Laguna Seca Race Start. Credit: Darren Pierson
What started out as a balance-based blunder for IMSA could well turn into a fascinating title fight that fires the debut United Sportscar Championship season into the history books.
Initially, it looked like they had fluffed their lines with the new combined Prototype class, taking the nimble P2 cars from the old American Le Mans Series and the heavier, more rugged Daytona Prototypes from Grand-Am and merging them into one class. However, it seemed clear that the agile P2s may well run rings around the DPs, viewed as basic and lacking in tech. So along with some new aero parts, they were granted a monster horsepower boost which took them well above the P2s – the logic being that the increased speed down the straights would make up for time lost in the twisties.
Sound thinking, right? After all, back in the 1960s the BTCC had thrilling duels between huge, powerful Camaros and Mustangs and the plucky Brits led by the weeny Mini Cooper, all of which were blown away in the straights but heroically swarmed the tailpipes of the V8 monsters in the corners. If this sort of racing was gonna arrive in the 21st century in the TUSCC, bring it on, I said.
Except it didn’t quite work out that way initially.
At Daytona, the DPs had it all their own way. As to perhaps be expected; this was their home turf, with vast flat-out oval sections and years of data to fall back on from previous Daytona 24 Hour races. We were told Sebring would be where the P2s would come fighting back. Except they didn’t. Okay, they said, but the tight streets of Long Beach would be where they finally make their mark. Again, nope. Despite some hugely aggressive chops from Gustavo Yacaman, the P2s still found themselves trailing the DP beasts.
But something finally changed at Laguna Seca. The DPs were downgraded in horsepower slightly, and the tweak was just enough to level the playing field. The problem in the early rounds was the old muscle car mantra – it doesn’t matter how badly your car handles if you’ve already left your opponent for dead by the time you arrive at the corners. But at Laguna Seca, admittedly a twisty snake of a circuit, the P2s finally started scrapping with the DPs on level terms. And the result was a hugely tense battle which at times threatened to spill over into all-out war.
#42 OAK Racing Morgan: Gustavo Yacaman, Alexander Brundle. Credit: Darren Pierson
It doesn’t help that the P2 brigade go into battle undermanned against the DP army. Currently the P2 ranks are only really represented by the French OAK Racing squad and the experienced Extreme Speed Motorsports crew. Sorry, what was that? Speedsource Mazda? Oh yeah, the P2 team who struggle to out-pace GT cars and last more than five minutes into a race without breaking down. Might be worth asking Audi how to get a diesel engine to perform in a sportscar, lads. The DeltaWing remains nippy but fragile, and the two stalwarts of ALMS have jumped ship – Dyson Racing to the Pirelli World Challenge with Bentley, and Muscle Milk Pickett Racing ragequit altogether after Sebring citing their inability to compete with the DP masses. Whilst their and other P2 teams’ dissent eventually forced the organisers to reign in the DPs, they might be living to regret their decision to shut down operations altogether – imagine if their experience collective of drivers were still in.
But despite drawing battle lines with two Austin Allegros and a Reliant Robin, the P2s battled for their lives at Laguna Seca. Yacaman – why this guy isn’t in touring car racing I don’t know – versus Valiente’s Chevrolet DP was worth the admission alone, and when that battle spilled over into ultraviolence which knocked both cars out of contention, ESM took the fight on and were rewarded with a priceless first P2 victory in the unified series.
TUSCC Credit: Darren Pierson
This finally brings us to Detroit, where we have essentially a return to old Grand-Am territory with only the P and GTD collectives in for the party this weekend. At Long Beach, only having two classes left things feeling a bit barren, but with 30 cars showing up this time, that shouldn’t be too much of an issue. And qualifying proved that things remain on a knife edge between DP and P2, with Richard Westbrook (Spirit of Daytona) pouncing for pole ahead of Ryan Dalziel (ESM) by – wait for it – 0.018 seconds, with Yaca-da-man (OAK) the 2nd best P2 in 4th. Expect the battle to once again be riveting, with the concrete canyons of the Belle Isle street circuit providing a similar challenge to Long Beach both in terms of racing and navigating traffic.
Down in GTD the battles remain similarly close, with Spencer Pumpelly (Flying Lizard) bouncing back from his gut-wrenching loss at Laguna Seca, where the Audi R8 ran out of fuel in sight of the chequered flag, by grabbing pole ahead of Jeroen Bleekemolen (Riley SRT), with TRG-AMR being the surprise package as James Davison grabbed 5th place for the Aston Martin Vantage, which so far hasn’t so much been off the pace as lagging like a Call of Duty n00b on a faulty internet connection. GTD is again a testament to the worldwide GT3 regulations, with most of the protagonists using these ubiquitous machines (albeit with restrictors). No wonder FIA proposals to unify them with GTE were rejected – why let the FIA try and ‘fix’ (read: ruin) what really isn’t broken? The GTD-spec SRT Viper hasn’t yet matched the pace of it’s GTLM big brothers, but with one of the finest sportscar drivers in the world in Bleekemolen behind the wheel the squad won’t be lacking for driving talent. Expect them and TRG to mix in with the usual contenders of Flying Lizard, Turner BMW, Magnus Racing and SMP Ferrari in an intriguing street fight.
Whisper it quietly, but after a few initial mis-steps (one straight into a rosebush at Sebring), IMSA and the TUSCC are finally starting to gain real momentum. Less safety car interventions, little to no controversial/stupid steward decisions, and Balance of Performance has steadily improved. For the first time this season, we can genuinely be excited for the TUSCC circus arriving in town.
DP or P2 – pick your side wisely.