“It’s the most wonderful time… of the year,” is a lyric that comes around this time of year for Andy Williams’ fabled Christmas carol.
It vehemently does not apply to sports car racing in mid-to-late November and early December, when the next round of FIA Driver Ratings comes out for the following season.
Last week, the provisional 2017 FIA Driver Ratings list came out.
As usual, there’s a few questionable examples of drivers who are ranked as Silver – unofficially called “Super Silver” – whereby their line of results and/or age qualifies them for an amateur rating despite the fact they’re either a young pro unproven in sports car racing or an old pro who’s 55 years of age or older.
Two particularly humorous examples of this come with the lineups in 3GT Racing’s pair of Lexus RC F GT3s and in Michael Shank Racing’s pair of Acura NSX GT3s.
The Lexus lineups are Sage Karam and Scott Pruett in one car, and Jack Hawksworth and Robert Alon in the other. Karam and Hawksworth – young IndyCar drivers-turned-sports car full-timers who still hope to keep the open-wheel dreams alive at some stage – are the Gold-rated drivers, even though neither has a full-season of sports car experience.
Pruett is tied as the winningest driver overall at the Rolex 24 at Daytona with five, and Alon starred in IMSA’s PC class last year… yes they run the gamut of experience in sports car racing but because of Pruett’s age, he’s considered the “am” in that car while Alon is a more traditional Silver.
Shank, meanwhile, has four full pro drivers in Katherine Legge, Ozz Negri, Jeff Segal and Andy Lally as the full-timers for Acura. But because of Legge’s recent results and Negri’s age, they’re considered Silvers, while Segal got bumped up for seemingly the umpteenth time from Silver to Gold.
In both cases, you cannot fault the teams from playing the game to their advantage, but just because they’ve played the game well to their advantage does not mean the game is a good game.
The “Super Silver” problem is arguably the biggest one from a pro-am system designed to actually have pros and ams sharing a same car.
Then again, if you’re a businessman who enjoys racing, why do you even want to be called an “am” in the first place?
In my view, you’re only an amateur if A., you have no experience whatsoever – whereas guys like Ben Keating have years of it and are successful businessmen – or B., you’re a wanker who can’t get out of his/her own way and actually draws the ire of your competitors for poor pace and/or poor race craft. Otherwise, you’re a “gentleman driver,” which isn’t much better of a descriptor, but a descriptor that at least makes you feel like you belong rather than being an “am” which makes you feel like you don’t.
Lest IMSA’s WeatherTech Championship be the only area of confusion over driver ratings, this issue has also cropped up in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge – where a memo came out that Platinum-rated drivers are no longer eligible from 2017.
This is stupid because in a series primarily featuring gentlemen drivers, they want to judge themselves against the best without paying the costs of a WeatherTech budget.
And the removal of would-be Platinum drivers would prevent the kind of battles we saw this year in GS, for instance, where a younger pro driver who’s relatively inexperienced in sports cars such as Danny Burkett could go head-to-head vs. a Billy Johnson or a Scott Maxwell and try to prove himself or get better (which he did over the course of the year). Same with Trent Hindman – a young ace – versus arguably one of the best sports car drivers in the planet in Jeroen Bleekemolen.
Also stupid about this? Within the same memo, it says “having a driver rating is not required.” Yet if you’re the highest driver rating, you can’t race.
Here’s the line:
“Drivers in Continental Challenge are not required to possess a FIA Driver Rating, however, Drivers listed on the FIA Driver Categorization List as rated Platinum are prohibited from participation and additional limits may be applied at the sole discretion of IMSA.”
And again, lest IMSA be the only series where this is an issue, also look at the FIA World Endurance Championship – where Tequila Patron ESM purposely trolled the ratings system by running its actual gentleman driver, Chris Cumming (Bronze-rated), up against three pros from G-Drive Racing (Rene Rast), RGR Sport (Filipe Albuquerque) and Signatech Alpine (Nicolas Lapierre).
The ESM Ligier JS P2 Nissan was leading the race courtesy of Ryan Dalziel and Pipo Derani, and while Cumming fought valiantly as best he could in the final hour and 15 minutes and change, he was simply unable to match the true pros. Not his fault; the Canadian is a gentleman driver and Rast and Albuquerque were Audi factory drivers, and Lapierre used to be one for Toyota. That dropped them to P4.
The Cummings and Ricardo Gonzalezes of the world don’t want to be up against all-pro lineups in a class designed to have one gentlemen driver, but they press on anyway.
Driver ratings appear set to also be a thing throughout Pirelli World Challenge next season too, with its varied complement of classes and race styles (sprint vs. SprintX), so that’ll be fun to witness the consternation there as well.
So, driver ratings. This is why, as I’ve said before, even if you work in or cover sports car racing, it’s still bloody confusing.