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The world of U.S. sports-car racing was in a disorganized state when the GRAND-AM Road Racing series was founded in 1999, with several goals; give sports-car racing enough stability to attract new teams and appeal to existing ones; offer a rules package that did not require an enormous investment to stay competitive each year; and simplify the sport so that new fans can identify favorite cars and drivers and keep up with the action.
The organization held its first race on Feb. 5, 2000, at Daytona International Speedway – the 39th Rolex 24, appropriate since the GRAND-AM series is based in Daytona Beach, Fla. with offices just down the hall from its corporate cousin, NASCAR. Since then, GRAND-AM’s Rolex Sports Car Series has delivered season after season of exciting competitive racing on street circuits and road courses across North America.
One of the appealing aspects of the series is that there are two separate races going on at the same time, with two classes competing. The faster of the two is Daytona Prototype, or DP, with purpose-built race cars that resemble nothing you see on the street. DP cars are built for speed, handling, and driver safety. The engine is mounted behind the driver and can be a six-cylinder of a V8, depending on the manufacturer, which includes BMW, Chevrolet, and Ford. The cars are built by several different chassis makers and cost about $400,000, and the engines pump out about 500 hp. Top speed on longer tracks approaches 200 mph.
Some of the DP cars and drivers to keep an eye on are the reigning champion in DP, the Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates No. 01 car, with drivers Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas. While Rojas is a relative newcomer, few drivers can match Pruett’s experience and wins record. Then there is the No. 99 Gainso/Bob Stallings Racing car, driven by John Fogarty and Alex Gumey, the son of racing legend Dan Gumey. The No. 8 Starworks Motorsport car led the DP points earlier this season and the No. 60 Michael Shank Racing car won January’s Rolex 24 at Daytona to open the season. The No. 90 Spirit of Daytona won at Barber Motorsports Park at the end of March, giving Chevrolet the first DP victory since joining the series at Daytona. The No. 10 Sun Trust Racing Corvette DP claimed the overall win in the late April at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
While the Grand Touring (GT) class of cars look familiar – Porrsche 911’s, Chevrolet Camaros, Dodge Vipers, Ford Mustangs, Ferrari 458s, BMW M3s, Audi R8s, Mazda RX-8s – make no mistake: these are real race cars. GRAND-AM’s technical staff “performance balanced” the cars to make them competitive with each other. Models that are continually faster than the competition might have to carry extra weight, for instance. The result is some of the most competitive racing on motorsports. Engines can be installed in the front, rear, or middle of the car depending on where it is in the corresponding production model. Top speed is about 180 mph on fast tracks, and engines typically product about 450 hp. Weight varies, but most cars weigh about 500 pounds more than a DP car’s approximately 2,250 pounds.
GT cars to watch indlude the No. 44 Magnus Racing Porsche of drivers John Potter and Andy Lally, who incidentally, was the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup rookie of the year. That team won the GT class at the 2012 Rolex 24. Drivers Leh Keen and Andrew Davis in the No. 59 Brumos Porsche, were the 2011 GT season champs.
The No. 69 FXDD Ferrari 458 driven by Jeff Segal and Emil Assentato won at Homestead in April. And, on a tight track such as Belle Isle, don’t discount the No. 70 SpeedSource Mazda RX-8 of veteran Sylvain Treblay and Jonathan Bomarito, who won the GT class at Barber Motorsports Park earlier this season.
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