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Pedley: It’s Quantity vs. Quality In Sports-Car Racing

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, May 2 2009

The ALMS Acura prototype.

The ALMS Acura prototype.

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

The new Audi R15 TDI is an incredible race car. It sits hunched way-down low, looking like it is morphing into the asphalt surface of the track. From the front, its induction tunnels slant upward, making it look like it’s issuing a hungry smirk.

The Audi’s silver-gray livery, flecked with darker accenting is attractive in a menacing sort of racing way.

In its debut at the season-opening American Le Mans Series race at Sebring, it ate up the track with a roaring grace which had to put at least a hint of a smile on the faces of even the most loyal Porsche and BMW lovers.

Yep, the new Audi R15 turbo diesel is a thing of beauty. And ditto for the Peugeot prototypes which shared the track with the Audis at Sebring. And ditto for the Acura protos.

By almost all measure, watching those cars run is a pleasure.

By almost all measure.

Not so attractive and pleasurable is the fact that fans at American Le Mans Series event can take power naps between appearances of the big cars during the race. Off setting their great looks, visceral grunts and eye-bulging power, is that fact that there are, what, like 10 max on any given race weekend.

What’s a sports-car fan to do?

Well, it could opt for the Grand-American Rolex Series, which is running this weekend in New Jersey. That series has prototypes in abundance. In its season-opening race, the 24-hour race at Daytona, there were, like, 20 DPs on the track.

Even at massive Daytona International Speedway, there was always a prototype or two blowing past spectators. Often, door-to-door and/or nose-to-tail.

And with Penske coming over from ALMS, and with top international drivers in the cockpits and super-supportable home-grown teams popping up, the racing in Grand-Am appears to be the series in the rise.

But Grand-Am has its unattractive element as well. It’s the opposite problem that the ALMS series has for sports-car purists. The prototypes which race in Grand-Am are just not sexy. Some would say ugly.

No technology and average speed and quickness when compared to ALMS.

And therein lies the problem with sports car racing in America these days. Your choices are between quality and quantity when it comes to the protos.

So what, if the racing is good? So what if you have the kind of close competition you had at Daytona and Sebring?

So plenty for many who follow the sports-car racing.

For that group, the cars have been as important as the stars or even the race results. A big part of watching a road race at a place like Watkins Glen or Road America is the sight and sound and feel of a really powerful prototype blasting through a corner and then up into the woods.

Those of us who grew up watching the Porsche 917s and Jim Hall’s Chaparrals, there is just no big racing buzz coming from a Pontiac-powered Crawford.

But then again, is a race a race if there are only a handful of cars, no matter how sexy those few cars are?

Of course there is no way to merge the ALMS and Grand-Am series. They are not Champ Car and Indy Car. The two sports car series in this country have way differing philosophies. 

So what is left for sports-car fans in this country are two series, each of which have things to offer. Quality thing. But neither of which leave prototype fans completely satisfied.

Sports-car chat rooms have become battlegrounds as fans savagely rip into other fans who happened to like the series they do not. It can get quite personal and quite disturbing.

The solution is fairly simple – watch them both and enjoy them both for what they are. Nobody can or should insist that only one is true sports-car racing. Le Mans is fun, Daytona is fun.

The problem could turn out to be that the simple solution for road racing fans will be to watch neither.

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, May 2 2009