When it was announced in September 2012 that the Grand-Am and American Le Mans series were to merge from 2014 to form the United Sportscar Championship, it was fair to say the news was met with widespread skepticism.What would the class structure be? Would there be enough interest from teams?How would the vastly different cars complete on equal terms? After the doubters were silenced with a scintillating opening rounds firstly at Daytona in late January, the series produced another epic racing at the recent Sebring 12 Hours.
Whilst the series was criticized for the length of time it took to publish the definitive regulations, a move which prevented some European and American teams into entering the full series for 2014, the series has recovered to the point of record grid in only the first season for the championship. The uprated Grand-Am style Daytona Prototypes led the field at the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona, filling the first four spots with the first of the ALMS LMP2 cars coming home fifth, 3 laps behind the winning Action Express racing entry. Some have subsequently called for a change in the regulations to help the LMP2 entries match the Daytona Prototypes, yet in reality the DP cars were always gonna be on top at Daytona as the advantage of their cars is outright speed and straight line speed matches the characteristics needed to be competitive at Daytona. The recent Sebring 12 Hours showed that whilst it was the traditional Daytona Prototype powerhouse Chip Ganassi Racing entry of Marino Franchitti, Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas that eventually took victory, unlike Daytona the LMP2 entries were a significant factor in the outcome of the race.
With the DP and LMP2 cars now appearing to be much closer after Sebring, the difference between the podium and the lower top 10 will be placed on the teams and drivers. With the two most prominent American sportscar championships, Grand-Am and the American Le Mans Series, uniting the Tudor United Sportscar Series and the American fans are the ones who have benefited as America now has a Sportscar series that if anything has now overtaken the European Le Mans Series as the premier Sportscar series outside the World Endurance Championship,for the first time since the last of the Audi-Porsche manufacture battles of 2006-2008. Check out an example of their battles here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6zWEIRQGOBQ
Both series contained formidable line up’s but when you combine the powerhouse Daytona Prototype teams such as Chip Ganassi racing, Gainsco/Bob Stallings racing, Action Express, Starworks and Michael Shank Racing alongside LMP2 Prototype teams OAK Racing, Pickett racing, Extreme Speed and the unique Deltawing car only adds to the variety of the series.
In terms of overall quality however it’s the GT ranks where the series really shines. Firstly the GTLM,aimed at professional teams/drivers, contains works entries from Porsche,Chevrolet,SRT Viper and BMW, ably backed up by factory supported Ferrari and Porsche teams ensures every race is an all out clash of the titans for the victory. GTD, aimed for more gentlemen drivers, also contains a lineup worthy of any GT race on the planet.Although the class is predominately made up of Porsche’s it was the Level 5 Ferrari that claimed class victory at Daytona, plus the leading powerhouse Porsche teams such as Alex Job racing, Magnus racing and NGT Motorsport were severely challenged by factory assisted entries from Turner Motorsport and their BMW Z4, TRG-AMR North America Aston Martin, Scuderia Corse Ferrari 458 Italia, Riley Motorsport SRT Viper and the Flying Lizard Audi R8 LMS. The amount of factory assisted entries across both classes show how the American GT racing scene is arguably the most competitive in the world right now. The future truly is bright for the Tudor United Sportscar Championship.