Can-Am spec car revival: Will it work in 2015?

Unlimited Racing Championship to pair with Pirelli World Challenge at four tracks.

Can-Am spec car revival: Will it work in 2015?
Unlimited Racing Championship (URC) as the new “Heritage Series” for the 2012 season and beyond
Unlimited Racing Championship (URC) as the new “Heritage Series” for the 2012 season and beyond

“The new series that will save auto racing in America,” was the headline on the story posted on the Jalopnik web site on September 17, 2011, proving once again how much Jalopnik knows about motorsports.

The series never fully launched, despite that endorsement. And now, the Unlimited Racing Championship is back again, paired with Pirelli World Challenge events at Circuit of the Americas, Road America, Miller Motorsports Park and Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

The cars are undeniably interesting: Copies of the Can-Am cars that ran to great acclaim from 1966 to 1974 – open-cockpit cars driven by heroes like Mark Donohue, Jackie Stewart, Bruce McLaren and Denny Hulme. The original cars were essentially unlimited, built to a short list or rules, but these new cars in the Unlimited Racing Championship are hardly “unlimited” – they are spec cars with 496-cubic-inch Chevrolet V-8s capable of up to 700 horsepower, but adjustable downward as the driver gets used to the car.

The first real launch of the car was in 2011, when it was supposed to join the American Le Man Series in 2012, with a welcome from Scott Atherton, the president and CEO of the ALMS. “The American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón is thrilled to welcome the Unlimited Racing Championship, which will be joining a number of ALMS events in 2012,” said Atherton. “This ‘Heritage Series’ will provide more variety and a modern day link to the past for our many fans next year. The new initiative establishes a direct connection to the history of sports car racing in North America with the sights and sounds of an era of extreme speed and power – the revolutionary Can-Am Challenge Cup of the 1960s and 70s.”

But the series never reached the level Atherton and Jalopnik expected, likely in part because of the price tag: $485,000 per copy.

So now, they are trying again.

"The Pirelli World Challenge is looking forward to having the Unlimited Racing Championship competing at four of our Pirelli World Challenge headliner events in 2015," said Scott Bove, President and CEO of Pirelli World Challenge. "Having the URC at these events will help create the fan experience we are targeting for these events."

Years in the making

"This project has been years in the making," said Richard Nauert, founder of the Unlimited Racing Championship and designer of the NuArt CanAm car. "We analyzed the original Can-Am cars, remaining true to the visual, as well as spiritual concept. Components like big block engines, 12-inch steel brakes, and Can-Am intakes were just some of the historical elements we maintained in the NuArt CanAm car. Despite the obvious tribute to the original cars, we loaded them with modern technology. The technology is specifically to make them safe, have great reliability, and be flexible for a wide range of driver skills."

The format is for four events with two 30-minute races at each of the circuits of COTA, Road America, Miller Motorsports and Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Cars will be fully prepped for the owner/driver by the URC series organizer and ready to race at each venue.

Unlike early Can Am cars, the NuArt Can Am places the driver’s feet behind the center-line of the front wheel, and incorporates perimeter crush structures on both sides, and in front. The driver’s compartment accommodates drivers of up to 6’5” in height, and 280 pounds in weight. And, there is passenger "safety seat" accommodation, for occasions where track rides are warranted for the uninitiated. There’s power steering and a traditional close-ratio “H” pattern gearbox.

Southwestern Performance, the company that builds the car, is no newcomer to the sport. Founded in 1990, it has produced chassis and other parts in the racing world for cars in top level pro series, such as IMSA GTPs, CART, Indy Lights, ALMS, Toyota Atlantics and many others. In 1997, Southwestern Performance invented the removable safety seat for formula cars, and introduced it at the Indy 500. This original seat was the inspiration for the seat used as the standard for Formula 1 and other series around the world, including NASCAR today. Southwestern Performance was the prime subcontractor for the chassis on every production Saleen S7.

The car has won acclaim by some test drivers, including Jason Saini, who drove it at the Autobahn Country Club in Chicago. Following the drive, the company quoted Saini as saying, “I wasn't ready to be finished, the car is so easy to drive, so forgiving, it just inspires confidence and I was looking for even the most subtle hint that the limit was being approached -- but it never came.”

Undeniably, this is an interesting car, and an interesting project, but we thought that in 2011. too. Will it fly in 2015 paired with the Pirelli World Challenge? We’ll see.


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