GRAND-AM comes to Road Atlanta – A Fan’s Perspective

Spring in Atlanta is about change.  Not the same as up North, I’ll grant you that, but change none the less.  Bermuda grass lawns come out of hibernation, trees bud, flowers bloom and residents head out in droves to soak up the sun and once again fill outdoor dining patios and parks.  Then the snow begins...  not the fluffy white cold stuff, but the yellow-green pollen that covers everything for what feels like an eternity.  Change is everywhere.

This year however brings another change, a louder change, a change with an eye towards the future.  As the temperatures warm in the South, a racing series will make its first appearance on the Road Atlanta circuit.  On April 19-20th the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series and Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge will make their one and only stop to the circuit known all over the world as the location of the famous “Petit Le Mans” endurance race.  This will be GRAND-AM’s only race at Road Atlanta because by this time next year both the GRAND-AM Series and the American Le Mans Series will join forces to create a new series recently announced as the “United SportsCar Racing.”

It is with this in mind that shortly after the race was announced as part of the 2013 schedule, I decided I would plan on being in attendance. For those of you that read the series of blogs I wrote leading up to last year’s Petit Le Mans will know, I have always had a passion for Petit and the American Le Mans Series.  When rumors last year began to surface that there may be a merger in the works, I like many fans, had my concerns.  Racing is a passionate hobby.  Fans choose the teams that they root for and the series they follow based on personal reasons, perceptions and tastes.  Like many others I was worried about what would happen to “my” favorite form of motorsport.

Since that time I have followed with interest as the announcements have been made about what this new series will look like.  Personally, I have been pleasantly surprised by much of what I have heard.  Of course there are still many things that have to be worked out and certainly there will be aspects that I will miss, but all in all I’m very hopeful and encouraged for the future. It seems like a good change.

So with renewed interest I watched a lot more coverage of this year’s Rolex 24 At Daytona.  Close racing was in abundance and, as with the ALMS, the GT field was diverse and competitive.  I watched more of this year’s Daytona 24 than I have in a decade and I felt in the end I had seen some good racing.

Philosophically GRAND-AM has some significant differences from the American Le Mans Series, with the top prototype class providing some of the biggest differences.  Unlike the ALMS, which has relied heavily on exotic, manufacturer supported, highly technical machines to fill it’s P1 class, the GRAND-AM series developed their own cost controlled class called Daytona Prototypes (DP) which utilize tube frame chassis.  Although slower than the ALMS P1 and P2 cars, the DP rules were created to try and keep the fields closer together and provide more door-to-door racing at a lower cost to competitors.

Daytona’s GT class is similar.  Unlike the LMGT cars utilized in the ALMS, GRAND-AM’s GT utilize primarily GT3 spec machines that are similar in performance to the ones used in the ALMS’ GTC class.  The result is a diverse field of vehicles that also provides some pretty close racing.

Next year the new series we will see a mix of classes from both series combined together.  The GRAND-AM race provides an opportunity to go to Road Atlanta and get an idea of what part of the new combined series will look like. Come back in the fall for Petit Le Mans and see the other half. No doubt by then we’ll also know even more about the new series and the classes, cars and competitors that will make up the United SportsCar Series.

If you are on the fence on whether or not to attend I would encourage you to give it a try like I am.  With the race weekend consisting of just Friday and Saturday, it provides an opportunity to go to an event without the time commitment that is typically needed to attend Petit.  Because of that I am planning on bringing my kids - that would never make it through a 10-hour Petit Le Mans – to the race.  At $45 for advanced tickets the spring race represents a good value as well. 

In addition to the Rolex Series’ main event, the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge support series will be part of the weekend schedule too.  The Continental Tire series provides some ridiculously exciting racing with large fields of diverse machinery with cars like Mustang and Camaros racing against Porsches and Aston Martins. 

With a little luck we will see a weekend of perfect weather, light pollen, and great racing.  Hope to see you there!

Next blog – Closer to the race I will do a novice guide to GRAND-AM.  A high-level look at the classes, teams and drivers that make up the Rolex Series.

 By Dean Richardson