Without a doubt, NASCAR holds the crown in American motorsport. It’s our most popular racing genre, our most popular sport, and one of the most popular motorsports in the world. But what if it didn’t exist? Drag racing would probably take that slot. The NHRA is also extremely popular here in the States.
But if you took that away, would there be anything left from Detroit down to Houston? Oval and strip racing are about all we have, right? Wrong. Sports car racing is on the rise. But “rise” isn’t quite the right term. Road racing has been around for a while here, we just haven’t heard about it much until now. But since the magical dragons and pixies have teamed up to bring us something called the internet, we can actually watch things like the American Le Mans Series and its goofy competitor, Grand-Am.
Run by an organization called the Grand American Road Racing Association, or GARRA (the sound you make when you shift perfectly), Grand-Am has been tearing up America’s twisty tracks since 2000. It’s endurance racing, with each of the 14 races lasting between 3 and 24 hours. Four separate classes are run between the two series, the Continental Tire and the Rolex, and the variety, combined with the relatively low cost of staying on the track all day, has attracted a fairly vast company of entrants.
The all production-based Continental Series runs two classes: Grand Sport (GS), and Street Tuner (ST). GS is for the bigger models. Engines are 6-8 cylinders, though if you want to turbo- or supercharge your 4 cyl, you’ll be stuck in the GS class. The coolness here is that in GS you’ll find Chevy Camaros lining up against Porsche 911s. ST is more accessible, made up of 4-6 cylinder cars, all naturally aspirated. Here you’ll find everything from the BMW 325 to the Mazda MX-5, or Miata, as we know it. Several teams even run FWD Mazda 3s.
The Rolex Series is where things really get interesting. It also has two classes: Grand Touring and Daytona Prototype. As you’d expect, GT is production-based, but it gets a bit stranger. It used to be made up of two separate sub-classes, one for bigger cars like the Ferrari 458 Italia and the Audi R8, and one for the little guys like the Mazda RX-8. Then organizers smashed them together into one single class, and they all have to compete.
Then there’s the DP class, which is a different animal entirely. Like ALMS prototypes, DP cars are specialized, track-only monsters, usually with separate manufacturers for engines and chassis. They’re mid-engine, awkward-looking, and madly powerful. The Chevy Corvette DP, for example, has about 530 hp, and only weighs 2,275 lbs.
Often a Rolex Series race takes place on a track too small for all 50+ cars competing to safely drive, so organizers split the classes, racing the GT cars on Saturday, and the DP beasts on Sunday.
Grand-Am is a strange and wonderful branch of the American racing family, throwing out thrilling matches 14 weekends out of the year. It goes a long way to show the rest of the world that American racing is more than NASCAR and NHRA.
Are you a Grand-Am fan? Do you think it’s getting more popular, or is it destined to fizzle like its ancestors?