Every year I’ve looked forward to two races at Road America: the Grand Am Rolex Series race and the American Le Mans Series race. In 2013 the two series shared the weekend; with Grand Am on Saturday and ALMS on Sunday; this year they arrived for the first time as the combined Tudor United SportCar Championship (USCC).
My trek started at 2:30am on Friday as I left Minneapolis to ensure I was there early; once arriving at the track I had little down time. Accompanying the Tudor Championship were such support series as the Cooper Tires Prototype Lites, Porsche GT3 Cup, and the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge. The Lites were the first cars I watched on track upon my arrival.
Practice and Qualifying for the Porsche GT3 Cup soon followed.
With three 45 minute races throughout the weekend they were quite busy; the third race being a make-up race from a previously rained out race.
The series has two different classes of cars, Platinum and Gold class cars. Platinum class uses the 2014 version of the 911 GT3 cup car, distinguished by the white numbers with black backgrounds while the Gold Cup Cars use black numbers with gold backgrounds. Gold Cup Cars are the 2010-2013 versions of the GT3 Cup Car. They provide plenty of quality racing for all the fans and are awesome to watch.
Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge and Cooper Tires Prototype Lites also had races throughout the weekend. CTSC held one 150 minute race…
…and the Prototype Lites held two races, one 30 minutes and the other 45 minutes.
Enter the Tudor USCC.
Entering the track for the first time on Friday afternoon for a one-hour practice session, it was first opportunity to see the cars in action.
The #91 and #93 factory Viper GTS-R’s were some of the first cars on track, the new paint scheme for both cars is one of the best schemes I’ve ever seen.
As practice was coming to a close I headed down to the pits.
It is a good chance to see drivers discussing the recent session with their engineers.
Tudor is very good at giving the fans a chance to get up close and personal with the drivers and cars.
Each pit is clearly marked, making easy for the fans to navigate; with all the different teams from the multiple series the pit area can get pretty crowded and hectic.
The following morning, teams were hard at work prepping the cars for another hour practice session.
The Deltawing crew was busy buttoning everything up before heading out; this practice was very important to them. They had suffered a devastating fire at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park two races prior and it was the first time they had any track time with the rebuilt car.
There was no shortage of cars on track for practice.
Making sure everything is dialed in perfectly for qualifying is of the utmost importance, because with each qualifying session being only 20 minutes there are no second chances.
Last minute alignments and any other set up changes were put into effect.
Out first for qualifying was the GT-D class. It was the TRG-AMR #007 Aston Martin driven by James Davison and Al Carter that took pole. It’s a very impressive car with an awesome paint scheme.
GTLM was up next, my personal favorite class to watch. It was an intense 20 minute session but in the end it was the #56 BMW Z4 GTE of BMW Team RLL with Dirk Muller and John Edwards that set pole.
The spec class Prototype Challenge cars were up next, all utilize the Oreca FLM09 chassis as well as the Chevrolet 6.3 liter LS3 V8. It was the RSR #09 driven by Duncan Ende and Bruno Junqueira taking pole; it was the closest of the four sessions with less than a second separating the top seven cars.
Finishing the qualifying rounds was the P class, split between the LMP2 cars from ALMS series and Daytona Prototypes from the Grand AM series; the DP cars have had an obvious advantage all season, it was a surprise when the #01 HPD Honda piloted by Ryan Dalziel and Scott Sharp of Extreme Speed Motorsports took pole.
With the cars tucked away for the night; the race the following day looked to be a promising one. All classes were tight on points but with only 24 points separating the top five in the P class and only two points between the 1 and 2 spots of Action Express Racing and Wayne Taylor Racing it would no doubt intense.
The following morning the cars heading out for a quick 20 minute warmup before grid walk and autograph sessions.
Things can go wrong very fast in racing and during this quick warmup contact between the #70 Mazda Skyactive Diesel Prototype and the GT-D pole-sitting #007 TRG-AMR Aston Martin forced both cars to retire for the weekend, it surely was a tough blow for both teams but for Mazda it had to be particularly tough, they haven’t been able to catch a break all season.
The pre-race grid walk allows fans a brief chance to see the cars lined up, the crews take these final minutes before the race to finish last minute preparations.
The race was soon underway and the DP cars made quick work of the LMP2 cars down the front straight.
With all four classes racing together there were 48 cars on track at once making it very crowded; with every car shuffling for position it was pretty incredible no one made significant contact.
Soon after the green flag waved it was a tight battle between Joao Barbosa in the #5 of Action Express and Ricky Tayler in #10 of Wayne Taylor Racing, this would continue for most of the race and with the amount of talent between these two drivers it was very entertaining to watch.
Corvette Racing always seems to be strong at Road America, having won four races in a row this season going in to the previous round at Indy they had high hopes, but with 4 and 5 place finishes at Indy and Viper winning the points gap was reduced to 24.
With the Corvettes having a weekend that wasn’t going quite the way they wanted, qualifying 6th and 8th the Vipers had the perfect opportunity gain precious points.
The Vipers looked strong all weekend, qualifying 2nd and 3rd along with a solid driver lineup in Jonathan Bomarito and Kuno Wittmer in the #93 and Marc Goossens and Dominik Farnbacher in the #91 they would prove to be a hard pair of cars to beat.
Porsche also tends to be very strong at Road America. The two factory cars; the #912 and #911 weren’t having the easiest of weekends, an early spin from Patrick Long in the #912 and a 20 second stop and hold penalty with 16 minutes left in the race didn’t help their cause.
The #17 Falken Tire 911 with the distinct Falken paint scheme qualified 10th and finished 9th just ahead the #911, with the #912 battling towards the end with the #56 BMW of Dirk Muller and the factory Vipers but in the end a 5th place finish is all they could muster.
The battles continued throughout the day in GT-D; they were just as intense as the rest.
But it was the #94 Turner Motorsports BMW Z4 that had gained pole position after the #007 went out in warmup.
They never looked back and it was a flawless race by the team and drivers.
Yellow flags were an unfortunate part of this race; there were six full course cautions in all.
I was able witness one of the reasons for the cautions. With 35 minutes left the #42 Oak Racing Nissan of Olivier Plas was bumped by the #2 ESM Honda HPD driven by Johannes van Overbeek. Sending him flying into the wall by where I was standing. It was clear from the damage to the car and reaction of Plas their day was done as well as any hope they had at the championship.
The race moved on at a fast pace and the battles continued. With only 30 minutes left in the race everyone was scrambling to make last second moves. Seeing the Deltawing in action is always something I enjoy.
Traffic again playing a role in the race, as faster cars were getting bogged down by slower cars. You could see through the driving of some drivers it was becoming frustrating; even more so that the end of the race was so near. The 2 hours and 45 minutes seems to go by very quick.
Misfortune again would strike a championship contending team, a late yellow flag resulted in another caution and while warming his tires Jordan Taylor in the #10 DP Corvette suffered a steering failure putting him into the wall, giving Joao Barbosa and Action Express the lead.
In PC the class is was the #8 Starworks Martini entry with the win.
In GTLM it was the #62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 458 Italia taking the win; driven by Giancarlo Fisichella and Pierre Kaffer it was a big win for them after a poor 9th place qualifying the day before. Dane Cameron and Markus Palttala in the #94 Tuner Motorsports BMW took the win in GT-D; the action was on right up until the end with a last second move for 2nd by Jonathan Bomarito in the #93 on Dirk Muller in the #56.
It was a happy moment for all the class winners as the hard fought race was over. Every race at Road America is very exciting this was no different; with all the drama in points today the last three races in the 2014 Tudor United SportsCars Championship will be no doubt just as exciting.