Sustainability. Over and over, that word cropped up in conversations with drivers, team owners, and series personnel at the Grand-Am races at Barber Motorsports Park near Birmingham, Alabama. The word wasn't bandied around in a warm and fuzzy kind of way but as an antidote to the short-term thinking that has plagued top-line road-racing series in the United States over the past forty years.
Road racing nowadays is very much a minority sport compared with oval racing, like soccer is to football. Since its heyday in the late 1950s and the '60s, road racing has been undermined by bad management from the likes of IMSA, CART, and the SCCA, aided and abetted by automakers who have blitzed the opposition and then walked away. Just look at Can-Am in the 1960s and '70s, when McLaren and Porsche both frightened off the competition. Or IMSA GTP, where Nissan and Toyota threw huge money against a bunch of private teams: Nissan departed once its mission was accomplished, and Toyota effectively killed the series. In the interim, NASCAR grew from a Southern-based minority sport of its own to become the juggernaut that dominates the American motorsport landscape.
Funnily enough, the savior of big-time sports car racing on road courses in America could turn out to be those same good ol' boys. In 2000, NASCAR initiated the Grand-Am series, its vision of sustainable sports car racing, and it's still going strong. In many ways, Grand-Am's premier division, the Rolex Sports Car Series, and its secondary division, the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge, fit the NASCAR mold perfectly: the cars are run to tightly controlled specifications, and the rules are closely policed to ensure parity among cars.
"We are a motorsports entertainment company," says Mark Raffauf, Grand-Am's managing director of competition. "We have no problem with manufacturers coming into the series, but they have to come in on our terms. Privateer teams have kept this series accessible even in tough economic times."
"As a driver, I like how competitive the series is," adds Sylvain Tremblay, owner of the SpeedSource team that won the Rolex GT title in 2010. "And as a team owner, I also dislike how competitive it is! There are more than a handful of cars that can win. In that respect, it's a bit like the NASCAR Sprint Cup in that the last ten laps, you never know what is going to happen."