CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Just when it seems something is certain, it turns out not to be certain at all. Such was the case last weekend for both the American Le Mans and Rolex sportscar championships.
North of the border on Montreal’s Isle Notre Dame, the NASCAR-owned Grand Am had their annual fling around the Circuit Giles Villeneuve, known better as the home of the Canadian Grand Prix. At the same time the ALMS was at Wisconsin’s Road America for a four-hour showdown where, unlike the handling demands of the tighter Quebec track, horsepower was King.
Despite the differences, the two affairs shared the fact that upsets were the order of the day, with the outcomes remaining in doubt to the finish line. If there was anything one might have wanted to place a bet on at either venue, it was the Gainsco Daytona Prototype of Jon Fogarty and Alex Gurney which claimed the Rolex honors by a just a hair under two seconds in Montreal over the SunTrust Dallara of Ricky Taylor and Max Angelelli.
Two seconds might not seem like a lot, but given the circumstances, it was perhaps the most assured result of the two Saturday events. Moreover, there was an unanimity to be found in the Chevrolet V-8 powering both the cars; something definitely not true in Wisconsin where the two contenders for the overall honors were both behind the wheel of nearly identical Lola prototype coupes, but with vastly different engines propelling to the checkered flag.
In fact, while one might have trouble visually differentiating between the Muscle Milk Lola of Klaus Graf and Lucas Luhr and the Dyson Racing Lola of Chris Dyson and Guy Smith, what got them to the front of the field represented, in the starkest of terms, the contrasting approaches to high performance horsepower that have existed in the automotive industry since the mid 1970s: little turbocharged engines vs. large displacement rumbling monsters producing gobs of HP without the benefit of exhaust driven supercharging.
At Road America, Graf, Luhr and their V-12 Aston Martin V-12 proved superior to the four-cylinder Mazda turbo employed by Dyson and Smith – but just barely. In fact, “just barely” really isn’t an accurate description, for the difference between the two at the line was less than two tenths of a second, making the Muscle Milk team’s triumph, and the closest in the history of the series. As for the GT category, there the unexpected outcome saw the Risi Ferrari 458 Italia of Jaime Melo and Tony Vilander heading the Rahal-Letterman factory BMW M3 of Bill Auberlen and Dirk Werner for first, with the other Rahal-Letterman BMW of Joey Hand and Dirk Mueller third.
Even so, the outcome for the BMW set would appear to be merely a “blip” on the radar as the head for what appears to be the German manufacturer’s first championship season since the early years of this century’s opening decade. As for the prototype battle; there the Dyson squad has the advantage with three rounds left on the ALMS calendar over the Muscle Milk squad. However, it is a shaky advantage at best with ultimate results still very much in doubt.
And, that brings us back to the Grand Am prototypes where once the Chip Ganassi Telmex duo of Memo Rojas and Scott Pruett seemed unbeatable in their BMW-powered Riley, the clear choice to repeat their 2010 title-winning year. Unfortunately, things have been less secure of late, with a spin by Rojas leaving them fifth at Montreal. Now with just next month’s Mid Ohio finale left, one still probably ought to stay with the Ganassi points leaders. However, Taylor and Angelelli could sneak past if Rojas and Pruett have another bad day.
As for, the production GT category contest, there with five points separating the leaders, and only Mid Ohio to go, it’s anybody’s guess who will emerge with the season-end honors.
At Montreal Steven Motorsport won its second race of the year, with Robin Liddell and Ronnie Bremer taking the team’s Chevy Camaro to the narrowest of possible triumphs over the SpeedSource Mazda RX8 of Sylvain Tremblay and Jonathan Bomarito, the similar RX of James Gue and Dave Cameron coming home third.
For the ALMS folks, there is the Baltimore street course on Labor day, followed by a six-hour run a Laguna Seca and the 2011 Petit Le Mans closer at Road Atlanta. Three very different, and in the own way grueling stopovers, leaving supposed certainties, anything bout certain; something that will be even more true for the Grand Am Rolex contingent at Mid-Ohio.
Although 2011 has not necessarily been a vintage year for either the ALMS, or the Grand Am, its finish could still make it memorable for both series, which, is after all, what entertainment is all about. So let’s hear it for uncertainties, they keep the thrills coming, and in the process help to assure futures.