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Ready Or Not, United SportsCar Is Set To Launch

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, January 24 2014

A new days is set to arrive for American sports car racing competitors and fans. (Photo courtesy of IMSA)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

When the Rolex Grand-Am Series teams packed up and left Kansas Speedway after last August’s race, it appeared that hopes for a smooth transition to a unified American sports car racing  series in 2014 were in danger of leaving with them.

Time and pockets of squabbling had become the enemies of optimism.

Now, as the Tudor United SportsCar Championship prepares to launch itself at this weekend’s Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway, most competitors seem thrilled with the concept of merging Grand-Am and American Le Mans Series.

Not all, however, are thrilled with how the concepts is playing out.

The announcement that the Grand-Am and ALMS were merging had been made almost a full year before the Kansas race. And, the annual Roar Before the 24 pre-Rolex 24 at Daytona was less than six months away.

Yet teams and drivers hoping for inclusion in the new series, which was to debut in 2014 under the banner of the Tudor United SportsCar Series, were still in the dark about important things like specs, rules and scheduling. That is, things they absolutely needed to know before they could assemble business plans and build and test cars.

Competitors’ emotions in the Kansas paddock ranged from being concerned to being angry.

A quick poll of team owners and drivers revealed that many wanted to postpone the debut of TUSCC until 2015. Some of the people, who were not in favor of the merger in the first plalce, were issuing told-you-so’s.

But soon after, information and the specifics of the new series began to surface. TUSCC, grappling with the enormity of the task, and the diverse interests of the competitors – and merged officials themselves – began disseminating details as the 2013 season rolled toward an end.

Rules, specs rate dates and venues and even the name for the new series were all solidified and announced.

In early January, the annual Roar Before the 24 three-day test session served as a coming out party for TUSCC. “We think this is going to be the ‘loudest’ Roar ever, meaning, it will be the most significant in the history of the test,” IMSA (TUSCC’s sanctioning body) vice president of competition and technical regulations Scot Elkins.

Reaction to the Roar was indeed loud. While most in the paddocks left DIS wearing happy faces, there was also a sense the much work remained before the 24. Much if it, Balance of Performance work: the updated Grand-Am DPs – especially the Corvettes – proved much faster than the ALMS P2 cars; and the the ALMS’s GTLM cars were much faster than the GTDs.

After the tests, BoP changes were instituted.

When the series returned to the historic Daytona infield road course this week, moods differed.

Elkins gave a thumbs up and said, “We still have a little bit of work to do (on competition) before the Rolex 24 but we made the gains we expected to make (since a test in November). We also got the new rule book out to the teams during the test.

“We feel like we’re in a good position. There’s a feeling of optimism in the garage.”

A lot of those in the paddock agreed.

It seemed that all were excited about the present and, especially, future of sports car racing in America. Many spoke of the honor of participating in the historic series.

“We’re looking forward to the strength of the series,” Greg Pickett, owner of the Muscle Milk Pickett Racing, which is a P2 team, said, “the strength of all the entries and the strength of the drivers. This is going to be one heck of a show.

“I think this is going to be some of the best road racing that’s happened in this country for a very long time.”

Kevin Buckler, owner of the TRG team that competed in GT classes in both Grand-Am and ALMS, said this week, “The two series have come together in a grand way.”

Not grand enough, however, for some competitors and fans.

Practice and qualifying this week showed that BoP changes made to prototypes leading up to the race weekend fell short. The P2 cars were being drubbed by the DPs and ALMS fans took to the chat rooms in anger.

Things could change in the race as the P2s will have fuel mileage advantages, but there is concern aplenty among the former ALMS teams.

Concern was not limited to P2ers.

Michael Shank, owner of Michael Shank Racing’s DP effort, predicted an entertaining race and huge future for the unified series. But, he also took issue with IMSA and TUSCC and the jobs they have done.

“If you wanted me to grade the transition (from Grand-Am and ALMS to TUSCC), to grade it, to say this is how good it has gone, I would give it a ‘C’,” Shank told RacinToday.com on Thursday. “A ‘C’ to a ‘C-minus’. I’m not saying anything out of turn here but I definitely think it could have been handled better. However, I give the benefit of the doubt to the people who are trying to make it happen.”

Asked where he would like to see improvement, Shank, whose one-car effort utilizes Ford engines, said, “I would say we just need more people to help with the transition. More people on the series side supporting it a little bit more. We’re shy on some people and that’s really about it.”

Next up for the new series will be Sebring in mid March. Expect to see more tweaking to about everything by then. Espcially on the BoP side.

But for this weekend,  TUSCC has what TUSCC has.

Sixty-seven cars are scheduled to start the 2014 Rolex 24. Those cars will be divided among four classes: Prototype (18 cars), Prototype Challenge (9), GT Le Mans (11) and GT Daytona (29).

The cars will represent both factory efforts and privateers. Badges will show such traditional racing marques as Ferrari, BMW, Porsche, Audi, Aston Martin, Corvette, Viper, Mustang, Mazda and Nissan.

Each of the cars will have three to five co-drivers. The drivers will represent such countries as Russia, France, Germany, New Zealand, Great Britain, Switzerland, Finland, the United States and Canada.

The field will include past Formula One stars and current Sprint Cup and IndyCar stars. It will include pros, “gentleman drivers” and even a Hollywood actor in Patrick Dempsey.

Shank, when asked what kind of race fans should expect, said, “Talk to me on Sunday night.

“I think it will be a good show and one of the reasons is I don’t have any idea how it’s going to work out. There are so many variables for this race, it’s impossible to know. Fuel mileage, fuel flow, how many times we have to put tires on is all so different.”

With all the unknowns and all of the types of cars and drivers on the track, Shank is sure of one thing.

“It’s going to be incredibly hard for people to stay out of trouble here,” he said. “Incredibly hard. There are almost 70 cars, speeds are all over the place, the experience level is all over the place.

“I expect there to be four times the amount of yellow flags than we had in the past.”

Fast Facts

Race: the Rolex 24

Venue: Daytona International Speedway, Daytona Beach, Fla. (12 turns, 3.56 miles)

Race Duration: 24 hours

Remaining Schedule: Friday, Jan. 24; Race, 2:10 p.m.-2:10 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 25-Sunday, Jan. 26.

TV: 2-4 p.m. (ET) Saturday, Jan. 25, FOX; 4-9 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 25, FOX Sports 2; 9 p.m.-7 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 25-Sunday, Jan. 26, IMSA.com; 7 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 26, FOX Sports 1.

Radio: Motor Racing Network (MRN), live, flag-to-flag Rolex 24 race coverage

A look at the Prototype Field:

Car No. 0

Team: DeltaWing Racing Cars

Car: DeltaWing DWC13

Drivers: Andy Meyrick / Cheshire, UK, Katherine Legge / Guildford, UK, Alexander Rossi / Nevada City, CA, Gabby Chaves / Bogota, Colombia

Car No. 1

Team: Extreme Speed Motorsports

Car: HPD ARX-03b

Drivers: Scott Sharp / West Palm Beach, FL, Ryan Dalziel / Orlando, FL, David Brabham / Maidenhead, UK

Car No. 2
Team: Extreme Speed Motorsports

Car: HPD ARX-03b

Drivers: Ed Brown / Boca Raton, FL, Johannes van Overbeek / Oakland, CA, Simon Pagenaud / Poiters, France, Anthony Lazzaro / Atlanta, GA

Car No. 5

Team: Action Express Racing

Car: Corvette DP

Drivers: Joao Barbosa / Porto, Portugal, Christian Fittipaldi / Sao Paolo Brazil, Sebastien Bourdais / Le Mans, France, Burt Frisselle / Aspen, CO

Car No. 6

Team: Muscle Milk Pickett Racing


Drivers: Klaus Graf / Dornhan, Germany, Lucas Luhr / Koblenz, Germany, Alexander Brundle / United Kingdom

Car No. 9

Team: Action Express Racing/DELTA

Car: Corvette DP

Drivers: Brian Frisselle / Aspen, CO, Burt Frisselle / Aspen, CO, John Martin / Australia, Fabien Giroix / France

Car No. 10

Team: Wayne Taylor Racing

Car: Corvette DP

Drivers: Wayne Taylor / Apopka, FL, Max Angelelli / Monte Carlo, Monaco, Ricky Taylor / Apopka, FL, Jordan Taylor / Apopka, FL

Car No. 31

Team: Marsh Racing

Car: Corvette DP

Drivers: Eric Curran / Holyoke, MA, Boris Said / Escondido, CA, Bradley Smith / Oxford, England, Max Papis / Como, Italy

Car No. 42

Team: OAK Racing

Car: Morgan

Drivers: Oliver Pla / Toulouse, France, Roman Rusinov / Russia, Gustavo Yacaman / Colombia, Oliver Webb / United Kingdom

Car No. 50

Team: Highway To Help

Car: Riley DP

Drivers: Bryon DeFoor / Ooltewah, TN, Jim Pace / Ridgeland, MS, Frank Beck / Scottsdale, AZ, David Hinton / Clearwater, FL

Car No. 70

Team: SpeedSource

Car: Mazda

Drivers: Sylvain Tremblay / Parkland, FL, Tom Long / Raleigh, NC, James Hinchcliffe / Indianapolis, IN

Car No. 78

Team: Starworks Motorsport

Car: Riley DP

Drivers: Scott Mayer / Franklin, WI, Alex Popow / Caracas, Venezuela, Brendon Hartley / New Zealand

Car No. 90

Team: Spirit Of Daytona

Car: Corvette DP

Drivers: Richard Westbrook / London, England, Michael Valiante / Vancouver, BC, Canada, Mike Rockenfeller / Germany

Car No. 99

Team: GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing

Car: Corvette DP

Drivers: Alex Gurney / Irvine, CA, Jon Fogarty / Bend, OR, Memo Gidley / San Francisco, CA, Darren Law / Phoenix, AZ

Car No. 01

Team: Chip Ganassi Racing

Car: Riley DP

Drivers: Scott Pruett / Auburn, CA, Memo Rojas / Mexico City, Mexico, Jamie McMurray / Joplin, MO, Sage Karam / Nazareth, PA

Car No. 02

Team: Chip Ganassi Racing

Car: Riley DP

Drivers: Scott Dixon / New Zealand, Tony Kanaan / Salvador, Brazil, Marino Franchitti / Scotland, Kyle Larson / Sacramento, CA

Car No. 07

Team: SpeedSource

Car: Mazda Drivers: Joel Miller / Hesperia, CA, Tristan Nunez / Boca Raton, FL, Tristan Vautier / St. Petersburg, FL

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, January 24 2014
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