The month of May is almost upon us and motorsports are in full swing. In an effort to provide better understanding of the various forms of road racing in North America and the world we have brought you the Complete Guide to American Le Mans Series and the Complete Guide to the Indycar Series. Now we look at 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”, 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 Chevrolet. 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 Porsche-powered Action Express team.
In the GT field, there is much less disparity between the different manufacturers, with each having an equal chance to win at any given race meeting. GM’s Camaro has proven to be competitive since it started racing in 2009, while Porsche’s GT3 Cup and Mazda’s RX-8 have been battling for years.
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 next 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 current tire supplier for this year is Continental, having switched from previous supplier, Pirelli, who provided tires from 2009 through the end of 2010.
Beginning with the 2011 season, Florida based Brumos Racing have 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, so they have billed this change as a “return to their roots”. Sahlen’s Racing purchased three Mazda RX-8 racers to compete in the 2011 season, and the-man-your-significant-other-wishes-you-were, Patrick Dempsey, has returned this year as team owner of another Mazda.
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 limits 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.
The supporting Grand Touring class has proven very competitive as of late, with five different cars earning wins in the last six races. Eligible for the class are sports cars from a variety of manufacturers; Porsche’s GT3, Camaros and Corvettes from Chevrolet, BMW’s new M3, Mazda’s rotary powered RX-8, Ferrari F430C, and as of this year 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 – Grand Prix of Miami, Homestead, FL. March 5th
- Race 3 – Porsche 250, Birmingham, AL. April 9th
- Race 4 – Bosch Engineering 250, Danville, VA. May 14th
- Race 5 – Memorial Day Classic, Lime Rock, CT. May 30th
- Race 6 – Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen, Watkins Glen, NY. June 4th
- Race 7 – Bucyrus 200,Elkhart Lake, WI. June 25th
- Race 8 – Continental Tire Sports Car Festival, Monterey, CA. July 9th
- Race 9 – New Jersey 250, Millville, NJ. July 24th
- Race 10 – Crown Royal 200, Watkins Glen, NY. August 13th
- Race 11 – Montreal 200, Montreal, Quebec, Canada. August 20th
- Race 12 – EMCO Gears Classic, Lexington, OH. September 1st