziel and Milka Duno â€“ who could become the third woman driver to race in the IRL this year, with Danica Patrick and Sarah Fisher) finished second overall, driving a prototype.
- Empringham brought the Aim Autosport Daytona Prototype home fifth in the feature. Mark Wilkins of Toronto shared the driving.
- Michael Valiente of Vancouver was 10th overall in a prototype.
- Jean-FranÃ§ois Dumoulin, of Trois-RiviÃ¨res, was 11th overall but first in the GT class, driving a Porsche.
- Dave Lacey and Greg Wilkins, both of Toronto, drove Doncaster Racing’s Porsche to eighth place in the GT class and 20th place overall.They were well in position to win their class until a coolant hose leak resulted in a lengthy stop.Said Lacey: “It’s unfortunate the rad hose let us down. I’m thrilled with the effort, but the result is a little bit disappointing. I think we had a podium car and we got let down by a 50-cent piece.”Wilkins heaped praise on AIM Autosport’s efforts in preparing and servicing both the Porsche and the fifth-place Daytona Prototype:
“For AIM to bring both the GT car and the prototype to the 24 Hours of Daytona for the first time and have the GT car finish eighth and the prototype finish fifth is just unbelievable. That should go in the record books.”
- Paul Tracy of Scarborough (co-driving with honourary Canadian A.J. Allmendinger of Toronto) finished 26th in a prototype.
- Pierre Bourque of Ottawa was 28th, Fraser Wellon of Mississauga was 44th, Mark Pavan of Toronto was 53rd and Alex Tagliani of Montreal was 59th.And in the Koni Challenge’s Street Tuner class, Karl Thomson of Toronto was first. Kuno and Nick Wittmer of Hudson, Que., were third.This is all worthy of recognition and celebration, isn’t it?