CHARLOTTE, N.C. — If one wanted to evaluate the state of the professional North American road course scene there was no better time to do it than this past Sunday when both the American Le Mans Series and the Grand Am’s Rolex sports car tour were both in action.
While the ALMS sweated at Mosport, just outside of Toronto, the Rolex folks were likewise wilting in the 100-degree heat of the New Jersey Motorsport Park in what was a duel of differing philosophies.
In Canada the non-spec prototype battle was handily won by the Muscle Milk Lola Aston Martin coupe of Klaus Graf and Lucas Luhr over the similar Mazda-powered Dyson Racing Lola driven by Guy Smith and Chris Dyson, the two cars reversing their finishing order from two weeks earlier at Connecticut’s Lime Rock Park.
As for the production GT set, there it was the factory Compuware Corvette of Jan Magnussen and Oliver Gavin leading home the Risi Ferrari 458 Italia of Tony Vilander and Jamie Melo, which, in turn, headed the Rahal-Letterman BMW M3 of Dirk Werner. Among the spec LMPC prototypes, the winners were Ricardo Gonzalez and Kevin Jeannette, who were fourth overall, while in the all-Porsche GT3 Chip GTC class, Duncan Ende and Spencer Pompelly emerged victorious.
Meanwhile, in Southern New Jersey, the Chip Ganassi Telmex duo of Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas returned to their Daytona Prototype winning ways with the BMW-Riley beating the Chevrolet-Dallara of Ricky Taylor and Max Angelelli with the Gainsco Chevy-Riley of Jon Fogarty and Alex Gurney third. Turning to the GT division, there it was an all Mazda RX-8 rotary show with Sylvain Tremblay and Jonathan Bomarito, leading John Edwards and Wayne Nonnamaker to the line, as Dave Cameron and James Gue took third.
Of the two events, the more entertaining by far was the Rolex-backed Grand-Am affair, given the fact that the glitz and glamour prize is the supposed property of the ALMS with its advanced technology format as opposed to the highly restricted technical environment of the Grand-Am.
The problem is that in its current state, the ALMS is pinning its crowd appeal on the Ferrari-Porsche-BMW-Corvette GT wars, while its prototype arena is limited to just three similar looking privateer Lola coupes and the identical LMPC Chevy-Oreca spyders. Although not a motley bunch necessarily, in truth the ALMS’ sports racers don’t bring much more to the table than their odd-looking Daytona Prototype counterparts.
While one might be willing to accept the shortcomings of the latter, particularly given the closeness and the depth of the competition they routinely generate, the same cannot be said for the lack of 200 mile-per-hour plus the non-spec ALMS headliners, which is what the fans of the Don Panoz title chase presumably have paid their money to watch.
Put another way, the Grand Am makes no pretenses about what is offering, while at this point the ALMS, which has long claimed to be at the pointy end of the sportscar technology is to a large extent living on smoke and mirrors.
Yes, the ALMS’ GT conflict is riveting, but that is not what the ALMS is supposed to be about. One can see all the close racing one wants on the Rolex stage.
For the ALMS it’s all about pushing the envelope. Unfortunately, like NSA, at the moment for the ALMS that envelope appears lost. One can only hope the series finds it soon.