As their bread and butter sales models have grown larger and more expensive over the last several years, the top three premium European auto manufacturers have introduced new entry-level models to the U.S. market to appeal to more budget-conscious buyers. Audi has the A3, BMW has the 2 Series and Mercedes has the CLA. Thankfully, all three of them have also built high-performance versions of those cars, which combine their smaller proportions and lighter weight with more horsepower, which is almost always a good combination. Audi’s S3, for example, is clearly based on the $30,900 A3 sedan, but it’s a big step up in performance, street presence, and price.
As a man in his late 40’s that was born and raised in the U.S.A. and whose favorite music includes Bruce Springsteen and The Eagles, I’m pretty sure I fall into the primary market segment for a Corvette Convertible. Paying attention to the type of men actually driving Corvette’s bears this out, as I can’t remember the last time I saw someone driving a Corvette who wasn’t a middle-aged white guy. Be that as it may, the 2016 Corvette is such a good car that it will make you forget (mostly) about all the clichés that go with driving one.
I may fall into the target market for Corvette buyers, but I’ve always been much more attracted to European sports cars like Ferrari’s and Porsche’s. As a teenager, my bedroom wall was covered with posters of cars like the Ferrari 308 GTB and Porsche 930 Turbo, not Corvettes, Camaro’s or Mustangs. It wasn’t until I started attending American Le Mans Series races in 1999 and watching the Corvettes race that I started taking a closer look at the road cars and gaining an appreciation for them. Driving them over the last several years as an automotive writer has affirmed that, though they were not without their faults. After spending a week driving the new Corvette Convertible, it’s clear that Chevrolet has done their homework on the new C7 to make it the best Corvette yet.
While there were plenty of story lines coming out of the 2015 18th Annual Petit Le Mans powered by Mazda, the departure of Team Falken Tire can’t be overlooked. Winners of the final American Le Mans race, the 2013 Petit Le Mans, and winners of the Inaugural TUDOR version of Petit Le Mans in 2014, it’s hard not to imagine what does the “con” side of the decision making process look like as the team and manufacturer depart from the Series.
While I have no inside information, it’s hard not to assume Falken’s decision was financial and market driven. After all, what sense does it make to throw tons of resources (both money and research and development) at a program that is immersed in a venture dominated by a competing manufacturer. Especially, when the domination is bought and paid for.
Michelin dominates the GTLM class by determination and providing a quality performance tire and a well run marketing effort. And I think the Falken people were ok with that. That’s competition. But to attempt to have a voice and capture the ear of the market place, in a Series who’s primary tire sponsor is mandated on three of the four classes… well, what’s the point?
Tires are an integral part of the competition… especially so in an endurance format of racing. Sure, it’s possible that one tire manufacture may dominate. But if it’s earned… so what?
Michelin earned the respect of fans and competitors alike during the hay-day of the ALMS. And, in the absurd weather conditions of this year’s Petit Le Mans, they earned it again putting a GT car in the overall winners circle.
For six seasons, Team Falken earned the respect of fans and competitors through their continued efforts to fight competitively and to win. Bryan Sellers, Wolf Henzler and Team Falken consistently proved they were capable with back-to-back victories at the 10-hour Petit Le Mans, as well as races as diverse as Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and the city streets of the Baltimore Grand Prix. Oh, by the way, they won Baltimore twice. They brought the resources they had and they made it work. It’s fair to say, they were sometimes David to Michelin’s Goliath. Good on them…. and I can assure you, Michelin would say the same.
So… if you’ve read this far, you’ve probably figured out, I don’t like spec tires. I don’t like sponsors buying out the spirit of competition.
To the folks at Falken…. Wolf Henzler, Bryan Sellers, Derek Walker and the whole Walker Racing crew… Thanks! Thanks for your perseverance, your tenacity and your allegiance to sports car racing fans. You’ll be missed!