I enjoyed watching the Grand Am 6 Hours of the Glen yesterday. The week coming up to the race and some of what happened during the race, however, have brought up some issues that need to be addressed. The week leading up to the race was also filled with discussion and complaints from teams about Balance of Performance.
The first issue that came up during the race that needs to be addressed is how full course yellows are used. Full course yellows (FCYs) are being used way too often. A glaring example from yesterday is when a piece of bodywork came off of the SunTrust car and landed in the track. Instead of using a local yellow to allow a marshal to go out and retrieve the debris. That situation could have been handled much quicker without slowing the race by the use of a local yellow. All this said, it seems that it isn’t an issue with Grand Am but rather with the track owner: International Speedway Corporation (ISC). According to @jscottonfr, it is ISC’s policy not to let corner workers on track (although there is a common thread running through Grand Am and ISC – the France family and NASCAR). ISC really needs to take a look at this on their road courses and reconsider it. Many other tracks and series take care of small debris issues safely with local yellows and therefore don’t break up the racing.
The issue that reared it’s ugly head that Grand Am can do something about is the restart rule. On restarts, Grand Am won’t allow competitors to pass or begin a passing maneuver until they are past the start/finish line. Most other road racing series allow passes beginning when the green flag is thrown. This rule is creating unsafe conditions and crashing on restarts by causing chain reaction crashes (as seen when one of the Porsches hit the front straight wall hard yesterday). If a car slows for any reason, it creates a chain reaction in which eventually a few cars back someone has to pull out to avoid hitting a car from behind. When that happens, the car that pulls out is promptly penalized under the rule. If Grand Am would junk this rule, it would let the racers race AND make the restarts safer.
After thinking about Grand Am’s Balance of Performance (BoP) issues long and hard, I’m still of mixed opinion about them. It’s easiest to break it down between BoP issues in Daytona Prototypes (DP) and Grand Touring (GT).
In much of yesterday’s 6 hour race, the Starworks 8 car and Ganassi 01 car threw a spanner in the works of the DP BoP arguments. Both cars led the race and were quite competitive with the Corvette DPs. At the end of the race, however, the Corvette DPs were clearly quicker and the fight for the win was between two of them while the Starworks car and the Ganassi car fell back (although it seemed the Ganassi car may have had a handling issue in the closing stages). It’s also worth mentioning that the Ganassi 01 took pole for the race. Is this a case of the Corvette DPs sandbagging until the closing stages of the race? I don’t know. It makes it hard to sort out the arguments coming from owners like Michael Shank. Perhaps the best thing to do is for GrandAm to take a page from the parent company NASCAR’s book and do some engine dyno testing and wind tunnel testing to get data to make BoP decisions with.
In GT, the BoP issues for the most part center around two cars: the Ferrari 458 and the Porsche 911. The complaint about the Ferrari 458 is that it is too fast. Before the race at Watkins Glen, the Ferrari was given additional weight but yesterday’s race really wasn’t a clear indication of whether it worked or not. The Ferrari got some early body damage that impacted the car’s performance so we may not know until after Indianapolis whether the BoP adjustment worked or not. The BoP issue with the Porsche, as vociferously argued by The Racers Group’s Kevin Buckler, is that the other cars are faster than it and that it needs help. The problem here is that it seems that only the Porsche is the car that needs help compared to the others and that seems to be an issue the 911 is facing in other series as well. Perhaps Buckler needs to be lobbying Porsche to build a better car instead of lobbying Grand Am for BoP help. The GT BoP problems are compounded by the current nature of the class. It’s a fight between purpose built tube frame race cars and stock based cars. Until Grand Am figures out just what they want their GT class to be, it’s going to be hard to fix the GT BoP issues.