Sunday, March 17, 2013

ALMS: The Best Racing on Television

I am pretty sick and decided I needed to rest all day.  I have been laying on the couch watching TV and luckily I checked the SPEED channel which was showing the 12 Hours of Sebring, an ALMS (American LeMans Series) race.  I have always been interested in this type of racing but I have rarely had an entire day to dedicate to watch a race. 

 

I don't watch racing every weekend but I try to watch at least the beginning and the end of the Daytona 500 every year, the final race of NASCAR season if I will decide a champion, and the occasional Formula 1 race.

I'm not really  NASCAR hater and I used to enjoy it a few years ago but it is pretty boring and I dislike the fact that, for the most part, the cars only make left turns.  I know stock car racing is very difficult and takes a high degree of skill but it makes for boring racing.  Another beef I have with NASCAR is the cars themselves.  I have no idea why the are called "stock cars" because they are not "stock."  Toyota doesn't make a two door Camry, a v8 Camry, or a rear wheel drive Camry.  If a person went out a bought a Camry looking for a sports car, or even a fast car, they would be greatly disappointed.  The same distinctions apply to all the so called "stock cars." I just pick on the Camry because it is by far the dullest car represented in stock car racing.

The cars in NASCAR are essentially identical tube chassis' with fake, one piece, bodies thrown on top of them. 

Notice a Difference?
 











Another problem I have with NASCAR is that, if there is even the slightest drizzle, they wont race.  Finally, NASCAR has too many cautions, if there is anything on the track larger than a grain of sand the caution flag goes up.

F1 is a little better than NASCAR because there is actual turning in it.  However, its not much better.  It is pretty dull, there are very few passes on the track per race.  The cars are undoubtedly the most advanced race cars in the world, the drivers are probably the best in the world, but that doesn't make the racing exciting. 


Booooorrrriiiinnnggg
 A problem shared by F1 and NASCAR is that there is very little difference between the cars.  I know F1 is not technically a "spec" series (all cars must be exactly the same) but its pretty close.  All F1 cars must be the same weight and have the same type of engine.  While F1 teams are allowed to change tire types during races, (such as from wet to dry) they all use the same tire manufacturer. 

Also, like with NASCAR, a fan can not go and buy a car that is even remotely close to an F1 car.  There's no "win on Sunday, sell on Monday" for either series.  As a car fan this takes the fun out for me.  I like to be able to see somewhat "real" cars duking it out on a race track.

Enter ALMS.  The 12 Hours of Sebring is some of the most exciting racing I have ever watched on TV.  There is more action in five minutes of ALMS racing than an entire F1 race. There was at least two or more position battles going on at any one time.  I can't say how gratifying it is as a car fan in general to see new Viper GTS-R's locked in constant battles with BMW Z4's, Ferrari 458 Italia's and Corvette C6-R's.  There are also 911's but they didn't spend a whole lot of time jockeying for first.

The great thing about the GT class is that they are based on production cars and the cars are all different from each other within loose specifications as described below:

"Production-based, moderately modified two-wheel drive race cars comprise the GT class – Aston Martin Vantage, BMW M3 GT, Corvette C6.R, Ferrari F458 Italia, Lotus Evora and Porsche 911 GT3 RSR. The GT cars share many similarities to their showroom brands. With top speeds of up to 180 mph, these elite GTs produce between 450-500 horsepower and have a minimum weight of 1,245 kilograms (2,745 pounds).All GT race cars have green Leader Lights and green car numbers."


GT ALMS Race Car Class

Source.  The prototype classes also feature exciting racing and major differences between the cars.  For example, the Audi's, which seem to dominate all, use turbo-diesel-hybrid engines, the other cars use gas engines.  Neither NASCAR nor F1 allow such major differences between the cars.  I like the idea of a competition between design philosophies and technology as much as I like competition between drivers.

Another great thing is the lack of cautions.  There was all kinds of crap all over the track by the end of race, including pieces of bumper, but no caution was called.  The drivers were expected to simply drive around the obstacles, this is a feat of driving skill that NASCAR drivers are apparently incapable of.

I can't stress enough how exciting the racing is.  As mentioned earlier, in the GT class it was the story of the Viper GTS-R vs everyone else.  To me, this was a great marketing victory for the Viper and renewed my excitement about a car I had pretty much written off as playing second fiddle to the Zr-1.  The drivers did not look like they were battling the car, they seemed to have the most power, and, most important in endurance racing, they didn't break!



Despite the Viper's dominance for most of the day, the ultimate hero was the Corvette C6-R.  The C6-R was a lap down for most of the race due to penalties and electrical problems.  However, with about an hour left in the race (about 11:00 pm) the Corvette team started setting the pace and catching up with the field.  With about 7 minutes left in the race the Corvette was in second place behind a Ferrari 458 Italia.  The Italia's driver buckled under the pressure from driving at night and having the 'Vette in his rear view mirror and took a turn a little too fast and went wide, the Corvette made the pass.  With about three minutes left in the race the Corvette was running out of gas due to how hard they had to push to take the lead and then fight off the Ferrari but they managed to hold on for the win.

This brings me to another important point about the brilliance of ALMS racing.  Durability.  This racing series allows manufacturers to torture test their technology.  Its not just about who has the fastest car, but who has the most durable car. 

In sum, if you are a fan of cars, a fan of car racing, or a fan of both, check out ALMS on SPEED on online.  It is the best racing on TV.

To learn more about ALMS, check out their website at http://www.alms.com/

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