How Much You Want For That Lola?

15 February 2001

© Andrew S. Hartwell

After the rains passed, and the cars shut off their engines, and the fans in the stands all departed, one team decided to close out their Daytona 24 Hours experience by going shopping. And they didn't have to go to the mall because what they wanted to buy was just waiting for them in the garage.

Dennis Spencer is the owner of Team Spencer Motorsports and he has long been a supporter of the original Grand Am concept of containing costs. While some actions taken by GA management have left him a bit confused over their commitment to that concept, he still believes the way to go racing is with proven equipment that is affordable and competitive.

To that end, Spencer would rather put his money into tweaking his older cars to make them go as fast as they can, than spend big bucks on a newer car and not have any money left over to buy the best testing tools. After all, the big budgets are needed for the ALMS teams. In Grand Am, you can do it all for less. At least, that was the original idea.

But intentions can be, er, 'adjusted'. If the powers-that-be decide to change their minds, well, then anyone choosing to play in their sandbox has to adjust as well. Dennis Spencer is a well-adjusted individual and so he decided to take a look at his options. He likes playing in the Grand Am sandbox. Getting sand kicked in his eyes is another matter.

Spencer: “After the 24 hour race, I bought the remains of the TRP Lola. We are going to dissect the thing and see what shakes out. We might even see if it is possible to make the thing work with a rotary. It is not likely since it does not allow for the cooling capacity that we need, leaving the aerodynamic efficiency intact. The Pilbeam is a better design for what we need. We are going to dyno. the engine and get a better understanding of where it makes its power.”

What prompted Spencer to buy a wrecked car? And what line in the teams' racing budget is marked for 'buying the other guys wreck' anyway?

Spencer: “Grand Am has mandated that we go to 18" wheels next year. For us, this is a completely impractical move. Frankly, I see this as being contrary to the Grand Am's theory of economy in racing. For our tried and true Kudzu chassis, going to 18" wheels will require significant expenditures on our part. New wheels looks like about a $23,000 plus expenditure. In addition, all the front and rear bodywork will have to be redesigned and molds made along with the resulting parts and spares.

”None of the suspension and linkage will survive. Since the roll out on the wheels is different, we will have to have new pickup points and geometry designed. This will require replacement of the front of the tub. By the time we get through we will have spent a minimum of at least $60,000 and not have even hit the track to learn how to set up what we have.

”I have to ask if it is the "Grand" design to kill off the old cars once they don't need us anymore? With 8 - 10 Lolas in the field, do we suddenly become obsolete? We do run an older car, and the argument can be made that the series needs new chassis to appear vibrant, but what have we been doing so far? Are we just adding to the car count? I certainly don't feel that way. We won at Watkins Glen and we finished second at Daytona. I welcome the chance to compete with the boys in the latest and greatest cars. I look to see how well we can compete with our limited resources. The Kudzu is a great race car. Why does it have to be put out to pasture? Bring on the

So what is the plan for the rotary racers? Do they have a place in the continuing Grand Am series? Will they be welcome or whisked away through regulated changes? Spencer: “What really makes this humorous is that the FIA series now allows rotary engines! In the beginning, the fact that they did not allow them was the Grand Am's main argument against the use of them in SR2!”

And the changes continue. Spencer: “One of the disappointments of this season will be the racing under the new points system. I agree with James Weaver. We race as a team and we contribute as a team of drivers. Grand Am says they think, "the driver that puts in the most effort should get the most points". But only a driver can realize how much effort it takes to give up your seat time for the good of the team and for the win, because a yellow flag creates an opportunity. The drivers must now predetermine who gets the points and who gets the championship.

”This will hurt the teams like TRP and others who have to attract drivers that pay and then make a choice who wins the most points. It will probably be the driver that brings the most money and not the most talent. One thing is certain, it most certainly will not be a team of drivers that strike the best talent balance that leads to a victory.

”I wish the Grand Am leadership had talked to a few teams before they made this change.

”At this point, we are just going to accept that another piece of the puzzle that made the Grand Am special has been abandoned. We will look to use the system to get Rich Grupp the championship this year and then re-evaluate our options for next year.”

Team Spencer supporters will now have to wait and see what becomes of the 'unwrapping' of the purchased Lola. Will the familiar orange, white and blue colors of Team Spencer be seen on a new Lola with a rotary engine? Will Team Spencer be seen at all in Grand Am?

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