Grand American Road Racing Association Season Finale

Ryan Furst
by Ryan Furst

One Christmas, I tried snowboarding on Big Bear Mountain in Southern California. With great determination, I flung myself down the slope. Each time I started to gain a little speed, I’d have to dive into the snow to avoid running over an over-privileged rugrat. Two days of voluntary horizontal shifting left me so sore I could barely walk for a week. Driving a Daytona Prototype car in the Grand American Rolex Series must be equally frustrating.

In the Grand American Rolex Series, the awkward snowboarders are the Daytona Prototypes: purpose-built, mid-engined racecars. Their powerplants are based on production models and cannot utilize any type of forced induction. There are currently seven approved chassis constructors and six engine manufactures. To further equalize the competition, the race organizers have divided the competition into three weight classes based on engine size. The smaller of the approved engines (under 4.0-liter) run with less weight and one extra transmission cog (six gears versus five). To add to the excitement and/or confusion, there are 42 permissible chassis/engine combinations.

The GT class cars are the snot nosed kids. The production based cars are far less exotic than their prototype companions. But don’t let their more mundane shells fool you; these cars mean business. Constructors usually scrap the stock in favor of a tube frame and beef-up the engines well above factory specs. GT class cars battling for honors range from Porsche 911’s to Pontiac GTO’s. The sport’s governing body also uses regulations to equalize the competition; including weight and horsepower restrictions.

With such vast gaps in performance between these two classes on track, the Rolex series sees more altercations than a moshpit at a heavy metal concert. GT traffic may be the bane of a prototype driver’s existence, but it’s entertaining for spectators. For example, a prototype car will often use slower GT traffic to gain an advantage over a trailing competitor. Of course, the GT drivers are supposed to yield the racing line to the prototype class…

Last weekend at Infineon Raceway, the number 23 Ruby Tuesday Championship Racing Daytona Prototype bumped fenders with two members of the GT class. First, a Daytona car overtaking two slower GT cars in the carousel forced driver Patrick Long off the track, dropping him from second to tenth. Later, a Daytona car hit Ruby co-driver Mike Rockenfeller from behind, damaging his exhaust and shredding body work. It was dangerous stuff, but just another day at the races for all concerned.

On a track like Infineon there are only a few areas for safe overtaking. The difference in power and agility between the classes is evident. Daytona prototypes simply can’t wait for these few prime opportunities to pass. They must pounce on their weaker competitors when they have the chance. Tracks like these highlight the predator and prey relationship of multi-class racing.

At any one time, some 40 cars compete on the same track. With all this traffic, the prototypes rarely get the chance to demonstrate their full capabilities. Drivers rarely approach the top speeds set in single class qualifying sessions. Prototype drivers are more or less limited to driving at the top speeds of the GT class. Although the prototypes’ specs exist in a different universe than the GT cars, the Daytona cars only complete on average of five percent more laps than the GT cars.

Sports car racing is one of a few series offering multi-class competitions. Single class competitions are auto racing’s commercial juggernauts. In the case of F1, it’s a good thing; their car’s performance stretches the drivers to their limits. NASCAR, on the other hand, might benefit from this added level of complexity. Drivers in the Rolex Series must always be on their toes. They must compensate for slower drivers and uneven terrain. The nine hour season finale today at the Miller Motorsports Park– a 4.5 mile course made up of 24 turns and 12 straight-aways– will showcase their skills.

The race will resolve the battle for the championship in both classes. Jörg Bergmeister leads the Daytona Prototype class by 19 points. If he finishes better than 14th, the title’s his. Last year champions Luiz Diaz and Scott Pruett are in the hunt, and chasing. In the GT class, Mark Bunting and Andy Lally take an eight point lead into the finale. The number 72 Tafel Racing Porsche 997 piloted by Wolf Henzler and Robin Liddell Right is right behind with his Racer Group Pontiac GTO-R is. But this isn’t a two pony race; the other Racers Group Pontiac GTO-R ( is also in position to clinch the title.

The Rolex Series finale ends a hugely competitive series. As the classes grow next year, the excitement will continue. After the checkered flag drops this Sunday, we only have to wait until January for more.

Ryan Furst
Ryan Furst

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  • Esldude Esldude on Sep 04, 2006

    The stat about Prototypes only finishing 5% more laps rather points up the fallacy of road course racing in some ways. When fairly long races of two classes with wildly differing performance end up being so close in distance covered makes you wonder how much sense there is in super performance. Imagine how senseless by comparison it is on public streets. Yes I know why such cars exist on public roadways, for all the reasons I want them myself. The other thing worth noting, despite the disdain of oval racing many road racers have, think of this group of cars competing at Daytona on the oval portions only. Passing would be much easier and safer. Speed differences much more apparent and meaningful. Ovals are much better for spectators. And I think Rolex Prototype racing is the best racing in North America as long as you don't count dirt track ovals. Because the driver's ability makes more difference than in other forms.

  • Ryan Furst Ryan Furst on Sep 04, 2006

    I just love the right turns too much. GA has a few races that include a good portion of the oval and the infield sections. In my opinion they are the worst in the series.

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