Starting next year, American Le Mans and Grand Am will combine into one major series called the United SportsCar Racing Series. The first official race will be the 24 Hours of Daytona in January 2014, but Road America held the first “Double Header” weekend to bring the two together.
Before we even got into the event itself, I saw this NSX parked under some trees. Any NSX is usually a head turner, but this was a whole new level. After some research, it turns out that this was originally a ’91 NSX with extensive body and engine work. Good way to start off the weekend I’d have to say!
Getting to racing itself, Saturday would see the Continental Tire Challenge Series race along with Grand Am. ALMS would race Sunday, with their qualifying runs taking place Saturday morning.
It was nice being able to see the Vipers again after seeing them debut at Mid Ohio last season. The more I see their street car counterpart, the better they look. They’re easily one of the best looking GT cars out there right now.
The Continental Tire Series was one of the most exciting races during the whole weekend. Like other Touring Car series, these guys aren’t afraid to lean on each other or make a little contact. By the end of the race there were a few cars missing bumpers and some held on by a few rolls of tape.
Like this. Spins in the final corner, hits the wall and his hood latch is broken. Doesn’t matter though, if it still runs, just drive it back to the pits!
Back in the paddock before the Grand Am race, it was as hectic as ever. With two series pushing about 30 cars each, and the three support series, there were cars and carts being moved everywhere all the time. Add on top of that the crowd of spectators, that do and don’t seem to know where they are, it’s a downright madhouse.
Then it was finally time to start the first main event. The Daytona Prototype drivers made sure to leave no room between them at the start hoping to get a run coming down into the first corner and pass under braking.
I’ve only been to Road America once before, but I didn’t remember the amount of elevation change that happens throughout the lap. In one lap, the course goes from 900ft in elevation up to 1060ft, and fluctuates throughout.
Memo Rojas in the Ganassi BMW/Riley had an off by himself in the early part of the race, leaving him and Co-Driver Scott Pruett to charge up the field for the rest of the day. Although, it seemed that the Starworks car of Brendon Hartley and Scott Mayer and the two Action Express cars were going to be hard to catch.
The RX8s of last year with their wankel engines use to shoot massive flames whenever coming into a corner. The new Mazda 6s, however, now run Skyactive Diesels, so not only are they almost silent, but the once awesome flame is now gone.
Scott Pruett went on a tear once he took the wheel from Memo. Scott is one of the most experienced racers out there, every lap he was making up time after Memo’s spin near the beginning. Scott almost made it to the podium, but fourth would have to be good enough on this round.
Brendon Hartley and Scott Mayer would come away with their first wins in their careers. Due to an early pit stop then a following caution, Hartley managed to assume the lead with an hour to go and held onto it until the end.
Coming home in second and third were the teammates at Action Express in their Corvette Daytona Prototypes.
The Turner Motorsports M3 took the win in the GT class, with one of the Mazda 6s taking the win in the GTX class. After the champagne spray, it was the end of day one, and two races completed with two more coming the next day.
On Sunday morning the pits were still littered with cars from the previous day sitting in their paddock spots. Many just seemed to be left there for show for the rest of the weekend, letting people get the full Grand Am/ALMS experience throughout the race weekend.
Other Grand Am teams took advantage of the extra day for whatever work needed to be done to their cars.
All the while, the ALMS cars were getting to the false grid before the race. Since these cars obviously don’t have horns, the engine would have to suffice. And yet some people still don’t seem to get the message.
All weekend though, the busiest pit was at the very end of the paddock. The Deltawing was getting everyone’s attention even when it wasn’t running. How can it not though? A chrome painted, pointed car, with a fin off the back. Katherine Legge took the wheel for qualifying, and in just a few laps put the Deltawing in third place overall.
As with the Grand Am series, ALMS had a support race run before their main event. Today it was the Porches GT3 Cup running in my ideal conditions. While eating breakfast it started to rain and I hoped it would carry on throughout the day. Why? Because racing in the rain is just epic.
Unfortunately for me, it started to clear up near the beginning of the ALMS race. The track was still pretty damp at the beginning, so I headed to Turn 5. It’s a 90° turn at the bottom of a downhill 6th gear straightaway. Although there were no huge offs or spins, quite a few cars end way off the line.
Others just had a hint of oversteer.
The way Road America is set up, it’s pretty easy to have multiple views for various parts of the course. From Turn 5, I could easily see Turn 14, and the uphill straightaway to the start/finish line.
There was also a nice view up the straightaway coming down into turn 5. Making up for the lack of flames from yesterday, the Deltawing was throwing flames in just about every corner. During the entire 2 hour and 45 minute race, I never once overlooked the Deltawing. The presence that it had was amazing. It’s actually tiny compared to everything else in its class and it’s almost silent with a 1.9 liter 4 cylinder engine. The turbo spool however sounds quite glorious.
One thing I always love are all the classes running together at once. Some of the GT cars were keeping up and some even passing the P2 and PC cars in some of the corners.
At some point, the 91 Viper of Dominik Farnbacher and Marc Goossens got a little bump from behind, knocking part of their valance off. Must not have been a big deal though, as they continued to run for a while with the damage.
The Deltawing started in third overall, and quickly made its way up to battle for the lead. With different pit strategies and cautions, the Deltawing led for a good portion of the race. The Muscle Milk Honda with Lucas Luhr and Klaus Graf were always right on them and were a threat for the lead.
The BMW team were running quietly back in the GT class in their new Z4s. I originally thought the Vipers were the best looking car racing, but once I saw and heard the Z4s I had a new favorite.
Later on, the number 91 Viper had its rear valance back on, sort of. I love seeing these high-tech race cars with tape all over them holding body parts in place.
The Deltawing still held onto the lead through the midway point of the race and making a point that it’s not just a one trick car. Many people thought that Road America would perfectly suit the abilities of the Deltawing, with the long straightaways and tight corners, the Deltawing’s design would work just perfectly to keep the car stuck to the ground.
The final yellow flag and following green bunched the pack up for one last push to the end. Coming into Turn 8 there was a three-wide battle between three different classes all fighting for the same spot.
The final 45 minutes started to see the cars bunch up and try to make up any ground they could on each other. All the drivers were letting it all hang out, trying to shave off as much time as possible. Even the Z4s started to shoot some blue flames.
Because of the caution, the Deltawing’s lead disappeared as Klaus Graf was able to make up all his time and get right behind Andy Meyrick behind the pace car.
And within a lap after the green flag Klaus was able to regain the lead and continue to run away with it for the remainder of the race.
The number 93 Viper wasn’t done with their battle with everybody. Coming into turn three in the closing laps, two cars that were a little too wide each tried to get the apex and instead got each other. Luckily it was a pretty slow corner, and it was obvious the prototype couldn’t get through, neither car had any damage and both continued on their way.
In the end, Klaus Graf couldn’t be caught and brought home another win for this season. This was their 5th win in five races, but with the P1 class having only three, maybe four entries per race, they have quite an advantage over the other teams. With the Dyson team struggling, there’s really no competition in the P1 class, but with P1 class gone for next year, it’ll be interesting to see how the P1 drivers get along in P2 cars racing alongside Daytona Prototypes.
The real story was down in the GT class. With the SRT Team taking their first win with the new Viper. Assuming the lead with 30 minutes to go, Marc Goossens drove off with the lead and brought the number 91 Viper home in first. This was the first win for a Viper in the ALMS series since 2000 in the The Race of a Thousand Years in Adelaide, Australia.
The Deltawing managed to finish its first race with a third in class and fifth overall finish proving it can race and keep up with the P1 cars. It’ll be interesting to see how the two series get along next year and how big the field will be. At this moment, if both were to combine and not lose any cars, it would be a 63 car field! For the sake of Sports Car Racing in America, I hope this strengthens the series and continues its growth by bringing more manufactures in to race.
instagram: @ericdelaney, @lifeblasters