Grand American Rolex Series
Grand American Rolex Series - An Overview
March 1st, 2006
Pontiac Public Relations
The Grand American Road Racing Association was established in 1999 to return stability to major league sports car road racing in North America. As the organization begins its seventh season of competition in 2006, Grand American is universally regarded as one of the world's fastest growing motorsports organizations.
Sports car racing in North America endured tough and uncertain times for the majority of the 1990s, a far cry from the successful IMSA series of the 1970s and '80s. As is often the case in motor racing, sports car racing's decline during that period could basically be traced to uncontrolled technology and its related costs. Grand American has addressed this with sensible and affordable rules that are competition driven but grounded in common sense and stability with a firm commitment to a level playing field.
Grand American's top-tier Rolex Sports Car Series has established itself as the most competitive professional road racing championship in North America. The Rolex Series Daytona Prototype category, introduced in 2003, has attracted the attention of world class drivers and teams through its extremely raceable and relatively affordable format, and has revolutionized sports car racing with plentiful battles at the front of the field and close finishes in virtually every race. The result was a rush to participate in the class after 2004 and Daytona Prototype fields have grown seven times over since debuting in the 2003 Rolex 24 At Daytona. The most recent Rolex 24 starting grid was composed of 68 cars, a Rolex Series all-time high.
Like the Daytona Prototype class that has redefined prototype sports car racing, the Rolex Series GT class has done the same for high-performance, production-based sports car racing. After running a variety of GT-based classes in Grand American's first five years of competition, the new rules package consolidated GT into just one class beginning with the 2005 season. The GT division is for race-prepared versions of today's popular international and American-made high-performance sports cars and coupes, and holding to sports car tradition, the Daytona Prototype and GT classes race together while competing for both class honors and the overall victory.
Grand American races at some of the world's most prestigious venues- Daytona, Laguna Seca and Watkins Glen- and has taken the role of a top annual attraction at some of the newest venues in the industry such as Barber Motorsports Park and Virginia International Raceway. Grand American is also making a standard out of the newest form of circuit racing- "Stadium Road Racing"- on the road course layouts at tracks like Homestead-Miami Speedway, Phoenix International Raceway and California Speedway.
Although solo runs are permitted in sprint races, teams of drivers are commonplace in the Rolex Sports Car Series. The shorter events usually feature two drivers per car, three-driver teams are common in the six-hour events and four and five driver squads are the norm for the Rolex 24. Driver changes during pits stops always factor into the action and strategy at each race.
Daytona Prototypes are exotic, mid-engine machines that are purpose-built strictly for competition on the track. Low to the ground and capable of speeds in excess of 185 mph, Daytona Prototypes also feature the latest in safety technology, including carbon fiber side impact panels and a multi-point roll cage with a unique center post at mid-windshield.
Daytona Prototypes are produced to similar specifications by seven approved constructors- Riley Technologies, Doran Designs, Crawford Race Cars, Fabcar Engineering, Chase Competition Engineering, Picchio and Multimatic. Although each chassis is independently designed and manufactured, competitor modifications are highly limited by Grand American rules and certain parts- including series-standard rear wings- are mandated by the series. A Daytona Prototype chassis costs about $400,000 but the cars can be raced in their current configuration for several years within Grand Americanís stable rules package.
Manufacturers are welcome to submit any production-based engine for approval in the series but turbochargers and superchargers are not permitted. Engines that are currently approved for competition include powerplants from Pontiac (5-liter V-8), Lexus (4.3 liter V-8), BMW (5-liter V-8), Porsche (3.9 liter flat six), Ford (5-liter V-8) and Infiniti (4.3 liter V-8). All engines are tuned to produce around 500 horsepower and each is capable of being mated to any of the approved Daytona Prototype chassis which creates an interesting variety of chassis/engine combinations. Five or six-speed sequential gearboxes from EMCO and XTrac are the series standard in Daytona Prototype. Smaller engined Daytona Prototypes under 4.5 liters are allowed the advantage of the six-speed gearboxes while all race cars with larger engines must run the five speeds.
The Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series GT division is home to production-based race cars that are similar in appearance to the latest high-performance sports cars and coupes that you see on the street everyday. Underneath their skin, however, GT race cars are all business and use some of the same technology found in the more exotic Daytona Prototype class.
The rules for GT- short for Grand Touring- employ several methods of equalization including race car weight, tire size and engine rpm limits to provide an even playing field for a variety of international and American-made cars. Only in GT can you see flat-six Porsche GT3s take on big-bore V-8 Corvettes and Pontiac GTOs while also mixing it up with three-rotor Mazda RX-8s, mid-engine Ferrari 360s and Maserati and BMW M3 coupes.
Engines in GT machines produce between 390 and 450 horsepower depending on the car, and minimum weights range from 2,500 lbs. to 2,800 lbs. Top speed for GT race cars is 170 mph.
Pontiac withdrew from the popular NASCAR series after the 2003 season, where it had much success. The reasons for this difficult decision were clear, however. Pontiac's sister brand, Chevrolet, we chosen to be GM's NASCAR brand and it wasn't deemed productive for the brands to compete against each other. More importantly, a venue was needed for Pontiac (as GM's performance brand) that would allow the brand to redevelop racing and marketing programs consistent with its new performance products, including the GTO. With a vision of close, affordable racing against some of the world's top performance brands, the Rolex Series was chose and the first race of 2004 (the Rolex 24 At Daytona) saw Pontiac-powered Daytona Prototypes on the starting grid.
From that point on, there was no looking back. That very race was won by a Pontiac, the #54 Kodak/Bell Motorsports Pontiac Doran of Terry Borcheller, Forest Barber, Andy Pilgrim and Christian Fittipaldi. Pontiac went on to win the Daytona Prototype manufacturers championship in its first season in the Rolex Series, proving it can indeed compete against- and beat- some of the top brands in the world.
And 2005 was even better. Pontiac took all three championships in the Daytona Prototype class of the series (manufacturers, drivers and team) with drivers Wayne Taylor and Max Angelelli of the #10 SunTrust Pontiac Riley clinching team and driver titles. En route to these championships, Pontiac won 10 of 14 races (a series record), never finished below second, swept the podium five times, and won the prestigious Rolex 24 At Daytona for the second year in a row. The SunTrust team also completed every lap of every race in the 2005 Rolex Series season, a testament to the preparation and talent of the team and drivers, and also to the reliability and power of the Pontiac V-8 engine.
2005 was also notable for Pontiac in the regard that its new GTO.R race car, a race counterpart to the venerable GTO production car, made its successful debut in the Rolex Series. Debuting June 30 at Daytona, its drivers came close to winning the GT class championship in only the first season of the car's competition. Marc Bunting and Andy Lally, co-drivers of the #65 Pontiac GTO.R, finished one point behind Craig Stanton but their team, TRG, won the GT team title. This was in part due to Bunting and Lally's good first half of the season in a Porsche, but is also attributable to the #65 car's performance and that of its sister car, the #64 TRG Pontiac GTO.R of Paul Edwards and Jan Magnussen. Between the two cars, four victories, two second- and one third-place finish were recorded as well as two pole positions- in only eight races.
This season, Pontiac continues to keep a commanding position over the competition. Second in Daytona Prototype manufacturer points, Pontiac is slowly closing the gap towards a third-consecutive manufacturers championship. In the GT class, the Pontiac GTO.Rs dominate with the brand leading in manufacturer points and TRG and its drivers on top and team and driver points. Assisting Pontiac's GT effort is the #98 Pacific Coast Motorsports Pontiac Crawford, which made its start early this season. And since Pontiac's GT debut last June, (the only race in which a GTO.R has not finished on the podium to date) a second-place finish at the Rolex 24 At Daytona was added to the list of accomplishments.
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