The only GRAND-AM race to ever be run at the Road Atlanta circuit is in the books. In this blog installment I take a look back at the weekend and my impressions of what I saw and how it unfolded.
I'll be the first to admit that I am a diehard fan of ALMS racing. However, I also know that at this stage, a combined Series is the best thing for the sport I love. It's going to help it grow and allow more people to see what is so great about sportscar racing. So, I went into the Visual Studio Ultimate Grand Prix of Atlanta more than a little suspect. But, in the end, I came out of the weekend seeing just how well this could all work.
[caption id="attachment_913" align="alignright" width="300"] Michael Shank Racing Team[/caption]
I got to the track mid-Friday morning after finishing up some work for the day job before disappearing off the grid. When I arrived at the track, practice was finishing up and there were a few DPs circulating on the track. I drove around the infield to get the lay of the land and kill some time before getting on a conference call (so hard to get completely away from the office anymore). I found a spot high on the hill overlooking turns 10a and 10b where I could have my call and still watch any on track action.
Just as my conference call was wrapping up I noticed that the interior of my car had gotten significantly darker over the past minute or so. Looking over my right shoulder I could see why… the storms that had been threatening all day had arrived. Within seconds the sky opened up, and it began to pour from the heavens. After fighting off flashbacks to 2009’s “Petit Monsoon” (the only ALMS race ever shortened by weather), I decided to stay put until the rain subsided.
After a little over an hour the rain slowed and since it was clear that no cars would be running for a while I decided to head down to the paddock and check out the cars and teams.
As a result of my first blog leading up to the GRAND-AM event at Road Atlanta, I was extended an invite to get a behind the scenes tour of Michael Shank Racing’s (www.michaelshankracing.com) operation by their PR Rep, Matt Cleary. While I was down in the paddock I took the opportunity to meet up with Matt who gave me an up close look at the cars and the transporter. The team is running two cars for the 2013 season and was in the middle of prepping them while I was there. The transporter that the team is using is brand new, complete with a modern lounge up front for driver debriefings and team management meetings. The work space in the rest of the transporter is surprisingly well lit and full of sparkling white cabinets that store everything from tools, to spare suspension, engine and brake parts.
After the tour I was given the opportunity to meet and chat with team principle Mike Shank. Shank shared his thoughts on the upcoming merger between the GRAND-AM and the American Le Mans Series. I was impressed by Mike’s candor and passion for the sport that he has built his business around since switching from open wheel to endurance racing in 2004. He has strong opinions on the best way to equalize the Daytona Prototypes and ALMS P2 class. His opinions are based both on what he believes will make for the best racing and financial considerations that will effect teams from both sides of the new unified series.
Mike was kind enough to talk with me for over a half an hour which is impressive for any team owner on a race weekend.
Shortly after my time with MSR it was announced that GRAND-AM was canceling the days qualifying sessions due to the wet conditions. After spending some time strolling through the paddock I decided it was a good time to head home and get some rest before the race on Saturday.
Saturday – Race day
[caption id="attachment_914" align="alignright" width="224"] Fan Walk for all fans before the drop of the green flag![/caption]
On race morning I arrived at the track around 10:30 AM with my 9 year old daughter in tow for her first professional motor racing event. We headed immediately to the Turn 10 complex to watch the start of the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge race.
The first thing I noticed as we found a place to park was the larger number of people in attendance for the race than I expected. The crowd was smaller than the Petit Le Mans crowd, which has become as much of an event as a race, but the crowd was easily on par with crowds that attended the Spring race that the ALMS would occasionally do in the early and mid-2000s.
Shortly after getting settled in our seats, the Conti Challenge race started and it did not disappoint. The sheer mix of cars on the track made for some exciting viewing. It was interesting to see how the different cars in both classes managed bumps on the track surface differently. Some very composed while other looked like they were going to shoot off in a completely different direction exiting a turn. Either way it provided some close and exciting racing.
In between the Conti race and the GRAND-AM event there was a break that allowed us to walk down to the paddock and watch as the teams prepared for the race. Similar to the ALMS’ “Grid Walk” GRAND-AM has a pit walk that allows you to view all the cars on pit lane, talk to drivers and team members.
After the pit walk, it was time to head up the hill to watch the 2 hour and 45 min main event. The race itself was pretty good. The Ganassi Telmex team was dominant from the drop of the green flag leading all but 26 laps to take the win. Although there seemed little doubt who the winner would be, the racing behind them was often very close.
This was my first time to see the DPs racers in person since 2004. At that time the Daytona Prototypes were often criticized as being ungainly with huge greenhouses that made the cars look out of proportion. A year and half ago GRAND-AM switched to new cars that are aesthetically a big improvement over the previous generations. With a little more speed from the DPs combined with the ALMS’ current P2 class, I’m hopeful as to what the next few years hold.
Likewise, I am looking forward to seeing the GT classes from both the ALMS and GRAND-AM sharing the track. In the ALMS, the GTE class has some of the best racing in the world. I’m glad that the GT classes will stay mostly intact with the combined series. The GRAND-AM GT race provided some close racing on Saturday, but disappointingly the Audi R8s were not present. Also, the announcement that Road Atlanta was the last race of the season for sportscar racing stalwarts Brumos Racing was sad to hear.
At the end of the day, the racing witnessed at Road Atlanta this weekend was fun to watch. My daughter had a good time and only spent the last hour or so getting fidgety. Even still, we had a great time together and I look forward to the day when she is ready to spend a whole weekend at the track.
There are many challenges ahead for the new combined United SportsCar series, not the least of which are balancing performance, defining combined rules, and merging schedules. I don’t envy the individuals tasked with these responsibilities, but I’m optimistic that they will come up with a compromise that will take the best of what both have to offer.
In the meantime, I plan on being present for the final ALMS Petit Le Mans in October, and will return in 2014 to see the new series as it battles on the twists and turns of the Road Atlanta circuit for 10 hours/1000 miles.
By Dean Richardson