It used to be a Corvette. Really. Honestly. Then, two weeks before the Rolex 24 Hour Race at Daytona, GM decided to call all the Crawford Daytona Prototypes Pontiacs. The good part was they got to keep their Corvette engines. Oh, they also got to keep their Corvette taillights. I've decided to call these cars the Pontiac Z06. After all, it still has the LS6 engine-the very same engine that a lot of you guys have in your late-model Corvettes.
The Grand American Road Racing Association (i.e. NASCAR) came up with a plan for sports car racing back in 2002. The wizards that brought us NASCAR looked at sports car racing and decided it was time for a change. The France family had grown tired of the automobile companies coming into racing and spending a zillion dollars and then leaving after three years.
The France clan wanted to create a sports car series where the average multi-millionaire would stand a chance of winning. Level the playing field and give everyone a chance, or at least everyone with a huge pile of money. Thus was born the Daytona Prototype class.
When Grand Am announced this new idea for sports car racing in North America, there were more skeptics than supporters. The whole idea of very tight rules and unchanging specifications had never been tried in sports car racing before. Traditionally, the teams that spent the most money won. Lobbying for rules changes was also a fact of life in sports car racing; Porsche and Audi have proved that theory any number of times.
Grand Am also had this novel idea that the driver ought to play a role in winning. (Can anyone name the drivers who won LeMans last year?) In some series, the car is the star, and in other series, the driver is the star. Real quick now, can you name the drivers that won Sebring last year? You also know the Corvette races at LeMans, but can you name any of the drivers besides Ron Fellows?
This novel idea for reorganizing American sports car racing was unsettling to a lot of the traditional sports car fans who predicted doom for the Daytona Prototype cars.
Make all the cars equal and the average fan can not only figure it out, but actually enjoy it. This has worked for NASCAR, and it's now working for sports car racing. There are still three classes this season, but next year's plan is to go with just two classes. Interestingly enough, both these classes will be similar in speed. Neither of the two classes will be faster than the other over five or six hours of racing.
One class will consist of the Daytona Prototypes, and the other class will be for GT cars-otherwise known as the Porsche class. Chevrolet at one time had an interest in this class but quickly pulled back. The money was then spent on the C5-R in the American LeMans Series. Ford, Toyota, Porsche, and BMW jumped into the Prototype class last year.
GM arrived a year late to the party, but they're in it big time now. Gary Claudio (one of GM's performance mavens with a corporate checkbook) is on the scene, not to mention a legion of PR types whose main job seems to be taking dealer's wives (all dressed in very expensive casual clothes) around the garage area and having Robby Gordon pose for pictures with them. When the PR minions show up with large expense accounts, you know the factory effort is serious.
The key to this whole thing is to limit everything, including the engines. Once again think NASCAR. This Daytona Prototypes and Grand Am racing became a natural for Flis Racing. Troy Flis spent the past year as crew chief for the Powell Motorsports Grand Am Cup cars. These guys know the LS6 engine better than you know your way to the local mall.
What's A Crawford?When it came for the Flis family to purchase a car, the Crawford seemed the way to go. I think GM had more than a little influence in this decision since all the Crawfords this year are using Corvette LS6 power. Do I detect a really huge relationship between GM and Crawford?
The folks at Grand Am have a very strict set of rules about the cars. Only seven companies in the world are allowed to build them. If there's a part on these cars, there's also a rule about this part.
The idea is that if you pay $500,000 (okay, maybe $750,000) for a car, it shouldn't be obsolete six months later. The goal is that you can race this same car for several years. The accountants out there already know about amortization-so do the guys who can afford to race these cars.
Crawford, coupled with the Corvette Pontiac engine, seems to be the hot ticket this year. Max Crawford has spent most of his career working on Porsches. Then he spent some time developing the Taurus Aero Program for Ford. Once GM decided to get involved in Grand Am racing, a few phone calls were placed and Max Crawford was ready to embark on a brand new composite adventure. The best part is that the Crawford may be the nicest-looking car in the whole series.
The EngineThe engine rules are very simple. If it makes more power you can't do it. Grand Am approved the "LS6 V-8 two-valve push rod engine with a maximum displacement 5.5-liter (stock bore, 3.898, and a maximum stroke of 3.50 inches). The maximum rpm is 6,500. The maximum valve lift is 0.585-inch with a rocker arm ratio of 1.7:1. Only the stock LS6 single throttle body (2.992-inch diameter) on the stock LS6-approved intake manifold is approved, and 10.5:1 is the maximum compression ratio. The Grand Am rule book also says this engine may be branded as a Chevrolet, Pontiac, or Cadillac with visible Chevrolet, Pontiac, or Cadillac brand identification located on the intake or valve covers."
What we have here essentially the same engine that's in your Z06, with the intake manifold turned around. The power isn't even that much greater. The headers don't even add very much power. If the exhaust system was fully developed, Grand Am would simply find another way to lower the power on the engine. This could be done by restricting the air intake or limiting the rpm. One Flis crew member simply stated, "So what's the point of even trying to find more power?"
Racing has always been about who is fastest within a given set of rules. If the cars get too fast, then the rules are changed. The size of the rulebook varies, but the program is basically the same all over the world. Now you understand why GM is getting heavily involved in the Grand Am series. This is a chance to get the Corvette Pontiac some recognition.
I happen to think that running the same engine that some of you have in your Z06 Corvette is a good thing. Even better, it sounds just like a loud version of your car. Anytime I can go to a race track and listen to an open exhaust on a Corvette, sorry, Pontiac, it's a good day.
Richard Newton's most recent book is 101 Projects for Your Corvette 1984-1996. He has also written two other best-selling Corvette books. One deals with the 1968 to 1982 Corvettes, How to Restore and Modify Your Corvette 1968-82, while another deals with the Sting Rays from '63-67, Corvette Restoration Guide 1963-1967. All of these books are available from MBI, visit www.motorbooks.com or call (800) 826-6600.