The Petit Le Mans is a sports car race. It is not on television every weekend like stock car racing (NASCAR), nor is it as popular as Indy car or Formula One racing.These other more popular series seem to be way over the top with sponsors, celebrities, big name drivers and tons of funding via big sponsorship deals. By comparison, sports car racing is not as widespread or as wealthy, but it holds a special charm as many still see this as one of the last bastions of pure racing. Although the word “purity “can be a bit misleading, since the technology that is infused into modern sports car racing is as advanced as any series on the planet. Sports car racing can be broken down into two main components— prototype racers(these look nothing like what we all drive on the streets) and the GT Class (which actually highly resemble the world’s most popular high performance cars). It is this GT Class that is the diamond in the rough, for it is here that we see the world’s fastest production-based cars duking it out and the best part is these competitors really look like the sports cars in our garages. NASCAR races sedans that, in reality, are loosely accurate family car skins over very heavy and very powerful chassis This is where NASACAR goes wrong; who really cares if a Chevrolet SS is faster than a Ford Fusion or a Toyota Camry? Then there is Formula One and Indy car wherein the cars are of only three components — tires, cockpits, engines and way too many wings and aerodynamic tricks. Who can relate to those and even more challenging, relate them to your car? I dare you to find any real similarities. Sports car racing is a form of competition that we can all relate to, whether we have a sports car or dream of sports cars. Sports car racing has long been labelled “Gentleman’s Racing” and comes from roots wherein a fast sports car was modified for racing by anyone who dared challenge themselves or the cars. Sure, today there are all topshelf pilots behind the wheel, but the roots are pure.cars are what we should go and pay to see perform! Personally, watching Porsche, Ferrari, Viper, Corvette, Aston Martin and BMW duke it out in the GT Class is exactly what is going on in the minds of each of these types of sports car owners on the street when they pass one another on the highway. I believe the organizers see their prototype class cars as the stars of the show, but I cannot begin to count how many of us care most about those sports cars in the GT class. Whichever you prefer (prototype or production-based sports cars) this series will pull the curtain back on the more popular racing formats and have you questioning why we support them to the extent that we do. The foreign flavor of this race we attended is immediately apparent when you hear the bagpipes marching up the front straightaway as part of the prerace ceremonies. Sure, bagpipes are not French but Scottish, but the international touches are obvious. The Petit Le Mans is based on the world’s best known sports car endurance race — the French Le Mans. “Petit” as it’s called, tries to follow Le Mans traditions. The rules at Petit are similar, as is the flavor. In fact, the Petit Le Mans is French for “Little Le Mans” and this race is truly a little Le Mans. Now true motorsport junkies know that the actual “Le Mans” is a city in France. Located on the Sarthe River, automobiles have raced there since the early 1920s. No one in the racing community can argue that LeMans is the granddaddy of all sports car races. Conversely, the “Petit” is yet a fledgling contender at only sixteen years old. The Petit is not run in Europe but on a circuit called Road Atlanta in, of all places, Braselton, Georgia. You probably will not confuse Georgia and France in any way.However, when the competitors are whipping around Road Atlanta for the Petit, the racing is quite similar. Sure, the French race is twentyfour hours long and the cars complete just over 3,000 miles; by comparison the Petit participants rack up just over 1,000 miles in ten hours. Many would ask, “Why choose this American, East Coast solution?” The problem lies in the fact that France is a long, expensive distance away. So, if you want real sports car racing on an amazing track here in the good ole USA, then the Petit Le Mans will do quite well, quite well indeed. You will savor the French flavor at a massive fraction of the cost and with Atlanta being the busiest airport in the world; travel logistics are short and easy. The Petit is a great event and the clearly growing audience is proof that this form of racing is gaining momentum. But, there are issues. First, let us get this out of the way — the track they call Road Atlanta does not even remotely deserve of any criticism.It just isn’t the problem, period.What a course it is! What IS the problem WAS actually everyone’s idea of a solution… to a large extent. There was once a strong and viable sports car series in America but the powers that be corrupted it and then it was divided. We ended up with two sanctioning bodies, the ALMS (American Le Mans Series) and Grand Am (controlled by NASCAR). The ALMS was the traditional European type of all out racing and costs went essentially unchecked. Grand Am was conceived to offer close racing with a tighter budget to create more equality among competitors. Did we need to lessen costs to the teams? Probably. Did we need to ruin this type of racing to get there? Probably not. Philosophies aside, what happens when any entity is divided? It is weakened and can be more easily conquered; never will the two halves be as powerful as the once united whole. So basically, we ended up with two wounded series practicing their own ideologies with neither flourishing. The plan was to reunify which, in theory, sounds enticing. What was not as attractive was the solution that was agreed upon. Because both series had some sense of accomplishment and neither really failed, each party came to the table with intentions of keeping at least a portion of their individual doctrines.When an unconditional surrender is not reached there is often a compromise that can be worse than the principle disagreements that caused the war. The best way to describe the realignment of these two groups was more of a partnership under one name. We as race fans do receive the best of both series, but still have problems that were not squashed in the merger. Simply put, we have some classes that are the same but different (which can lead to confusion) and we now are further divided from our European counterparts in the sports car endurance racing family. The motorsport world now has to watch multiples within multiple class racing. The solution almost feels like a con on the public in that it appears that two series are racing independently under one name — and confusion reigns. In this one case the GTLM and GT Daytona cars race in completely different classes while looking absolutely identical to one another. Differentiation is not easy, even for tried and true race fans. All of this is more of an irritant than a true problem for the veteran racing enthusiast.But, for the novice or that all so important “new fan” (you know, the group that motorsports are trying to lure in), well, they cannot possibly know what is what and who is who. I was once told if a joke has to be explained, then it just isn’t funny. So trying to confuse a new or potential fan with the realities of how these classes work isn’t going to have a positive effect either. Even my ace seasoned father who’s watched racing for fifty-plus years was not completely in tune with all of the subtleties of the types of cars and how they were classified. Worse is the fact that I know how the cars were organized and still struggle to have it make sense when attempting to explain it. Then take all of this already established bewilderment and compound it to the umpteenth power because the WEC (World Endurance Championship) cars were there from Europe and also on track — IN YET ADDITIONAL CLASSES! Maybe the worst travesty here is not the fact that we cannot properly organize our own North American product, but that we cannot figure out any meaningful way to combine our series with the World’s formula. When you realize the planet’s most identifiable and legendary endurance teams will not fit into ANY of our classes, then one has to beg the question, “Why can we not fix this?” There must be some wiggle room in the rules to secure some reasonable clarity. If we can fix these glitches, then just maybe the prominent race teams in Europe will once again clam or to make America’s big three races; Daytona, Sebring and the Petit Le Mans. Today they are simply absent , and that is a crying shame. As an avid race fan, my level of awe at the Petit is lessened without the French Le Mans frontrunners. The word’s winningest endurance racers were competing at the Petit Le Mans in 2011, and they have not been back since. With confusion reigning why not add icing to the cake… It’s no longer Grand Am, no longer the ALMS but the Tudor United Sports Car Championship, okay right? Nope, with this “united” series it cannot be that simple, fans still call it IMSA (International Motor Sports Association) and that well known logo is still found everywhere along with the new Tudor logo. The bigger mess involves folks calling it the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup — what? Parts of this are actually somewhat simple; the “Tudor” watch company is the sponsor for a series called the “United SportsCar Championship” and IMSA is the sanctioning body.That is far easier to explain than the Patron deal, but I will try.Patron is the title sponsor for a series of longer distance races within the schedule so it is a chance to win a title within a title.Patron is a great product and has been a loyal sponsor for sports wear racing, yet this deal with IMSA potentially adds to the already present confusion for fans. Some of this mess comes to the surface in instances where fans may desire to reference live timing and scoring from the race using their iPhones or computers. Who knows what to Google or where exactly to go on the web to get what they are looking for? Should one search Patron, Tudor, the actual track, IMSA or something else? With NASCAR you search NASCAR.com, Formula One is F1.com and Indycar is Indycar.com. No other series manages to confuse their audience quite like sportscar racing. With criticism piling up, I will say that I am told that the sanctioning body is aware of many of these flaws and solutions are being discussed. These conversations with the sanctioning party do give all of us hope for a clearer future. However, many problems will persist for 2015 and beyond, namely fans will still see the GTLM and the GTD (GT Daytona) classes which are essentially the same cars, continue to run separately. Is this writer being overly condemning?Yes. But do not lose track of this important message — sportscar racing needs to flourish and I for one want to do my part to help that growth process. Growth will lead to a far better television deal. Currently, many race fans do not even receive the elusive Fox Sports 2 so putting their product on this channel is a big mistake. To compound the problem, when intangible Fox Sports 2 is broadcasting the race, IMSA’s website stops streaming the race!Congratulations, the majority of your audience is now unable to watch your product. Why not demand a presents on Fox Sports 1? I mean IMSA is a high level motorsports event but the powers that be seem to prefer to air a rerun of Poker Masters, soccer from two obscure European teams or cliff diving. Hello, Tudor United Sports Car Championship or IMSA (I truly do not know who to address), please wake up now because fans of NASCAR and Formula One are becoming more and more and more disenchanted — THIS is your opportunity! I have been as straightforward with you, our readers, as I can be. When covering events as a member of the media it is our job to honestly critique the product. In this, the readers can form an opinion and gauge their personal interest based on, in part, what we write. Would this article be as interesting if I wrote an entire article that basically said the weather was good and the cars were fast? All the diagnostic grumbling aside, there is really only one real question at hand, “Should you watch/follow/attend one of these sportscar races?” The answer is shockingly simple ABSOLUTELY! I especially recommend Road Atlanta as the place to do it. After ten hours of racing, some classes are only separated by mere seconds. “Racing” just does not get any better than that. What is not to like about exotic looking prototypes and semistock appearing sports cars going at each other — HARD —for a FULL day? How do you feel about a prerace ceremony where ALL spectators can walk up and touch the cars and shake the hands of the drivers and crew? (Meeting Max Papis and seeing Boris Said again was a real treat!) Are you picky about where you should sit to view the race?No worries, there are two and a half miles of track, bring your lawn chair or blanket and find that perfect spot. Heck, there are even bleachers. Think you will get bored watching ten hours of racing?Nope. Come and go as you please or go into the infield and there is a plethora of vendors ready to sell you toys, art, apparel, books, food, even a new car.My family even spread out a quilt and took a short power nap rejuvenating us for the second half of the race. Need an excuse to get your “cool” car out of the garage and fraternize with other guys with cool cars? Road Atlanta has an organized Porsche, Corvette, Audi and BMW corral section.These corrals make for the formation of small-scale cars shows within the confines of the track, yet even more entertainment for spectators. All of these positive characteristics also apply to the twelve hours of Sebring. Another wonderful race, circuit and track staff. Mark your calendars to see both Sebring and the Petit Le Mans. In an effort to end on a positive and not overwhelm my proud endorsements I will not belabor the next issue. But, you can rest assured we will NOT cover the 24 Hours of Daytona as the administrators of the track itself need to learn a thing or two about hospitality. This is in fact the power of the pen trying to expose Daytona’s unwillingness to mend an unfriendly, uninspiring and lack of any forward thinking with reference to the media. That all said, at this point we will not attend, cover, watch or recommend participation. But rather than excoriate Daytona’s media department any further, let us thank Sebring and Road Atlanta for their welcoming and gracious spirit. You can count on the media to extol your greatness as the astounding racing venues you truly are. So the form of racing made famous in France has a good home here in the Georgia. I will be back to watch the Petit Le Mans, not because it is an hour from our home, but because it is an event worth attending. My five year old son said it best, “Daddy, I’m having so much fun, this race is really… really cool!”
Published by Black Tie Motorsport. View All Articles.
This page can be found at http://epublish.panaprint.com/article/A+Bit+Of+French-Style+Racing+In+Georgia/2251960/269984/article.html.