Sebring test ushers in new TUDOR SportsCar series

Questions about unification of American LeMans, Rolex series getting answered

Special to the HeraldNovember 27, 2013 

The Racer's Group owner Kevin Buckler waits out the rain Nov. 16 at Sebring International Raceway during testing for the new TUDOR United SportsCar Championship series.DAVID BASSETT/Special to the Herald

American LeMans Series is dead.

Rolex Sports Car Series is dead.

Long live TUDOR United SportsCar Championship.

The long-awaited start of the new TUDOR SportsCar Championship began the weekend of Nov. 16-17 with the first combined running of the former competing series during the Sebring Test Days at the world famous Sebring International Raceway. Under cloudy and sometimes rainy weather, cars that will run in the newly created classes were tested and tuned.

Since the combination of the two former series into one was announced more than a year ago, questions as to how the two separate series with separate rules and classes of cars will be combined into one have gradually been answered.

But first, what is sports car racing, and how does it differ from say NASCAR, or IndyCar?

You can break down auto racing in several ways.

The first is open or closed wheel. That is, are the tires covered by body work, or do they stand out from the body without anything covering them? Formula 1, which has only one race here in the United States, and IndyCar, which derives its name from the Indianapolis 500, are open-wheel series. The various NASCAR series and United Sports Car are closed-wheel series.

The second criterion is what primary type of track does each series utilize? NASCAR primarily uses oval tracks, or tracks that only have left turns on them, although it runs two road course races each year. IndyCar also got its start on oval tracks, but now uses not only ovals, but also road courses that have both left and right turns of various degrees of sharpness, and street courses, which are similar to road courses but are temporarily made up of city streets.

Sports cars always race on courses with all types and shapes of turns, both left and right. In addition to true road courses, Tudor United SportCar will race on two street courses, and two rovals, which are a combination of parts of an oval and a road course section in the infield of the oval.

In addition, sports cars (and Formula 1) race in the rain, while NASCAR and IndyCar do not. Sports car are also unique in that they are the only major auto racing that combines multiple types or classes of cars in one race, all on the same track at the same time.

Which bring us to the biggest question created when the two series were combined: How will the two former different class structures be combined into one? The classes have been announced, while the exact rules for each class may still have some fine-tuning to be done.

The classes break down into two types of cars: those derived in some form from a street legal production car and those that are pure race cars and bear no resemblance to any street car. The pure race cars are called prototypes, while the production based cars are referred to as grand touring, or GT.

TUDOR United SportsCar Series will combine the former LMP2 (LeMans Prototype), and Daytona Prototype into one Prototype or P class. The former ALMS PC class, which is restricted to a single chassis and engine configuration, will continue. The former GT class of ALMS will now be the GTLM, which stands for GT LeMans, while the former Rolex Sports Car GT class will combine with the former ALMS GTC class to become the GTD or GT Daytona.

Twenty-four teams were on hand for the testing at Sebring. Many went on to Daytona on Nov. 19 and were joined by some who did not test at Sebring. This is a very encouraging sign of strong interest by race teams. It is going to be very exciting to see how the teams from the separate series will fare against each other.

The excitement will be particularly high in the two GT classes as cars much like one might buy, or at least see on the street, race head to head to claim bragging rights.

As Kevin Buckler, owner of The Racer's Group, which will campaign two Aston Martins said, "We have been waiting 20 years for this."

The 2014 TUDOR United SportsCar Championship season begins with the Rolex 24 at Daytona on Jan. 25-26.

Stay tuned.

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