During LeMans 2011, one of the best driver interviews Justin Bell did was of Michael Waltrip. In the racing community, given that Waltrip has had a 27 year career in Nascar, he was a bit out of place at LeMans.
Yet, in his interviews, he was so vivid in his descriptions, it was so entertaining. Instead of the condescending nature Scott Pruett talked about international drivers, Waltrip was sincerely respectful and admiring, and gave just credit.
He described how he was going as fast as he could in his #71 AF Corse Ferrari, and out of nowhere a prototype would flash from behind and fly around a corner faster than he thought was possible.
About the Peugeots, he said they have so much ground force they suck up the air when they blow past and he has to hang on...or something of that sort.
Considering that he is a 2-time winner of the Daytona 500 in Nascar, 2001 and 2003, these comments are not to be taken lightly. He is a professional race car driver in his own sphere.
At Sebring while looking at the entry list for the WEC we noticed that next to his name there was a "P". The ACO uses a driver ranking system and Mr Waltrip was classified as a Platinum rated driver. The highest rank a driver can have. In Indycar speak guys in the platinum raking would be called road course specialists.
Michael Waltrip has accumulated nearly all of his racing experience in oval racing, so again in Indycar jargon, he would be termed an oval specialist.
At Sebring the #61 Ferrari 458 had Rui Aguas as it's hot shoe driver. He's a Ferrari factory test driver, and is a Silver ranked driver. But Michael Waltrip could never match his times, despite being ranked a platinum pilot.
Let's take a look at the Platimum driver criteria and see where Waltrip made the grade.....O.K aside the fact that he twice took home one of the world's most coveted race victories:
Platinum: Professional driver generally recognised as a well-known
driver on the international scene, under the age of 55, and satisfying at
least one of the following criteria :
- has held a Super Licence (for Formula 1)
- has won the Le Mans 24 Hours outright,
- has been a Works Driver, paid by a car manufacturer
- has finished in the top 10 of an F3000, CART/Champcar, IRL or
- has finished in the top 6 of an F3 International Series
(British/EuroF3) or major international single-seater Championship
(example : World Series by Renault)
- is a driver whose performances and achievements, although not
being covered by one of the definitions above, may be considered as a
professional driver by the Sports Committee.
It's quite an extensive list, but only one qualifier is needed to make the cut. In Michael Waltrip's case the last criterion makes the case.
In most cases it's a pretty straight forward classification system, but as in everything they can sometimes be a few exceptions.