The American Way

Mark Gillies

The Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge acts as a feeder series, much like Camping World Trucks and the Nationwide series do in NASCAR. The Grand Sport (GS) class caters to lightly modified V-8 sport coupes like the Camaro, the M3, and the Ford Mustang, while the Street Tuner (ST) class is for four- and six-cylinder-engined cars that run the gamut from BMW 3-series to Mini Coopers, with Volkswagen GTIs, Honda Civic Sis, and even a factory Kia Forte Koup team in between. Each car has specific modifications that can be made. Both drivers and teams can move up the ladder into the Rolex series.

Turner Motorsport provides a perfect example of how this can operate. Will Turner's eponymous company sells (and makes) tuner parts for BMWs and started racing touring cars in the SCCA World Challenge in 1998. The team won the series in 2003 and 2004 and embarked on a move into Grand-Am's Koni Challenge, the precursor to the Continental Tire series, in 2004. In 2006, the team won both the GS and ST divisions and backed it up with another ST victory in 2007. Turner moved to the Rolex GT series in 2010 with a BMW M6, achieving moderate success. In 2011, however, the team's BMW M3 is a front-runner in GT, winning two of the first three races, including Barber.

According to Turner, the move was made to show the abilities of the team. "We have won championships with production-based cars -- and that reflects on my core business. But we decided to go the Rolex GT route to showcase the team, to show that we are right up there with the best. We're here because I knew I could afford to build a car that can win. I couldn't even look at the ALMS."

NASCAR's marketing clout gives Grand-Am a decided advantage over most road-racing series. Whereas the ALMS has gone to a weird TV deal -- live races on and abbreviated race reviews usually the day after on ESPN2 or ABC -- Grand-Am has a full television contract with Speed for all twelve races in 2011. It does well, racking up ratings that are second on Speed behind the Camping World Truck Series and ahead of Formula 1. Good TV coverage makes the series appealing to sponsors, as does the sensible rules package that keeps costs down. No one will say for sure, but we've heard that a Grand-Am DP program costs between $1 and $2 million a year, or less than half an ALMS GT budget. A Rolex GT budget is about $1 million. That's a lot of money, but it's low for a series that attracts as many as 20,000 spectators at its headlining events and runs with premier series such as NASCAR's Nationwide Series and IndyCar.

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