The pace of change in most sports moves at a glacial pace taking decades for things to evolve. In Motorsports however change tends to move at light speed with change sometimes coming mid season. Sports car racing in particular undergoes constant evolution.
When the 2018 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Challenge season begins there will be noticeable changes to the starting grid. The most noticeable will be the number of prototype entries. With the introduction of the highly successful DPI platform, car counts have gone up dramatically and will continue to do so.
The second major change will be the absence of the Prototype Challenge (PC) class. After a very successful ten year run, and with no new design or updates to the FLM09 chassis offered by manufacture ORECA, it was decided it was time to phase out the class altogether. Many pro sports car drivers of today got their first experience and possibly wins in PC. The level of competition in this was class was always close and exciting, the roar of the big block Chevy engines irresistible. Part of the increased car count in the Prototype class next year will come from some PC stalwarts such as Core Autosports and Performance Tech moving up to prototype. Looking at my archives I see where the class went from seven plus cars in 2010 to just three cars last year after it was announced they would be phased out. Since I have already seen some of these cars on the vintage circuit, I’m sure more will appear there in the coming years. This will allow some of us to enjoy them for a while longer.
Still as always we have to look on the bright side. That is more Prototype and GTD cars on track. For a GT fanatic such as myself this is very good news. Prototype Challenge was a spec class with all car being of identical design and build. And while some will chide spec racing as not being real racing, it is this type of racing that showcases the skill of the driver as opposed to the pockets of the team owners. But that is a topic for a later day.
Motorsports economics is a very harsh task master. From the mega dollar world of the Le Mans prototypes, thru IndyCar, NASCAR, on down to the weekend club racer. The decision to field, or withdraw a factory backed team is most often a corporate marketing decision and not solely based on cost. However with individually owned teams it all comes down to having the where with all to field and maintain equipment. Sponsorship plays a big part, and the lack of it has caused the demise of many race teams through the years, and continues to do so to this day. Teams have come and gone through the years, but when popular and successful teams cease operation fans feel it most. On the bright side, it is well to remember that as some teams leave the sport, new ones often emerge to replace them.
Our first case is that of Stevenson Motorsports. It’s always sad to hear of a major race team closing their doors, but it is a trend that is sure to play out for years to come. We often receive this type of news at this time of year, the off season. I have watched Stevenson Motorsports go from strength to strength over the years in Grand-AM, IMSA and the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge. Yet to see them leave the sport says a lot about modern sports car racing. Sometimes being consistently competitive just isn’t enough. I can look through my archives and find lots of others, yet it wasn’t any easier to see them go either. We can only wish the team members the best of luck in whatever future endeavors they pursue.
Another team that is leaving is Cadillac Racing’s Pirelli World Challenge team. However this one comes with a bit of a twist. The five time manufacturers title winning team is merely leaving World Challenge to devote their full efforts to their IMSA DPI program. World challenge will not suffer much as they will still have no shortage of exciting highly competitive teams.
The most recent announcement as of this writing is that GAINSSCO/Bob Stallings Racing will cease operations. After having competed in Grand-AM, IMSA, and most recently Pirelli World Challenge.
It is still early in what has come to be known as the silly season, so I am quite sure there are more changes yet to come before racing starts again.
It was once called the Sport of Kings. In the past, races, meets, derbies, or what ever you choose to call them would attract royalty, nobles and the most affluent in society of that day. Today if you were to quiz any ten people most could maybe name one horse race (The Kentucky Derby), maybe two. Most would not know if there was even a horse race track anywhere near them.
Just when the first horse race took place is lost to prehistory, however the first known purse to be offered for a race took place during the reign of Richard the Lion-Heart. £40 was offered to the winner of a race over a 3 mile course with knights as riders. The first national racing rules were drafted during the reign of Charles II between 1661 – 1685.
I must admit that it had been years since I had gone to the track. My vision of what the experience would be like was probably the same as most others. A bunch of cigar chomping curmudgeons in rumpled sports jackets with rolled up racing forms in their back pockets, lamenting how much they had lost that day. What I found when I finally did go was the polar opposite of that. A friendly, fun, family and friend atmosphere is what you find at the track these days. Families, groups of co workers, and birthday parties are the norm. The one that surprises me the most is that Mothers Day and Fathers Day are two of busiest days of the year.
We have several race tracks in the Chicago area. The three main race tracks are:
Arlington Park – Thoroughbred
Hawthorn Park – Thoroughbred and Harness
Maywood Park – Harness (now closed)
We will not go into my thoughts of harness here, we will just focus on Thoroughbred racing. Thoroughbred racing has a rich history in the Chicago area. Presently two of racings major events are held here. The Illinois Derby which in past years has been a points qualifier for the Kentucky Derby. I am not quite sure why that distinction has been taken away. The Arlington Million is currently the one of the highest purses for a single thoroughbred race in the U.S. Million day at Arlington consist of several stakes races, and attracts competitors from around the world. If you even remotely like horse racing, it is a day well spent. Regular days at both Arlington, and Hawthorn parks normally consist of an eight race card of varying purses. Although they are not always big money stakes races, they are still very good quality competitive races. And still a day well spent.
The racing industry in Illinois, and the country as a whole has been in a slow decline for years as people seem to favor other forms of gambling such as casinos and sports betting over it. For me the thought of just sitting in a dark room feeding money into a machine with bells and flashing lights is not very appealing. Watching the action as a thoroughbred sprints around the track, and cheering it on to victory gives more of a sense of participation than just watching wheels on a machine spin. Even if your horse doesn’t win you still feel as if you were part of the action. All in all it makes for a much more enjoyable experience. We can only hope racings fortunes improve in the coming years, and that peoples interest return to the excitement and beauty that is thoroughbred racing, the sport of kings.