Sports Car Racing: Full Speed Ahead—but to Where?

By Staff Writer
Apr 22, 2013 | Posted in News and Notes | Never miss an article

Story By Steven Cole Smith

Regardless of how you feel about the ongoing consolidation of Grand-Am and the American Le Mans Series under the NASCAR umbrella, none of us can deny one fact: No grass is growing under organizers’ feet as they plan for the one-series-fits-all debut at the Rolex 24 At Daytona in 2014. And beyond, we learned recently.

Two days before the 2013 Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring—which, incidentally, is expected to follow Daytona next year as event number two—representatives of Grand-Am and the ALMS held a news conference at the Chateau Elan hotel on the grounds of the Sebring track. (NASCAR now owns the Don Panoz-built hotel, but it only holds the lease on the track.)

The announcement was a new name for the series (United SportsCar Racing), along with a new logo for USCR and even for IMSA, which will continue to sanction races. It was pointed out by some that the “United” part of the name may have a short shelf life since we could soon forget that there ever were two series; others responded that as the name of a country, “United States” seems to have weathered well. USCR also announced the names of the classes that would compete in 2014:

• The Prototype class, combining Grand-Am’s Daytona Prototypes and the ALMS’s LMP2 and DeltaWing cars.
• Prototype Challenge, the Oreca spec class retained from the current ALMS structure.
• Le Mans GT, consisting of the ALMS’s current GT class.
• Daytona GT, consisting of Grand-Am’s current GT class and the ALMS’s current Porsche 911 spec GTC class.
• And GX, coming over from the current Grand-Am structure. This class currently consists of a few diesel-powered Mazda6s and a couple nearly stock Porsche Caymans. Unless more cars enter the class, it could be dovetailed into Daytona GT by 2014.

Expect 10 to 12 events on the USCR schedule for 2014—no more than that, certainly. Considering the fact that Grand-Am and ALMS will run 22 events at 17 venues this year, some tracks will be left out. More about that in a moment.

Certain for 2014: Daytona, Sebring, Watkins Glen, Road Atlanta. Likely for 2014: Austin, Long Beach, Indianapolis, maybe Kansas City (since that ISC- owned track is a template for future NASCAR full-service facilities), and Detroit (since it’s geographically key). Will Road America, Barber, Miller, Lime Rock, Baltimore, New Jersey, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, Sonoma, Mid-Ohio or Virginia International Raceway be included? How about tracks in Canada or Mexico?

Start lobbying now for your favorite facility if it isn’t already too late. ALMS head Scott Atherton told Grassroots Motorsports to expect a 2014 schedule within 90 days, and he said that at the Sebring race on March 16. That means 90 days will be up in the middle of June. That’s also when we expect to see a rule package. The performance-balancing of the very different DP and LMP2 cars is the most anticipated aspect, as is whether there will be tire competition like there is in the ALMS, or a spec tire (Continental) like there is in Grand- Am. We expect tire competition in the Le Mans GT class and hopefully in the Prototype class.

Otherwise, it will be difficult to take those cars seriously for any plans to race at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. And here’s where the “and beyond” we mentioned before comes in: Remember when we said that there are too many good tracks and too few races for 2014? NASCAR and USCR may try to soothe hurt feelings by offering a NASCAR Nationwide or even Camping World truck race, plus some one-marque spec series and the Continental Tire Challenge series.

And possibly, in the more distant future, they’ll offer some DTM-type races. USCR held a press conference March 26 in conjunction with the New York International Auto Show to announce that the long-discussed deal with the European DTM touring car series, as well as with Japan’s Super 1 series, maymean sanctioned races in the U.S. as early as 2015.

DTM (Audi, BMW and Mercedes- Benz) and Super 1 (primarily Honda, Nissan and Lexus) have agreed on a common rules package, which could allow domestics such as Dodge, Chrysler, SRT, Chevrolet, Cadillac and even Lincoln to compete. And those races could also be offered to tracks that don’t get USCR races, Grand-Am President Ed Bennett told Grassroots Motorsports.

It is, however, not a done deal, to the point where 2015 seems optimis- tic. While the German manufacturers endorse the idea, U.S. brands have been less enthusiastic, as none of them have such a huge budget that they’re actively looking to invest in a start-up series. Bennett also said that there are no current plans to bring the DTM series here for some races. Without that, he explained, the series could require a selling job to the American public.

That said, the idea of Cadillac V-cars or even a hotrod Lincoln competing against the premium German and Japanese brands may be too appealing to ignore. Or it may not. Stay tuned.

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