An Introduction to Grand Am Racing
Earlier this week, we talked about the grand merger between American LeMans Series racing and Grand-Am racing for the 2014 season. It is going to be a major change for road-course style racing, which is very different from the NASCAR that many Americans may be familiar with. It is a different kind of racing, where about half the cars are closer to road cars than "stock" car racing could ever to hope to be. Trust us, we could argue the point ad nauseam, but it might make more sense to give you a crash course in Grand-Am racing. What is Grand AM? In short, it is an entity that presides over five different racing series. Depending on the race, two of these series may be competing during the same race, though each series within the race has its own race winners. So what are the five categories? The Rolex Sports Car Series (yeah, they spell sportscar wrong) is the top of the pile, and features prototype-style race cars. A prototype is likened to a style car that you would never see on the road, save for the most exotic supercars. The engine resides behind the driver, and the body is constructed out of lightweight material, with wild aerodynamic wings. [caption id="attachment_20853" align="aligncenter" width="593" caption="A prototype racer in the pits"]
The aforementioned series shares the track with the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge Series (once again, with the spelling). These are all cars based on road-going cars. The cars literally come from the factory like any other consumer car, but the interior is tripped out, and the teams insert race-spec brakes and shocks, as well as roll cages and other safety equipment.
What makes the Continental tire series so fun is that you can see the actual road going car in the racer on the track. The BMW M3, Ferrari 458 Italia, Aston Martin DBS, and Porsche 911 are all staples of this series. There are even more modes cars in this series, such as the Kia Forte, Volkswagen Jetta. They're not terribly fast, but it gives automakers a chance to place otherwise frugal cars into a competitive race setting. There are several other race series as part of Grand Am, though they do not share the track the way that Rolex and Continental series do. They include the Ferrari Challenge, Shell Historic Challenge, and iRacing Online Sports Car Series. But for the Rolex and Continental series, both of which will be competing in the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona, the competition is very real. Both series will be slugging it out on a road course built into the Daytona Motor Speedway. Wait, isn't that where NASCAR races are? Part of the big oval will be used, but the rest of the course darts in and out of the infield at Daytona. Some tracks throughout the season are a combination of circuit and road course. Other courses are dedicated circuits, like Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca, CA or Lime Rock Park in CT. These tracks are the closest racing that you'll get to the European-style sportscar racing. So What Makes it So Much Better Than NASCAR? It's pretty simple, really; NASCAR is hell bent on staying in the past, having only moved over to fuel-injected engines for this season (a technology that took hold in the consumer car market in the 80's). Racing is supposed to be at the forefront of any automotive technology. If you look at LeMans and F1 racing in Europe, they are pushing the boundaries of hybrid racecars and advanced new powertrains. Grand Am may still be years behind true Le Mans racing, it is decades ahead of NASCAR. OH- and there's the whole goin-round-a-circle thing that turns so many automotive enthusiasts off of NASCAR. We sincerely hope that the merger of Grand Am and ALMS (which we'll introduce you to as the season approaches) creates a buzz around road racing that can take on stock car racing! Image credit: ©2012 Darren Pierson/dPerceptions.com