Wednesday
Oct232013

Bittersweet. 

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Braselton, GA – Fifteen years. Compared to NASCAR’s 65 years running, not a big number. Compared to Indy and Le Mans’ ACO and FIA at or above 100 years each, barely a flash in the pan. Yet, in 15 years – the last twelve of which I’ve spent covering the American Le Mans Series – we have seen storied battles on pavement between global manufacturers and upstart privateers. We have seen a showcase for future technologies being tested in competition. We have seen history being made at high speed all over North America. In 15 years, some of the best racing anywhere has taken place in ALMS.

With the series to be absorbed into the Tudor United Sports Car Championship in 2014, this year’s Petit Le Mans closed out the ALMS season – and the series itself – on an unusually wistful note.

“It’s kind of sad, isn’t it? I mean… it’s an end of an era.” So said Muscle Milk Pickett Racing’s Lucas Luhr, prior to the start of Saturday’s last-ever ALMS race, which summed-up the overall feel on the paddock last week. Adding to the tinge of sadness in the air was the pain of loss within the motorsports family. Famed young Porsche ace Sean Edwards was killed in a crash in Australia on Tuesday while instructing a student, and his team made the decision to remove the No. 30 MOMO Porsche 911 GT3 from competition. The Porsche’s livery was redone in a tribute to Edwards, and taken for a solitary lap prior to the race.

The undercurrent of sober reflection was inescapable. Edwards was a popular driver and proven talent in GTC class. At 26, likely not yet into his prime, he was leading the Porsche Supercup Championship points race at the time of his death.

Thus, it was almost poetic that the 1,000-mile contest began with a somber backdrop of light rain, which continued for most of the daylight hours, before eventually giving way to clearer skies and cool October breezes for the finish.

Among the other points of interest from Petit:

All week long, it seemed much of the discussion on the paddock and trackside seemed to center not so much on the race itself, as what we might expect for next year. That is, because so little information has been made available to the teams competing in TUSCC starting in just 3 months. The series schedule was only recently released, and car specifications have been slow to come. As a result, a number of top teams have been slow to commit – Greg Pickett’s Muscle Milk Racing, Dyson Racing, and Scott Tucker’s Level 5 Motorsports are just three out of a considerable number of ALMS regulars who have yet to announce plans for 2014.

As one division in sports car racing is coming to an end with ALMS and Grand Am becoming one series, another rivalry of sorts is apparently developing: The FIA’s World Endurance Championship, responsible in no small part for drawing talent away from existing Le Mans-style racing series in the USA and Europe, has events scheduled in conflict with the new combined series. Since the first weekend of October is the new black, apparently, WEC’s Fuji date on the same weekend as TUSCC’s Petit Le Mans in 2014.

NASCAR’s K&N Pro Series made an appearance at the track, though rain forced the series to spend most of their scheduled time idled on the paddock. Unable to account for the damp Fall weather (read: no wet tires), the “stock cars” completed a brief practice session early in the week, only to have later practices and qualifying rained-out. They did run a full race on Friday, which was still good fun to watch.

While the NASCAR teams were frustrated by moist track conditions, the IMSA Lites and Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup series put on an excellent show in both wet and dry. Most notably in MX-5 Cup, a last-lap battle between Elliott Skeer, John Dean II, and Patrick Gallagher brought fans – and announcers – to their feet, with the three finishing in the aforementioned order. Skeer won the final race of the season, but ended up 4 points shy of series championship winner Christian Szymczak.

An item that’s surfaced in the last day or two: According to sources within IMSA, one possible change for 2014 may be in the series’ safety team. That is, there might not be one. While IMSA for years has had its own dedicated safety crew traveling with the series, “the NASCAR way” has always been to have a series liaison to coordinate with local firefighters, EMTs and paramedics at each of the tracks – and this is said to be the policy TUSCC wants to adopt. NASCAR claims this is due to “risk management and the series’ insurance policies,” which is shorthand for “this is how we always done it on the cheap, and we don’t like changin’ things.” Outside the world of France family racertainment, however, it’s a travesty. Ask any driver. It is one of many points of contention that need to be settled before the green flag drops at the 24 Hours of Daytona in January.

That’s it for now; I’ll see you at the next pit stop.
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