The 10-hour endurance race starts Saturday, but action starts on Wednesday.
When the green flag fell on the 2014 Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona last January, it not only started the race, but started a new tradition – the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship series. At the end of the 2013 season, the American Le Mans Series and the Grand-Am series combined into the TUDOR Championship, meaning all the top drivers, cars, teams and tracks from each of the two series would be combined into one.
On October 4, this first TUDOR Championship season ends with what promises to be a blockbuster event – the Petit Le Mans Power by Mazda, a tradition in the American Le Mans Series since 1998 that was wisely included in the combined series. As always, it will be held at the historic Road Atlanta in Braselton, Georgia, a challenging, viewer-friendly road course that contains the modern conveniences, packaged inside an “old school” track that has the look and feel of some of the great road courses from around the world.
How so? Because Road Atlanta, built in 1970, isn’t one of those sterile, cookie-cutter, “You can sit here, but you can’t sit there” kind of places. Drive across the bridge, and you are literally inside the tree-filled facility, and you can drive or walk to dozens of excellent vantage points all over the 12-turn, 2.54-mile track. The massive infield is mostly raised, so you can look down on large portions of the track, and in a race like Petit Le Mans – a grueling 10 hours, with 54 cars on the entry list in four classes – count on there being action everywhere.
54 cars, no waiting for action
And speaking of action: With 11 entries in the Prototype class, 11 in the Prototype Challenge class, 11 in the GT Le Mans class and a whopping 21 in the GT Daytona class, you’ve got four different classes on four different strategies, going four different speeds – overtaking, especially as darkness nears, is always compelling for fans, nerve-wracking for competitors, and a genuine challenge for pit crews as they try to guess at the optimum pit procedures.
And you also have four championships to be decided, though CORE Autosport has essentially wrapped up the Prototype Challenge war. It’s a genuine global event – there are drivers from all over Europe and South America, as well as from Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and Thailand. Expect superstars like Christian Fittipaldi, Scott Pruett, Sebastien Bourdais, Max Angelelli, Max Papis, Scott Dixon, Boris Said, Alex Brundle, Bruno Junqueira, Jan Magnussen, Ryan Briscoe, Joey Hand, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Patrick Long, Townsend Bell and – straight from Hollywood – actor/driver/team owner Patrick Dempsey.
Plenty to do
The 10-hour race starts Saturday at 11:15 a.m., but there’s plenty of action before then – between October 1 and 3, there’s practice, qualifying and racing not only in the TUDOR Championship series, but in preliminary events including the Porsche GT3 Cup, the Continental Tire Challenge, Prototype Lites and the Lamborghini Trofeo series. There’s a Vendor Village for souvenir seekers.
A full schedule – including autograph sessions for fans -- and ticket information can be found at RoadAtlanta.com. Miss it, and you’ll likely miss what has become annually one of the world’s best sports car races.