GRAND-AM Rolex Series

Road America rocks for Rolex, ALMS, but two big hurdles remain for ’14

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Here’s a few thoughts I gleaned from my weekend trip up to America’s “National Park of Speed,” Elkhart Lake’s Road America for the joint weekend of the American Le Mans Series/GRAND-AM Rolex Series.  It’s the only time the two series will race at the same track before coming together as United SportsCar Racing in 2014.

  • It’s officially family now. There was no “separation of Church and State” when it came to the ALMS and GRAND-AM paddocks. They were fully integrated. Drivers and crews worked in both events. Rolex teams were interspersed with ALMS teams and no one got the short shrift. This was nice to see.
  • Like any family, it’s going to have a crazy character or occasional dysfunction. The radical DeltaWing fits the “crazy character” description and had its best weekend of the season by far. More on them to come in a separate post. The “occasional dysfunction” comes from varying agendas and political playing depending on the team, class or series you’re currently in. That’s expected to happen as the United SportsCar Racing merger process continues.
  • Great crowds. All-star reporter Dave Kallmann has more in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, but guesstimated a four-day weekend crowd “north of 125,000.”   As he and I have been at both this and the NASCAR Nationwide Series weekend there in June, I will agree that the sports car weekend easily beat the NASCAR numbers and you got more on-track action this time around. He got the hunch as well, that Road America will be a part of the combined 2014 schedule.
  • The food was fantastic as usual. With the mix of Road America’s iconic track food (double brats!) and stops to the new Carolina’s catering service that helps out some ALMS teams, it was three days of great eating at the track. That almost never happens.
  • A pseudo-IndyCar presence. Seeing Justin Wilson, Sebastien Bourdais, Simon Pagenaud, Katherine Legge and Lucas Luhr all racing, and Dario Franchitti and other IndyCar folk around the paddock was rather bittersweet. It was great seeing them all there on an Indy off weekend but I’ll be the 725th person to say, “Can we please have IndyCar back at the track in 2014?” The answer, of course, rests on dates and sanctioning fees. That’ll actually be a perfect transition to…
  • The bloody, bloody 2014 USCR schedule. A disclaimer first: I don’t envy IMSA COO Scot Elkins and the rest of the IMSA officials working to make this thing happen. I know these guys are working their tails off every single day, and I respect the hell out of them throughout this process. But it’s almost been a year since the merger announcement, and the fact there isn’t a schedule yet – whether public or more importantly to the teams and manufacturers from a budget and marketing standpoint – is very tough to swallow. Series announcements, such as the introduction of PC and GTC for 2010, have been made at Road America before. Time is clearly of the essence, and a schedule needs to be out by Labor Day weekend at Baltimore at the latest, in this writer’s opinion. I’m not confident that will happen, and I had enough on-the-ground discussions with teams and drivers where the angst was palpable. Having a TV announcement helps, but now it’s about pumping out what markets will USCR be serving in 2014.
  • And lastly, B.o.P. No combined sessions of ALMS and GRAND-AM were held this weekend, but enough data came out from the combined times (nice work by a fan who created the combined qualifying times in a Google Doc) to describe the Herculean task Elkins and the rest of the crew have trying to balance the classes for next year (B.o.P is Balance of Performance). The P2/DP gap was about 5 seconds at the 4.048-mile circuit. Those two types of cars, and the DeltaWing, are eligible for the combined P class in 2014 and achieve their lap times in drastically different ways. Rolex GT and GX and ALMS GTC are roughly on par (within 1-2 seconds) and the ALMS’ PC class will need to be made slower than the top class, but still faster than the ALMS GT, which carries over into 2014 as GTLM. In order of importance, right now a schedule is more urgent than the B.o.P. adjustments, but still needs to be finalized shortly thereafter.