It is only January, but the beginning of the “racing action” is almost upon us and the season is about to roar into life. In an effort to provide better understanding of the various forms of road racing in North America and the world I present to you a complete guide to the Grand Am Rolex Sports Car Series.
In the late 1990s, there was a significant lack of competitive sports car series in North America. In separate strategy meetings in 1998, one group in Atlanta would solve that problem with the American Le Mans Series, while the other group in Daytona Beach, FL would see the solution slightly differently and began the Grand Am Rolex Sports Car Series. With its first race in early 1999, the Rolex Sports Car Series, as well as the group sanctioning the series, Grand Am Road Racing, would start the series, and the season, off with a bang. Often called “The Superbowl of road racing”, late January’s Rolex 24 at Daytona signifies the death of another off season, and attracts racers from all disciplines and nearly every country.
Who to watch for
Continuously leading the charge to the checkered flag are cars fielded by BMW Target Chip Ganassi Racing, and the No. 99 Gainsco/Bob Stallings Racing Red Dragon Corvette. The professionalism and competitiveness of the teams involved in the series never ceases to amaze, with each capable of fighting for victories. Other standouts are Canadian entries from Mike Shank Racing as well as the now Chevrolet-powered Action Express team, as well as the late season resurgent Starworks Motorsports. Beginning with the 2011 season, Florida based Brumos Racing demoted themselves from running in the Daytona Prototype category, to a single entry in the GT category with a brand new Porsche GT3 Cup. Brumos has a long history with racing Grand Touring cars, and it showed when they took the 2011 championship. They are back to defend their victory, and are a strong contender for the class again in 2012. Audi’s new R8 has attracted Oryx racing away from ALMS LMP2 competition where they teamed with stalwarts Dyson Racing. Humaid Al Masaood has proven very quick for a rich man, and Stephen Kane remains the example of quick. Another team in a new R8 is the APR Tuned racing team out of Alabama. The team has previously run in the Grand Am Continental Tire Challenge, however, they have moved to a new class with the new Audi for 2012. The R8 itself, however, has yet to prove itself, as it has been very slow in pre-season testing. On the other end of the spectrum, AIM autosport have moved down from the Daytona Prototypes class to run an exceedingly quick brand new Ferrari 458. In another Michellotto-built 458 Italia is the Risi Competizione team out of Texas. Risi has always been quick, professionally run, and backed by the Ferrari factory team. Never count them out. Michael Waltrip Racing has even teamed up with AF Corse to run a Ferrari GT car shared between media giants Travis Pastrana and Waltrip himself.
The 2011 season is comprised of a series of 12 races, all on road courses. Visiting some of the most significant courses in North America, from the high banks of Daytona motor speedway, to the beautifully groomed hills of Barber Motorsports Park, the series has grown in popularity in recent years. Due to its reliable television schedule and a relatively inexpensive formula, there are several teams that return to the series every year with more being added each season. Though it may be good as it is, the chassis specification for the top tier Daytona Prototype class will be changing for this upcoming season. The current look car has been in use since 2003, and though the cars have excelled at providing close racing, they have received poor marks from the fanbase and sponsors in the looks department. The newly introduced Corvette Daytona Prototype, and Lola’s 2012 competitor have taken on the “new look” avenue, and they look stellar. The current tire supplier for this year continues to be Continental, having switched from previous supplier, Pirelli, who provided tires from 2009 through the end of 2010.
Classifications and specifications
Similar to its competition, the American Le Mans Series, Grand Am runs road races competed by more than one class of car. Rather than multiple rather complicated tiers, Grand Am limit the competition to one of two classes. Filling out the premier class, Daytona Prototypes are full tube frame, “stock block” engine racers with complete aerodynamic packages and very low weight. Proven to be durable, the DP chassis are currently constructed by one of five manufacturers; Lola, Dallara, Coyote, Crawford, and Riley. Each of these chassis can be mated with production-based V8s from Porsche, Ford, Chevrolet, or BMW, or 6 cylinder engines from Porsche and Honda. These cars all produce somewhere near 500 horsepower and can run up to near 200 miles per hour, and cost just over four hundred thousand dollars. Keep an eye on the newly developed engines from BMW and Ford to make an impression this season, while Chevrolet’s bespoke “Corvette” chassis could prove to be their sleeved ace. The supporting Grand Touring class has proven very competitive as of late, with seven different teams earning wins in the 2011 season, and the championship coming down to the last lap with Brumos Porsche victorious by only a handful of points. Eligible for the class are sports cars from a variety of manufacturers; Porsche’s GT3, Ford’s Mustang Boss 302R, Camaros and Corvettes from Chevrolet, BMW’s E92 M3, Mazda’s rotary powered RX-8 screamer, Ferrari’s brand new 458 Italia, Audi’s R8, Jaguar’s XK and Mercedes’ gorgeous SLS AMG. This class is heavier, and slightly less powerful than the Daytona Prototypes, producing somewhere around 450 horsepower, and capable of top speeds near 180 miles per hour. Purchasing a car to run the GT class would cost somewhere between 150 and 250 thousand dollars.
How to watch
Since its beginning, Grand Am has been broadcast via Fox Network subsidiary SPEED. Recently acquired by NASCAR holdings, Grand Am has always had a good relationship with America’s premier stock car racing association. This relationship has afforded them ability to achieve favorable spots at racecourses around the nation, as well as a great relationship with SPEED channel. SPEED shows all of Grand Am’s races on race day though some are delayed and cut down slightly to fit the format. It is still uncertain whether Grand Am will succeed over ALMS due to its perceived favorable television programming schedule, and only time will tell.
- Race 1 – Rolex 24 at Daytona, Daytona, FL. January 28th – 29th
- Race 2 – Barber Motorsports Park, Birmingham, AL. April 1st
- Race 3 – Grand Prix of Miami, Homestead, FL. April 29th
- Race 4 – New Jersey Motorsports Park, Millville, NJ. May 13th
- Race 5 – Chevrolet Grand-Am 200, Belle Isle Park, Detroit, MI. June 3rd
- Race 6 – Mid-Ohio, Lexington, OH. June 10th
- Race 7 – Road America, Elkhart Lake, WI. June 24th
- Race 8 – Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen, Watkins Glen, NY. June 4th
- Race 9 – Super Weekend at the Brickyard, Indianapolis, IN. July 29th
- Race 10 – Watkins Glen International – Short Course, Watkins Glen, NY. August 12th
- Race 11 – Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, Montreal, Quebec, Canada. August 19th
- Race 12 – Continental Tire Sports Car Festival, Monterey, CA. July 9th
- Race 13 – Lime Rock Park, Lakeville, CT. September 28th