Tag Archives: ALMS

A Guide To.. 2014 TUDOR United Sportscar

Sportscar racing is a complicated beast at the best of times, and especially so when two competing series combine into one.

That is what has happened to North American sportscar racing in 2014. I hope this post will help de-mystify this brand new series and will go some way to explaining what is happening.

What Is It?

Name:  IMSA TUDOR United Sportscar Championship

Shorter Name: The officials seem happiest with “TUDOR Championship“, while fans and media are referring to it either as “TUSC“, or in a nod to the glory days of the 1980s, “IMSA“. Technically IMSA are the people setting the rules, and not the series itself, so when I say IMSA I mean the people running things.

Where Did It Come From?

The TUDOR Championship is a merger of these two series:
- American Le Mans Series (ALMS)
- Grand-Am Rolex Series (GA)

What Classes?

P – Prototype:
Daytona Prototypes from GA are combined with LMP2 cars from the ALMS, and the DeltaWing, all in one single class.
The LMP1 cars have been abolished, as of now you can only see LMP1 in the World Endurance Championship (WEC).
DPs have been sped up with more downforce. P2 cars have been slowed a little with Continental tyres (reckoned to be slower than Michelins & Dunlops used in WEC). The DPs will have an advantage at Daytona, which you would expected of cars called ‘Daytona Prototypes’. The P2s will regain the balance the rest of the year. Pro driver class, as denoted by red screen and mirrors.

PC – Prototype Challenge:
This is identical to the PC class in the ALMS. No changes. A budget class for spec cars to promote ‘gentlemen’/amateur drivers, who hire hot talent to make them go fast. Pro-Am class, as denoted by blue screen and mirrors.

GTLM – Grand Touring Le Mans:
This is the ALMS GT class. Nothing was changed since last year, and this is the only class not running Continental tyres. The specs are identical to Le Mans and the WEC’s GTE class, hence the Le Mans moniker. The only thing new are brand new cars from Corvette and Porsche. Pro driver class, as denoted by red screen and mirrors.

GTD – Grand Touring Daytona:
Ostensibly the old Grand-Am GT class merged with the ALMS GTC Porsches, but with modified – slowed down – GT3 cars added into it. In reality the old-style GA GT cars and the GTC Porsches are gone. This class is 25+ GT3 cars, albeit with a TUSC-mandated rear wing producing less downforce than FIA GT3 rules allow, and without many of the TC and electronics the FIA rules allow. Ferraris, Porsches, BMWs, Aston Martins. With so many cars this is potentially the most fun class. Pro-Am class, as denoted by blue screen and mirrors.

No longer racing:
LMP1 cars from the ALMS, and GX cars from Grand-Am. Neither class has a home in TUSC.

Where Do They Race?

The four endurance races from both series:

Daytona 24 Hours, Sebring 12 Hours, Watkins Glen 6 Hours, Petit Le Mans. Those four endurance races make up the North American Endurance Championship (NAEC).

Add in Long Beach, Detroit, Laguna Seca, Road America, Mosport. This is the most exciting sportscar schedule in the world right now.

Who Is In It?

P – Chip Ganassi, Extreme Speed, DeltaWing, Action Express, Muscle Milk Pickett, Wayne Taylor Racing, Starworks, Shank, Spirit of Daytona, and even OAK Racing sent a team for a full season.
PC – Starworks, 8Star, PR1/Mathiason, Performance Tech, BAR1, RSR.
GTLM – Corvette, SRT Viper, BMW Team RLL, Risi Ferrari, Porsche North America (run by CORE).
GTD – Dempsey, Magnus, Alex Job, NGT, GMG, Fall-Line, Park Place, Turner, Scuderia Corse.

Dyson Racing is notably absent now – but they WILL be back.

And nearly all the drivers you already know from both series.

Exciting?

Absolutely!

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Thoughts on Sportscars: 2013 12 Hours of Sebring (ALMS)

Sebring wasn’t a classic race this year, rather than being exciting as some past years it was a case of being interesting in terms of who was fast, who was slow, who was reliable and who was not. I can’t say it was compelling enough to hold the attention for the twelve hours, or even for the ten hours I watched (there were a few long spells of simple lappery), but in this tough economic climate, and in a transition year before a major change to the race with the series merger you can’t really ask for big grids and close racing in each class.

Summary

The prototypes battle fell flat early on and in fairness that was expected before the race started. The focus fell on the two GT classes which did a good job of keeping things interesting, and there was a late battle in the PC class as well. With only an hour or two to go each of these three classes were led by something like 10 or 15 seconds! Tiny margins given the distances covered, a mistake on the track or by a pit crew would’ve turned it around.

I had other commitments in the afternoon and wasn’t able to join the coverage until 90 minutes into the race. I watched the rest, although I also dipped into the Red Bull Crashed Ice finale (I found myself unable to concentrate on that), and the delayed F1 qualifying.

I was watching the ALMS.com feed so their server problems were disappointing – I was happy they had the usual Hindhaugh & Shaw presentation and a solid pit crew. The ALMS Twitter feed claimed this race had 4x the viewers as last year, a statistic I find surprising considering last year’s race doubled as the inaugural WEC round, with a far deeper field. Compared to that race, with the ALMS struggling lately, this year’s race was always going to look a little weak in comparison to 2012′s so the increased viewership was interesting to see.

Through The Classes

P1

Audi dominated as everybody expected they would. There was a little fight amongst themselves but it was nothing compared to a battle with another manufacturer team, there was the definite sense they were tiptoeing around each other whenever they were racing – the right thing to do under the circumstances.

The real race in P1 was among the four-car “petrol/independent class” but Dyson Racing encountered problems with their Lola-Mazda, and Muscle Milk Pickett’s HPD was penalised (stop and hold for 60 seconds) following “avoidable contact”, when Klaus Graf and a PC-car collided. This was a shame as they were fairly evenly matched with the two Rebellion Lola-Toyotas, perhaps the Pickett car had the edge (perhaps thanks to their drivers and their circuit knowledge).

So this race was spoiled by a couple of happenings but that doesn’t mean Rebellion didn’t earn it, they were fast and kept their nose clean. I’m glad they’re keeping a car in the ALMS in addition to their two in WEC this year.

The DeltaWing, run by a completely different team to last year and with completely different technical partners, failed to impress after running slower than the PC class pace before an engine failure ended their day early.

P2

Five entries in this class, all top-drawer quality but sadly the race was effectively over by halfway. Level 5′s pair of HPDs were in control, it was always going to be tough to beat their star driver line-up of Marino Franchitti, Simon Pagenaud, and Ryans Hunter-Reay and Briscoe.
Extreme Speed did a good job learning their own pair of HPDs after moving from Ferraris in the GT class, although Ed Brown in particular seemed to struggle with his car with multiple spins and the other, faster car was delayed with mechanical issues. ESM will work on it, they’ll get there.
After splitting the HPDs right down the middle in qualifying, the lone Greaves Motorsport Zytek-Nissan wasn’t able to keep up with Level 5 in the race – which surprised me I have to say. I’m not sure if they encountered any problems.

PC

It was a hard-fought battle in the single-make class, the lead changing handle multiple times throughout the race. Most of this 7-car field was competitive and there wasn’t any way of picking a winner, even when it eventually distilled down to two cars you couldn’t call it, it was still a race as Ostella hunted down Marcelli for the win which is the opposite of what I would’ve predicted! This class is going to be a lot of fun this year.

GT

As expected the GT class proved a dogfight, though I have to say it seemed much cleaner than the wheel-banging of past years, which is impressive given how hard they were all pushing.

The main race was between the Corvettes and the Risi Ferrari, that classic battle between marques. Interloping from time to time were the likes of the Viper, the new BMW Z4 and even the Falken Tire Porsche, which given the struggles of Porsche teams everywhere wasn’t supposed to be near the front. The variety bodes well for a very exciting season.

The Ferrari had better range, the ‘Vette perhaps the better speed over a stint. Despite electrical issues and a penalty for pitlane speeding (caused by temporarily having no limiter) the no.4 Corvette fought back to win by just 3 seconds from the Ferrari, however that was arguably only because Matteo Malucelli’s stellar drive faltered under intense pressure from the yellow ‘Vette.
The Vipers fell back after a while as did the promising new BMW Z4 which had an impressive debut – though as both are running with exemptions for engines that are way too big for the regs, I was quietly pleased they lost (even though they have very cool cars).
Feelgood result of the race was the Falken Porsche, I thought they were a way behind earlier on but they came back to finish 3rd.

Notable absentees were the Aston Martins which suffered car trouble fairly early on and were forced to treat the rest of the race as a test, a very rapid test in which they set the class fastest lap, hinting at what might’ve been.

GTC

It is a sign of these economic times that so many top quality drivers – and teams – are in the low-cost spec class supposedly for entry-level entrants. The benefit for the class is the ridiculously close race! When you have Jeroen Bleekemolen, Sean Edwards, Damian Faulkner, Sascha Maassen, and Spencer Pumpelly you can’t say the class is lacking in talent. The result then depends how good the amateur, ‘gentlemen’ drivers are, and if they’re as evenly matched as they are here you have a race on your hands! Even deep into the race the top half dozen were split by 20 seconds or less. It was only in the very late stages that it got a bit split up. An under-reported, much-knocked class (and I’m fully guilty of that) which should continue to see some great racing this year.

Stars of the Race

I’d never heard of David Ostella or Matteo Malucelli so I was tremendously impressed by their performances. Malucelli put in a near-flawless performance for Risi Ferrari, whenever I looked at T&S he was in the car, his only fault being a little kind to the Corvette as it attacked him in the late stages of the race and that’s just down to inexperience of Sebring. Ostella on the other hand seemed to warm to the race the more it went on, culminating in a fantastic PC-class race-winning pass against Kyle Marcelli, who is no pushover.

If you weren’t paying attention to the laptimes of AMR after their long, long delays, you might’ve missed Bruno Senna’s speed in the car. Some suggested he wouldn’t be suited to GT racing. Wrong!

Kuba Giermaziak seems to be the real deal, too.

Other Business

There were a few controversial stewarding decisions. Some of the faster guys were a little impatient when lapping slower cars. Some were racing incidents, others were the fault of the slower guy wandering all over the road, yet it was always the faster guy that would get the penalty. McNish was definitely unfairly penalised. Graf’s penalty was less clear cut and both opinions were flying around Twitter – I thought the PC car stayed wide and braked early to let Graf through, which Graf may have misread or not expected  - a racing incident but under ALMS rules Graf got the penalty for braking too late, ‘avoidable contact’.

Next Up

The ALMS moves on to the vastly different challenge of a 2-hour race on the short Long Beach street course, one month from now.

Next year’s 12 Hours of Sebring will be part of the brave new world of United SportsCar Racing.

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The Reveal – United SportsCar Racing

I’ve posted a lot about the merger of the US sportscar series ALMS and GrandAm so it is only right I comment on Thursday’s big reveal.

In summary – I approve!

The new name of the series is United SportsCar Racing.

United-SportsCar-Racing-Logo-031413-mainYes it is a little bit of a wishy-washy name, and it does seem to have ties to the name of the ALMS before it was the ALMS, which was Professional SportsCar Racing. Those are minor gripes. On the other hand, how many people actually know PSCR? The important thing is that it is a clean break from the current ALMS and Grand-Am names and doesn’t borrow anything from either of them. It allows them to move forward cleanly. It also reinforces the point they’ve been trying to get across since the Autumn – this is not a takeover, this is a true merger.

Okay so the actual helmet design I would say is a weak point but that’s not important, things like that can be tweaked over time.

You can watch the full half-hour reveal presentation with Q&A on the Grand-Am site.

Or you can see this short promo video:

In broader terms, the name of the sanctioning body is equally important and this was the first announcement. It pleases me, and just about everybody I think, to say the famous IMSA name is retained as the name of the sanctioning body. As they very clearly pointed out during the press conference, everybody told them this was the way to go! It makes so much sense with the old connections IMSA had with NASCAR, the renewed ties it has with that group, as well as the more modern association with the ALMS. Bringing it all together, it just makes so much sense to use that name now.

They have completely dropped the intermediary ‘ISCAR’ name as they always said they would, that’s good, that was a terrible name.

These are very positive developments.

Official Class Names

The 2014 class structure was loosely defined without names back in January. Now those plans have been firmed up and they are pretty much as-announced, now we have class names and confirmation of the fate of GX. There will be five classes.

P – Prototype – the ALMS P2 class joins the Grand-Am Daytona Prototype class, along with cars running to the DeltaWing concept. Technical information on how this tricky balance will be achieved should be revealed ‘within the next 90 days’, according to Scott Atherton. The P2 cars will be able to go to Le Mans.

PC – Prototype Challenge – the ALMS PC class as it is this year.

GTLM – GT Le Mans – the ALMS GT class as it presently is, unchanged and retaining the links to Le Mans including the ability to race there.

GTD – GT Daytona – the Grand-Am Rolex GT class plus the ALMS GTC class.

GX – the experimental GT class introduced to Grand-Am this season remains as a separate class.

P2 cars will be similar to ACO (WEC/ELMS) cars but tweaked to suit United SportsCar’s needs. It apparently will be possible to convert between specs to go to Le Mans, and similarly the European or Asian teams will be able to go to Daytona, Sebring and Petit. Unsaid, but much rumoured, is the possibility the rest of this class will also one day be able to go to Le Mans, including DPs or whatever they morph into. Will that happen in 2014? I doubt it. 2015? I think that’s a strong possibility. Let the merger bed-in then invite the merged class to play at La Sarthe.

They actually did the complete opposite with the GT classes that I had suggested! I said it would be best to avoid comparisons between Le Mans GTs and Daytona GTs, you’ll inevitably attract complaints from the small subset of fans who insist that America be faster (most American sportscar fans aren’t at all like that by the way, most would patriotically celebrate a home win whilst appreciating everyone else’s performance at the same time). But I can see their thinking: The cars with LM in their name go to Le Mans. The cars with D in their name came from Daytona. Nice and simple in a year in which it could be hard to explain the differences between two GT classes with potentially big grids.

Le Mans & ACO

Confirmation came today, Friday, that the ACO and IMSA have agreed to continue the relationship started by the ALMS, namely that IMSA teams and drivers remain eligible to enter the 24 Hours of Le Mans and that the Road Atlanta round shall continue to be called Petit Le Mans. Celebrate! I was genuinely worried that PLM was dead – worry no longer, the race is safe.
This line from the release was quite interesting:  “The second part is a Strategic Alliance agreement between the ACO and United SportsCar Racing to explore and develop new avenues and horizons for endurance racing together in North America“. What could this mean? Is this simply their way of saying that P2 and GTLM (or their future replacements) will remain valid in USCR competition?

Future

Looking forward I think 2014 will see growing pains but it’ll also be very exciting. Even more exciting than that though is the potential for what we might see in the future, let’s say 2015-2020. Those years could prove to be a new golden era of this style of racing in North America, and globally, too.

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2014 Merged American Sportscar Class Structure

I’m a fan of the American Le Mans Series. As I described (potentially quite poorly) in a couple of recent posts, that series has been purchased by the rival Grand-Am organisation which runs the Rolex Series. Thankfully rather than an IndyCar-style rushed takeover or a straight wipeout of ALMS/IMSA assets, the top brass from both organisations are continuing with their separate series, albeit under a united banner, during 2013 while working together to create a truly merged series come 2014.

The merger threw the plans of several teams and drivers well into the air. Why buy a new car this year if they can’t run it next year? What about cars they bought last year? Some much-needed clarity came on Friday with an announcement about the general structure of car classes.

They had a tough job.

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Grand-Am & ALMS Merger: Cars & Tracks

This is a follow-up to my opinion piece on the merger itself and in this post I focus in on the potential race classes as well as my choice of schedule for the 2014 season and beyond.

Class Structure

This part is phenomenally difficult. Trying to merge two series, one with five classes and the other with two when all have different speeds, different strengths and weaknesses not just in performance but in cost. Add in a whole set of team owner agendas as well as the desire to liaise with the ACO to retain a link to Le Mans and you have one big headache!

This is how they are now, and what I would do with them.

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On The Merger of Grand-Am and ALMS

Exciting things are happening in sportscar racing at the moment. A succession of changes in outlo0ks is reshaping top line series everywhere.

Globally this is no better seen than in the reintroduction of a long-overdue World Championship for those competing at the Le Mans 24 Hours. On a regional scale the Blancpain Endurance Series is going from strength to strength in Europe, and although sadly FIA World GT1 had to be scaled back and relaunched next year as a Europe-only GT Sprint series perhaps that is the best format for it.

The biggest change at a regional level, and one which may have far-reaching implications, was the announcement that IMSA’s American Le Mans Series by Tequila Patron, and Grand-Am’s Rolex Series would be merging by means of a buyout. At long last!

The Reaction

The unexpected news was greeted with universal praise – just four and a bit years after Indy unity, ‘the other’ two warring American series were coming together. It was as if a big weight had been lifted from everyone’s shoulders. Just one thing.. how DID they keep it a secret?

Almost immediately after that came the worries. Grand-Am was making a purchase and Grand-Am is owned by NASCAR – does that mean the independent spirit of the ALMS will be lost? Are we going to get yellow flags for light debris, lucky dogs and green/white/checker finishes? Will they cut the link to Le Mans and lose those cars?

We are told repeatedly that this is NOT a takeover. We’re told this is definitely and defiantly not the same as the IndyCar purchase of ChampCar, in which anything related to the latter was mostly rubbed out, where just a few teams, drivers and events remained, and very few series staff and other assets. Some would later find their way in and others headed elsewhere (particularly to either sportscar series) but altogether it was a messy business.

Positivity

This time it is very much an integration. The companies have ALREADY merged. They call themselves ‘ISCAR’. No, me neither, but they can change it later. ISCAR has both Grand-Am and IMSA/ALMS figureheads at the helm, with equal say, and a mantra of ‘open dialogue’ being the order of business: They are listening. To fans. To teams. To drivers. To manufacturers. And to each other.

We’ve witnessed the united approach for some months now and do you know what? I believe them. They really are considering the best – and worst – of both existing series and organisations. The biggest card in their favour is time. There is no rush for 2014.
IndyCar’s hand was forced by having to get it all done in a matter of weeks. Had the IndyCar deal happened a year ahead of the actual series merge it would’ve come out of it very differently indeed. Lessons have been learned that experience (and some now in sportscar racing were involved in the IndyCar ‘merger’ – they know what they are talking about), it isn’t an experience anyone wants to see repeated.

That said, there is a hell of a lot of work to do to merge two different organisations and philosophies. A year isn’t very long in that context. Indeed the teams and drivers need to have an idea of class structure fairly swiftly – and I mean very, very soon – so they can make their purchasing decisions for 2013, if they buy now can they keep their cars for the new series or will they have to buy again?

ISCAR also specifically state they want to keep the link to Le Mans. I’d like to see how that manifests itself. I reckon that means keeping at least two ACO-compliant categories and leaving a gap in the calendar for teams to go over, or allowing them to skip a round.

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