We may all be the winners

April 9, 2014

We may all be the winners

April 9, 2014

winners_4_9_13The biggest winners at the Tequila Patrón Sports Car Showcase at Long Beach may not be the winning car and drivers, but rather the fans and the series itself.

Officials of the new TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, created by the merger of the rival American Le Mans Series (ALMS) and the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series, have methodically addressed scores of challenges, none more difficult than finding a way to produce equivalent performance from the disparate Prototype cars from each series into a single Prototype class.

Finding the precise “balance of performance” for Prototypes is like “comparing an apple and a banana,” International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) technical director Scot Elkins recently told www.Racer.com.

winners_4_9_13aIMSA and Elkins are credited with success in establishing such a balance for the GT category, but the delicate balance can only be determined by acquiring and analyzing copious amounts of data from track, wind tunnel and dyno testing.

That process takes time and patience, the latter being an exceedingly rare commodity in a sports business filled with Type A personalities. It is a thankless and seemingly endless task.

Yet, the day may have arrived here in the form of the 1.968-mile Long Beach circuit.

Attempting to address a deficit of 6.2 seconds at last year’s data grab at a special Road America doubleheader event, series organizers have helped the former GRAND-AM Daytona Prototype teams up their pace while pulling the reins on the ALMS based P2 cars.

There is no question that the DP teams have borne the brunt of increased costs. New bodywork, aerodynamic bits and the addition of paddle shifters and ceramic brakes have reportedly added approximately $400,000 to their budgets.

The season opener at the Rolex 24 at Daytona saw the DP cars, led by the Action Express team, holding the edge in qualifying and sweeping the top four spots in the race on a circuit for which they were specifically designed.

The lap times were much closer at the recent Twelve Hours of Sebring and some of the P2 cars actually led the race at various stages, with the DP based cars still appearing to enjoy a slight advantage on restarts and in traffic as Chip Ganassi Racing took the win with P2 cars finishing second, fourth and fifth.

Arriving in Long Beach for Round 3 of the TUDOR Championship, the tight street circuit may well see a slight shift in favor of the former P2 cars.

The former ALMS entrants expected to enjoy a bit of a home court advantage, none more so than the defending champion Muscle Milk Pickett Racing, winner of the last three Long Beach races.

But developing a new a new car and engine package for the third time in four years the Muscle Milk band, featuring Klaus Graf and Lucas Luhr, have hit the Long Beach pause button in order to get their arms around the new package in testing.

winners_4_9_13bLeading the Nissan camp is the potent European-based Oak Racing with Olivier Pla and Columbia’s Gustavo Yacaman.

Revenge, like the race sponsor’s favorite beverage, is best served cold, so after the first two races of the 2014 TUDOR Championship, the Scott Sharp led P2 based Extreme Speed Motorsports Honda entries are anxious to put a win on the board for their sponsor as a follow up to their class victory here in 2013. Sharp will co-drive the #1 with Ryan Dalziel. Teammates Johannes van Overbeek of Oakland and sponsor boss Ed Brown wheel the #2 car.

Mazda counters with a promising new SkyActive Diesel package for Sylvain Tremblay and Tom Long with a sister car for Tristan Nunez and Joel Miller. After concentrating on systems and reliability at the two long races that opened the season, expect Mazda to begin the transition to the speed game as the series turns west for the two shorter California rounds.

From the DP side of the house Ford joins the fray with its EcoBoost power for Michael Shank Racing with co-drivers John Pew and Oswaldo Negri.

Fresh from its milestone Ford victory at Sebring, Chip Ganassi Racing is always a pre-race favorite with California’s Scott Pruett teamed with Mexico’s Memo Rojas. Pruett, the most successful driver in the GRAND-AM Rolex Series history, would like nothing better than to add a Long Beach win to his exhaustive resume.

Chevrolet has speed and the numbers in its favor with five Corvette DP entries, including the Rolex 24 at Daytona winning Action Express Racing. Former NASCAR tech ace Gary Nelson is the team tech boss. Co-drivers Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi have become a major force in the series. They are teamed at Action Express with Brian and Burt Frisselle.

Youth is the name of the game at Wayne Taylor Racing where young Jordan and Ricky Taylor are ultra-competitive as proven by their runners-up finish at Daytona.

The Spirit of Daytona Corvette DP features Corvette factory driver Richard Westbrook with Vancouver’s Michael Valiante.

Making the big step up to Prototypes for 2014 is the Marsh Racing Corvette DP of Escondido’s Boris Said co-driving with Eric Curran.

Balancing six different chassis and five different manufacturers as the new TUDOR Championship takes to the streets for the first time is a difficult and thankless task. But, if the GT balance is any indication, the streets of Long Beach will show just how well the series and the teams have done their homework and that means the fans will win.

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