Saturday, October 17, 2009

Grand-Am vs ALMS - Not a hard choice...


The Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series brought another successful season to a close last weekend, and proved yet again why it's truly the premiere road racing circuit in North America.

The Gainsco Racing Pontiac-Riley duo of Alex Gurney (yes, of that Gurney family) and John Fogerty took the points lead the previous weekend at Miller Motorsports Park, and led by a handful of points over the Suntrust team of Max Angelleli and Brian Frisselle, and the Ganassi boys, Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas. All three teams were mathematically in contention for the championship, with Gainsco basically needing to finish 4th or better, while the others basically had to win.











And what a race, at Homestead-Miami's infield road course--as usual, despite being an endurance racing series, it seems like regardless of race distance, there's tons of side-by-side, bumper-to-bumper action with lots of passing in the Prototype division. The Gainsco boys did exactly what they had to, finishing 4th to take the championship, with both their chief rivals leading laps and running, at different points, in the top 5. In the end the Brumos Porsche of Joao Barbosa and legend Hurley Haywood took an aggressive win over the Ganassi car, who ended up finishing second overall in points as a result.

Over on the GT side, where they race essentially production cars you can buy from a dealer, another podium for the Farnbacher-Loles Porsche team of Leh Keen and Dirk Werner garnered them the championship, while the win went to the Pontiac G6 of Kelly Collins and Paul Edwards, their first of the season (they were the 2008 champs.)

The action was fierce, there was racing all over the track, and the intensity and suspense in the Prototype division was thick enough to cut with a knife, for the entire 2.5 hours.



Meanwhile, over on the ALMS side, we have the overpriced, overhyped, boring LMP1 class that look boring, sound boring and rarely see each other on track, relying instead of pit strategy. Five cars competed all season. In LMP2, which for all intents and purposes to the average fan are the same damn cars with a little less horsepower, two cars competed for the championship.





WHY was there even an LMP2 class? If I showed up to a race where I only had four, or ONE, other car to race against, I'd pack it up and leave. Why are fanboys so defensive of ALMS? Usually the same hopeless Formula 1 "fans" who care only about technology and only about the cars being fast, regardless of the quality of racing.

ALMS used to work under that argument, with Audi, Panoz, Penske Porsche, Intersport, Zytek, Peugeot, Aston Martin, etc etc all competing. But "the economy" basically caused a mass, MASS pullout of damn near all competition as of last year. The racing was never particularly exciting in the Prototype classes, but at least the technological domination of Audi was somewhat interesting to watch. Penske pulled out and moved over to Grand-Am, all the Audis pulled out, factory or otherwise, all the Peugeots pulled out, factory otherwise, Panoz dropped to GT2 only, etc etc....

de Ferran Motorsports took five wins on the 10-race season... Their nearest competitors (who essentially finished 2nd just about every other time, since there's ONLY FIVE CARS RACING), Highcroft Racing, took three wins... And of course when Audi and Peugoet bothered to show up, each took one overall win. In the LMP2 "class," Fernandez Racing won eight events two Dyson Racing's two--and of course, since ONLY TWO CARS WERE RACING, the opposing car finished 2nd in every other race. WOW!

GT1 used to be interesting too, with Corvette vs Aston Martin and the occasional Saleen or second Vette entry competing... Even though Aston rarely seemed a match for the factory Chevys. Aston pulled out this season, so Corvette dropped down to GT2 to find SOMETHING to do.




And don't get me wrong, the GT2 competition in ALMS is almost worth watching--even had some really tough fender-to-fender racing a few times, noteably at Mosport between Ferrari and Corvette, and at the finale at Laguna Seca, where Jan Magnussen in the Vette and Jörg Bergmeister beat the holy hell out of each other's cars at the end for the win. It was refreshing to see, and really the only stuff worth tuning in for--Ferrari vs Porsche vs Vette vs Panoz vs even a wicked Ford GT!

But honestly, when your premiere division is a boring joke (I can't imagine how the announcers were able to hype it up), and Audi and Peugoet decide to show up for two races (Sebring and Petit LeMans), dominate everyone, and then go home, it's pretty pathetic. So pathetic, that ALMS did the only thing they could and made up what was essentially a grassroots class, the "ALMS Challenge", featuring identical Porsche GT3 cars. And even for that, only six cars showed up.

Meanwhile, over on the Grand-Am side, the side that a lot of so-called "fans" make fun of for having a "spec" prototype series (which isn't at all accurate), the "NASCAR of road racing," is doing what NASCAR has been doing for the last 30 years--putting on better racing than everyone else. And also more affordable racing, I might add, which is why teams like Penske jumped ship.

The Prototype class, which uses strict rules similar to NASCAR stockcars (body templates, strict engine rules, etc), still has far, far more engine and chassis manufacturers making it interesting (and also making the haters' arguments null and void) ... Riley, Dallara, Lola, Crawford and Coyote all make chassis for the series, and Ford, Pontiac, Porsche, Lexus, BMW, Chevy and even Honda have all provided engines. When was the last time you saw a series with that kind of variety, yet still having the kind of parity and competition these guys do?

Granted, Gainsco had a great season, but there were still lots of different racers on the podium--The champs won four races, while Krohn Racing (with the ever-exciting Ricardo Zonta), the Ganassi boys, and the Suntrust-Pontiac team each took two wins. Both of the Brumos Porsche teams took one win a piece, to round out the totals. And Brumos' win at the 24 Hours of Daytona (still a cooler race than Sebring, IMO) was over NASCAR driver (and former 24 Hrs LeMans winner) Juan Montoya in the Ganassi entry--who was not only on the same LAP as them after 24 gruelling hours, but finished only about a second behind!



In the GT class, it was just as exciting, if not moreso, than over in ALMS--with Farnbacher-Loles taking four wins, and the rest split between Stevenson Motorsports, TRG, and the two awesome Speedsource Mazda RX-8s. They had their share of wheel-to-wheel action too, including a memorable run-in between Dirk Werner and Robin Liddell for the win at Miller.

The field in each class? Between 18-20 cars in DP and as much as 30 in GT. And starpower? Give that to Grand-Am too, with racers from NASCAR (such as Kyle Busch, Marcos Ambrose, Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson) and the IRL (Dario Franchitti, Danica Patrick) showing up to race on numerous occasions.

And while both shows show up in Canada once a year, I have to give the nod to Grand-Am for their race in Montreal, as opposed to ALMS at my beloved Mosport, because Grand-Am just plain puts on a better show--including AIM Autosport's huge win at their home track of Gilles Villeneuve last season.


So explain to me again why ALMS is superior? Gimme a fuckin' break.

At least ALMS got the hint after this season. Apparently next year they're consolidating the two Prototype classes, so there'll be one prototype class and one GT class. But hey, if you look at the current car count, that still only means seven cars--oh wait never mind, Fernandez Racing is closing because they can't afford to race in the series. So there goes another team. I wonder if they'll show up in the more affordable, more competitive Grand-Am series?

Next season's really looking up for Grand-Am though, as DP will be as exciting as ever (especially with Penske still hunting for their first win--The Captain probably wasn't too happy with the '09 season)...







AND the #07 Drinkin' Mate team is switching to Pratt&Miller-built Camaros, which will be AWESOME to see dicing with the Mazdas and Porsches. They were already campaigned in the latter races of the KONI Challenge Series (In Penske/Donahue colours no less!), renewing the Camaro/Mustang rivalry there. Should be awesome!

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