TUDOR United SportsCar

TUSCC: Can Corvette Bounce Back In 2015?

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — A new champion will be crowned in the GT Le Mans division of the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship in 2015, as the loss of one major marque has opened the door for four others to move to the top of the mountain. With Chrysler closing the doors on its Dodge Viper GTS-R program after three seasons in the U.S., the last of which netted them both the TUSCC’s Team and Driver Championships, the eight liter, V-10 powered monsters will be absent from the American road and street circuits, with the cars on the verge of being claimed by overseas teams interested in using them in the European Le Mans Series next season, minus factory support.

Less one of the Detroit automobile superpowers in 2015, this does not necessarily mean that the General Motors’ Chevrolet Corvette C7.R is the GTLM champion in waiting. While the new for 2014 vehicles bounced back in a big way from a lackluster opening two appearances at Daytona and Sebring respectively, the Pratt & Miller Engineering-led squad buckled badly following a major change in the Balance of Performance settings by IMSA which added 25 extra kilograms of ballast to the car prior to the Brickyard Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. From that point to the end of the season, the team struggled mightily to find a balance in terms of speed, handling, and performance which accordingly led to a consistent decrease on their lead until the Dodge Viper jumped them following the penultimate race of the season at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. Unfortunately, Corvette Racing would not have a chance to answer back as a Porsche-created pile up in the pit lane at the Petit Le Mans season finale at Road Atlanta essentially ended their hopes at the title.

Following the heartbreaking end to the season, Corvette has been busy during the time off, improving both the outright speed of their C7.R package, but also looking to create a car that can adapt better to the changes in the BoP that will likely occur yet again (positive or negative) during the season. At this point it is expected that the full time driving tandems of Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia along with Tommy Milner and Oliver Gavin will remain unaltered in 2015, but the identitites of the North American Endurance Cup third drivers is still in doubt. Ryan Briscoe and Robin Liddell joined the tandems at Daytona, Sebring, and Road Atlanta last season but neither is signed for 2015. With Chrysler’s elimination, there is an outside chance that GM could make a run at any of the now free agent drivers minus Jonathan Bomarito, who has joined the SpeedSource Mazda diesel prototype team for 2015.

If Corvette is the favorite in GTLM for 2015, the challenger in waiting could be Porsche North America. The Core autosport-run program started 2014 strong by claiming wins at both Daytona and Sebring, but then slipped behind Corvette in the next several events. The 911 RSR was aided by mid-season BoP adjustments, but would suffer from an unusual for Porsche run of mechanical maladies which cost them an additional two wins at Indianapolis and Texas respectively. The driving pairs for 2015 are unknown at the time Rubbings Racing went to press, but neither the No. 911 or No. 912 entry may feature the services of American Patrick Long, who is expected to join actor and amateur driver Patrick Dempsey to pilot a Porsche RSR in the GTE-Amateur class of the FIA World Endurance Championship next season. Even without Long, Porsche still has a plethora of talented factory drivers to choose from, including Nick Tandy, Richard Lietz, Patrick Pilet, and Earl Bamber among others.

Porsche’s chances for glory in GTLM however, are not limited to the factory outfit as the Falken Tire-shod privateer 911 RSR from Derrick Walker’s shop will return to the grid in 2015. After skipping last year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona, the green and blue liveried cars were forced to play catch-up for much of the 2014 season, before catching fire in the later rounds including a near miss second place finish in Virginia and their second consecutive GTLM class victory in the Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta. With the team starting on equal footing this year at Daytona, both Bryan Sellars and his co-driver Wolf Henzler should always be on the coattails of the factory backed cars and will be ready to step up and grab the brass ring should the big dogs stub their toes along the way.

It is hard to believe that among the multiple GTLM race winners during the 2014 TUSCC season, the Rahal Letterman Lanigan-run BMW Z4 GTEs were not among them. A lack of pace and grunt from their V-8 power plant was partly to blame, but despite that handicap the team managed to pose a threat in the points standings for the first two-thirds of the season before fading late. After a little bit of an unknown future for the program, in which rumors spread that a different organization would acquire the keys to it, RLLR and BMW agreed to a contract extension last week that also included some adjustments in the driving lineups. While Bill Auburlen, Dirk Werner, and John Edwards all return to the full time roster, the final spot will be taken by ex-Porsche and Audi driver Lucas Luhr, who has a highly successful resume in terms of American grand touring sports car racing competition victories. An equally talented group of extra drivers for the NAEC rounds, including IndyCar star Graham Rahal and World Touring Car Championship regular Augusto Farfus will feature at both Daytona and Sebring. While questions remain with engine power output for this season, it would be a surprise if BMW went without a win for a second consecutive season.

While not a factory program per se, Risi Competizione’s Ferrari 458 Italia was a persistent pest to the GTLM front runners in 2014, claiming back to back wins in Virginia and Wisconsin late in the year. While the team got off to a horrendous start by crashing out of the first two events and suffering other incidents along the way, the team still managed to be in contention more often than not and like Team Falken Tire was able to keep the bigger squads honest. Unlike Falken however, the team has yet to officially confirm its program for 2015, whilst also exploring options in the lower GT Daytona class. If they do appear track side in 2015, they should be able to make some noise during the upcoming season.

While known more for their success in the FIA World Endurance Championship, Aston Martin’s Vantage V8 is expected to make a limited number of runs in the TUSCC next season. 2015 could be viewed as a redemption year for the English marque after a disappointing effort at the 2014 Rolex 24 at Daytona led them to withdraw from the remainder of the North American Endurance Cup races. With IMSA having allotted the entry multiple performance helpers in terms of the BoP settings, the Vantage V8 should present a greater threat to the full time runners this year, despite the fact the driving lineup led by Canadian amateur Paul Dalla Lana could be limited on talent. That could change however, if FIA WEC regulars Darren Turner and Stefan Mucke join the party.

EMBURY’S OUTLOOK

With Balance of Performance adjustments likely to once again influence the flow of the championship, I expect the 2015 GT Le Mans championship battle to be just as close as this year’s, if not closer. While Porsche and BMW have made significant gains in 2014, I still think Corvette is the team to beat in 2015. Pratt & Miller needed a full year to learn all the intricacies of the C7.R in race trim and if they are better suited to handle the BoP changes, there is no reason to keep them off the number one line at this point. Not only is Corvette eager to make up for the second half slide, but also are eager to claim victories at Daytona, Sebring, Road Atlanta, and the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance races in which mechanical gremlins or just plain bad luck kept them out of the winner circle. With growing pains somewhat dealt with, Corvette is my pick to stand out from the rest of the challengers in 2015.

Stay tuned to Rubbings Racing for further off season news and 2015 previews of the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship and the FIA World Endurance Championship.

 

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About Matt Embury

Matt Embury is the Senior SportsCar Writer at Rubbings Racing and can be followed on Twitter (@MattEmbury) for the latest sports car news and opinions. A native of Mishawaka, Indiana, he has been following sports car racing for nearly 20 years.

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