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Jan 25, 2014 - 07:16 PM
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IMSA Leaders Presented With 'Michelin Men'
Posted by: ASkyler on Jan 25, 2014 - 07:16 PM
Sports Cars
IMSA Leaders Presented With 'Michelin Men'

Staff Report, NASCAR Wire Service

The iconic "Michelin Man" has evolved from an image on a promotional poster to a crystal statuette award that the tire company periodically gives to recognize special contributions and accomplishments in motorsports.

Saturday morning at Daytona International Speedway, Michelin presented four of the statues to the key leaders in the revamped International Motor Sports Association which sanctions the new TUDOR United SportsCar Championship. This weekend's Rolex 24 At Daytona -- it started at 2:10 p.m. ET, on Saturday -- is the season-opening race of the new series, which sprang from the merger of the American Le Mans Series and the GRAND-AM Rolex Series.

IMSA Chairman Jim France, Vice Chairman Don Panoz, CEO Ed Bennett and President/COO Scott Atherton received the statues.

"We want to express our thanks to [these gentlemen] for their passion, commitment and leadership in unifying sports car racing in North America," said Chris Baker, director of motorsports for Michelin North America. "They have overcome a great number of obstacles to bring the sports together."


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A disclaimer: This particular item was written at 4 p.m. ET, merely a couple of hours into the Rolex 24 At Daytona. Nonetheless, it was a shocker to see one of the serious favorites falter early, especially the way it transpired.

Only 90 minutes into the race, the No. 01 Ford EcoBoost/Riley, driven by five-time Rolex 24 champion Scott Pruett, pitted for fuel and tires. Pruett then took off, but it was too soon. The left rear hit the pavement -- minus a tire. Also, an air hose was still attached. The miscue turned momentarily scary when the car's rear wing clipped a crew man, sending him flying.

The crewman hopped up quickly and the car was pushed back several yards into the pit. The damage was done and the penalty would soon come -- a stop plus 20 seconds, which put the No. 01 a lap down.

With 22 hours to go, however, no one was counting the car out just yet.


IMSA Chairman -- and NASCAR Vice Chairman -- Jim France was involved in two press conferences Saturday, affording him the opportunity to discuss the history of sports car racing at Daytona International Speedway, which opened in 1959 under the leadership of Bill France Sr., who founded NASCAR and co-founded IMSA.

"[My father's] vision for Daytona when he built this speedway, was for it to be an international center for racing and the automotive industry," France said. "He named this speedway 'international' and at the time we were a bunch of good ol' boys racing stock cars in the South.

"His vision was to truly make this an international speedway. He did that [with the Rolex 24]. I like to think we are continuing his vision into the future and taking it to the next level.

"For a driver, this is a global event. It kind of validates your career if you're able to win it."


Legendary British sports car driver David Hobbs served as the Grand Marshal for the Rolex 24 At Daytona, a role that included perhaps the most entertaining press conference of the week. The initial subject for discussion: the fact that the 74-year-old Hobbs raced in the first incarnation of the Rolex 24, the three-hour Daytona Continental in 1962.

Daytona International Speedway, "when I came here in 1962 it sure as hell didn't look like it does now," Hobbs said. "Little old grandstand, the infield was just sand with just a bit of grass and there was hardly any guardrail. But we had a good crowd of drivers. Stirling Moss came from England. Jimmy Clark came from England. I came over from England. Whole bunch of guys were in the race. But yes, it's sort of symbolic being back here 52 years later. I didn't even know I'd be alive 52 years [later]."

Hobbs, who enjoyed a successful broadcasting career after he quit racing competitively, took a few breaks from answering media questions to watch the television feed, and quickly slipped into commentator mode. He talked about the disparity in car speeds and driving talent in a huge (67 cars) field creating the potential for mishaps, along with the inherent human nature factor.

"When the green light goes on, the red mist comes down," Hobbs said, "and it doesn't matter who you are, you just can't wait to beat somebody to somewhere."

Hobbs ended the session by saying he was enjoying his role this weekend. "I have no idea what a Grand Marshal does -- but I'm doing it!"

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