Trans-Am, How Fast is it?

(feature image credit Patrick Palony)

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Said red Corvette. Amy Ruman’s Rocketsports built Corvette C6.

The leaden skies hung threateningly over central Minnesota as I rolled into the circuit. The weather that day was of the sort that Raymond Chandler might use as the backdrop for a late night rendezvous between Phillip Marlowe and a woman of questionable past and even more questionable motives, only this was the afternoon. A bolt of bright red insanity roared by when I walked up to the catch fencing, the car contained in that bolt was insane enough to make Gainsco’s Red Dragon look as powerful and as threatening as a bunny. Followed quickly by a whirlwind of sound and fury that made almost every racing car I’d seen up until that point seem rather weak and insignificant. Yes sir, Trans-Am had arrived at Brainerd International Raceway.

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2013 and 2014 series champion Doug Peterson’s Tony Ave built Corvette in the early morning.

When you hear the words “Trans-Am”, what springs to mind? Mark Donohue in a Penske Camaro? Hans Stuck and Hurley Haywood chirping around Road America in their Audi 200s? Irv Hoerr’s V6 Cutlass versus Scott Pruett’s Cougar? Scott Sharp’s Duracell Camaro? Tommy Kendall’s all conquering Ford Mustang? Klaus Graf’s Jaguar? How about Amy Ruman’s bright red Rocketsports’ built Corvette or Simon Gregg in Jim Derhaag’s gorgeous new C7 bodied car? No? Well then, you my friend, have been missing out.

2014 has seen the under the radar resurgence of one quite possibly America’s most beloved road racing series: the Trans-Am Series. After it’s death in 2005, the championship was revived in 2009 by a cadre of team owners including such names as Tony Ave and Jim Derhaag, sanctioned by the SCCA and run to their GT1 rules. But new for this generation was the introduction of the TA2 and TA3 classes: TA2 for a spec Howe tube chassis with modified crate motors (with pony car bodyshells), and TA3 being modified production cars (your Camaros, Mustangs, Porsches etc). Since its revival it has existed on the fringe of the motor racing landscape, making very little inroads into the wider motorsport consciousness, but in mid-2014 it exploded back into light with the announcement that Dodge (via Miller Racing) would be running two factory Challenger TA2 cars for 2013 TA2 champion Cameron Lawrence and (just as big) the return of the prodigal son Tommy Kendall to the fold. But it still lacks a proper media package even though it has balls out spectacular sprint racing this side of World Challenge or the Blancpain Sprint Series. But the big question is: where does it sit in terms of other tin-top series? By introducing some fag packet math into the situation we can get a rough idea.

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The muscle behind Simon Gregg’s machine: a Hendrick Motorsports V8 engine.

We can look at TA through the lens of the three big worldwide GT classes (GT3, GTE and GTD). But the global reach of GT3 opens up the world-namely the other V8 powered space-framey type thing: V8 Supercars in Australia. By finding the average difference in lap time between Trans-Am and GT3/GTE, we can extrapolate that data to find simulated lap times at other circuits that the series does not visit. When possible lap times will be from qualifying, if unavailable they will be taken from fastest race lap.

 

Road America Sebring Road Atlanta Daytona CTMP
TA 2:05.375(Corvette) 2:03.506(Corvette) 1:20.500(Corvette) 1:43.314(Corvette) 1:16.725(Corvette)
GTE 2:03.747(BMW) 1:58.933(Porsche) 1:18.350(Porsche) 1:44.506(Viper) 1:15.206(Viper)
GTD 2:09.079(Aston-Martin) 2:04.258(BMW) 1:22.254(Aston-Martin) 1:46.973
(Audi)
1:19.004(Viper)
Difference +1.628-3.704 +5.427-.752 +2.15-1.754 -1.192-3.659 +1.519-2.279

 

So on average TA is on average 1.8704 seconds slower than GTE, and a rather astonishing 2.4296 seconds faster than GTD.

Now this is where things get rather scientific (well, it uses math so take from that what you will). Because of the lack of shared tracks between Pirelli World Challenge and Trans-Am, we’re going to have to look to Europe. Since we have an average of the difference between TA and GTE, we can take the pole times from the European Le Mans Series, add that number to that and get a theoretical TA lap time from it, and then compare it with ELMS GTC (FIA GT3). I am well aware of the subtle differences in BoP between the various series and sanctioning bodies that run GT3 cars, so this is all just a very rough sketch as it were.

Now keep in mind that this is all theoretical.

Silverstone Imola Red Bull Ring Paul Ricard
GTE 1:57.970 1:39.920 1:29.286 1:55.691
Theoretical TA 1:59.8404 1:41.7901 1:31.1564 1:57.5614
GTC (GT3) 2:00.032 1:42.082 1:30.647 1:57.336
Difference -.1916 -.2919 +.5094 +.2254

Crunch the numbers, and that says that our theoretical TA car is on average .2513 seconds slower than a full-house FIA GT3 car.

Now let’s take these numbers over to Australia and compare that to V8 Supercars.

Bathurst Sandown Sydney Townsville
GT3 2:03.8586 1:08.8147 1:28.6923 1:12.3325
Theoretical TA 2:04.1099 1:09.066 1:28.9436 1:12.5838
V8 Supercar 2:06.3267 1:08.5730 1:29.7131
(Race 28)
1:13.4673(Race 22)
Difference -2.2168 +.493 -.7695 -.8835

That means that our theoretical TA car is on average .8842 seconds faster than a V8 Supercar.

And for shits and giggles, how about NASCAR Nationwide?

Road America Mid-Ohio
TA 2:05.375 1:22.244
NASCAR Nationwide 2:14.411 1:24.787
Difference -9.036 -2.543

 

So that’s an average of 5.7895 seconds faster than a NASCAR Nationwide Series car (admittedly with only two shared tracks to go off of).

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The busy cockpit of Simon Gregg’s Derhaag Motorsports C7 Corvette.

So how does Trans-Am TA generate their lap time? Well they are rather under braked for the power they make (and thus the speeds they reach). Tires? Hoosier makes a very good tire, but it’s a rather hard compound to cope with the tremendous power and torque of the big V8 engines, as well as only being 14 inches wide in the rear. Is it through downforce? While TA cars have a front splitter and a rather large rear wing, they are rather simple affairs, rather than the wind tunnel and CFD tested and designed appendages of the modern FIA or IMSA GT racing machine. They’re certainly not the most nimble of automobiles, being (as they have been since the 1980’s) road racing stock cars. They make their time by spending the least time possible between corners with levels of power that would make Jeremy Clarkson sit down and shut up for 100 miles.

So with all of the “data” that we’ve gathered, we can chart the performance of the TA car. Lap times move closer towards GTE/GT3 cars at more high speed circuits like Road America and Daytona, while falling more towards the NASCAR Nationwide cars as the tracks become tighter and more handling oriented (see Mid-Ohio). In MotoGP terms, the GTE car are Hondas, the GT3 cars are Yamaha, the GTD cars are CRT machines, V8 Supercars are Moto2, and TA is like a Ducati back when they handled. And they manage all this without ABS, traction control or any other fancy electronic gizmos. Only the driver’s balls, brains and footwork to rely on.

The 2015 schedule has just been released, and there’s no better time to have your first TA experience than now. http://gotransam.com/news/index.cfm?cid=61731

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