O Opinions & Commentary

North American sports car racing takes a step, but in what direction?

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Sports car racing – one of the oldest, most organic forms of motorsport in the world. It is the ultimate battle of man and machine, challenging the wits and attention of drivers battling long stints day and night, while pushing their machines to the utmost limits for hours on end.

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It’s considered the blue-collar of elite motorsport, although anything above a Grand Touring car requires more than a small fortune. The 2014 Hours of Le Mans, 24 Hours of Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring are considered by many to be the Holy Trinity of Motorsport. Le Mans is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year at the Circuit de la Sarthe. The latter two are the flagship events for Grand-Am Road Racing and the American Le Mans Series, respectively. This year also marks the final time the two will races as events solely for their parent series, as Grand-Am and the ALMS officially merge in 2014 as United SportsCar Racing.

The merger was made official last week when CEOs Ed Bennett (Grand-Am) and Scott Atherton (ALMS) unveiled the series’ new name, logo and class structure. And while emotions were mixed on the new identity of the series, many were far more concerned with the future of the on-track product.

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One of he most talked about changes when the series merges next year is the removal of the P1 prototype class; the highest level of sports car racing worldwide and home of three cars in the American Le Mans Series. They are the showstoppers of AMLS and Le Mans every year – the most technogically-advanced sports cars on the planet – and second in the world of motorsport only to Formula One. Aside from the production-based GT racers, it is also where major manufacturers hold a special interest and battle for the title of best overall.

United SportsCar Racing will no longer house the current P1 lineup of the Dyson Racing Lola/Mazda, the Muscle Milk Pickett Racing Honda, or the Lola/Toyotas of Rebellion Racing. Instead, the world’s second-best sports cars, the P2 class paired alongside the Daytona Prototype (DP) class to form the new series’ top tier. The remaining classes will be filled out by the ALMS Prototype Challenge cars, while the existing GT and GTX categories will stay in tact according to the current series regulations.

So essentially the series will come together to produce a larger field, which will be a spectacular thing to see. But the removal of the P1 class means a watered-down version of what could have been, without any real reason behind the decision. Then there’s the huge question mark of how the more powerful P2 cars will form a class with the slower Daytona Prototypes.

This was one of the topics not covered during last week’s press conference.

Do the P2s get restricted to create an even playing field with the DPs? Or do the DPs get upgraded to compete with the P2s?

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One method is obviously more cost effective to achieve, which would be to restrict the power plants of the P2s. To bring the DPs up to speed would require a significant amount of time and money from Grand-Am team owners, who undoubtedly would not be happy with their parent company, who essentially own the new series.

And we’re not talking simple dyno tests to bring the cars to an even playing field. There are torque curves, suspension and downforce issues to be dealt with. So without making any dramatic changes to ensure the P2 cars still meet the ACO regulations for Le Mans, we could see P2 restrictor plates as the cost-effective solution – which would mean the downgrade of race speeds as well.

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Nothing has been answered as of yet, but the USCR administration needs to take careful consideration to ensure the quality of racing remains top notch because with P1 racing exclusively overseas and Europe's World Endurance Championship hosting the best of the best, United SportsCar Racing could be in danger of secluding itself from P2 competitors who have other options. All I want to see is a quality product on North American circuits. And that comes with growth, rather than restriction.

Photos: Rebellion Racing, Audi Motorsport, ALMS

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