Saturday, December 19, 2009

Naughty and Nice of Auto Racing 2009: Sports Car Racing

Counting down to Christmas, Santa Claus has been checking his list twice assuring that all the good kids (or even kids at heart) will receive at least that one gift. XSL Speed Reporter will use the 'Naughty and Nice' scale to judge this past year in auto racing. Placing events into two categories, the nice and positive movements in motorsports will be granted a 'Gift' rating. Negative moments and disappointing news will be given a 'Lump of Coal' rating.

Starting with the look back to 2009, XSL Speed Reporter will review the transpiration in the North American Sports Car series, the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) and the Grand American Sports Car Series. While both leagues were injured by the recent economic meltdown, they have also been able to gain solidarity in specific classes.

Gift: The ALMS' GT class categories- With Porsche 911, BMW M3, Ferrari F430GT, Panoz and now the Chevrolet Corvette competing in the same GT category by the end of 2009, this all-new eclectic grouping have provided the most captivating competition seen in the sports car series. One of the most memorable on-track battles occurred at the Mosport round where a Corvette C6R edged by and held off a Risi Competizione Ferrari through in the final minutes of the event.

Photo Credit Richard Prince/GM Racing Photo

Lump of Coal: Audi Sport Team Joest- We know that the current economic climate for automakers have left factory auto racing on shoestring budgets, Audi went to all the trouble to build their R15 prototype only to limit its race involvement to 3 major events.

Gift: Pursuit of more environmentally-friendly technology- The American Le Mans series has become a showcase of greener racing through recent years. Started ages ago on the Audi R8 prototypes adoption of gasoline direct injection, latest innovations inside the ALMS field have included diesel powered race engines, e85 fuel, and kinetic energy recovery systems (KERS). Of course, these green initiatives always contains a strong undercurrent of public relations, sports car racing have long since demonstrated its advantages to production cars. With the help of series brass and rewards such as the Michelin Green Challenge, created to spotlight these technological improvements, racing can remain relevant well into the future.

Lump of Coal: The Weather by Road Atlanta during the Petit Le Mans- Completing only 184 laps (less than half of the race's 1,000 mile distance within 10 hours), the 2009 Petit Le Mans was halted by an intense thunderstorm system. With around 3 inches of rainfall accompanying the troubling skies over top of the Road Atlanta, the win was awarded to the Peugeot 908 prototype after a lengthy red flag period. A bad break for the American Le Mans Series competitors, this rainstorm was crushing to the residents within the Georgia area who had been victims of up to 5 inches of precipitation over a 1 week period just a few days earlier.

Gift: Daytona Prototype Car Counts- The Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series made some massive noise when the France family-owned sports car decided to phase out the traditional sports car prototype class in the favour of their own. The Daytona Prototype class was created in 2003 on the framework of NASCAR stock car racing to make racing closer betw

een teams and ultimately more affordable. While top teams exist in the Daytona Prototype class such as Chip Ganassi Racing, 11 cars ran a full schedule in 2009 when the American Le Mans top prototype division is fighting to maintain half a dozen cars per race.

Lump of Coal: Canadian Race Promoters- With snow blanketing the Canadian landscape for as much 6 months a year, auto racing has a limited season to make use of national racetracks. This past race season, the American Le Mans Series race at Mosport coincided with the major NASCAR weekend at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal, which also featured the Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series on the Saturday. As a Canadian motorsport fan, booking two big races on the same weekend cost us either a chance to watch an incredible dice between Ferrari and Corvette at Grand Prix of Mosport or the chance watch Andrew Ranger and Jacques Villeneuve finish strong against NASCAR regulars in the Nationwide series.

Perhaps we should not be surprising as a Canadian sports fan (yes, auto racing is a sport); For almost 40 years in the Canadian Football League (CFL) there were two teams that played under the name Rough Riders.

Gift: Acura's continuing commitment to sports car racing- At one point during 2009, inside sources indicated to the media that Acura may have considered bowing out of the American Le Mans Series after the year wrapped. However, 2009 prototype championship team Patron Highcroft Racing have confirmed they're returning with the Acura ARX-02 for a 2010 title defense. The 2010 season also includes an invitation to the upcoming Le Mans 24-hour race for the Japanese brand's first visit to the event.

Photo Credit: Dan R Boyd/Acura Media

Photo By GM/Pontiac Racing

Lump of Coal: The loss of Pontiac- As a General Motors division since 1926, Pontiac had a long association with motorsports. Competing within the fields of NASCAR, NHRA, as well as sports car racing, Pontiac would never enjoy the immense GM support for the motorsport efforts of Chevrolet. The final triumphs for Pontiac came in the Grand American Rolex Sport Car Series. Pontiac badging adorned GM Racing engines in many of the Daytona Prototype class champions including the 2009 series winning team Gainsco/Bob Stallings Racing. As well as involvement in the Daytona Prototype category, Pontiac enlisted GT teams to compete with race cars derived from first the GTO and later the G6. In the final race of 2009 at Homestead Miami Speedway, Paul Edwards and Kelly Collins bought a Pontiac G6 GXP-R to class victory.

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