Leading Grand-Am Rolex Series GT team Stevenson Motorsports is planning to exit the category at the conclusion of the 2013 season, parking its race-winning Camaro in favor of conducting a full-season campaign in the Continental Tire Series.
As team manager Mike Johnson told RACER on Monday, concerns over the disparity in speed between the USCR's GT Daytona (GTD) cars, which its Rolex GT Camaro would run under, and the significantly faster American Le Mans GT cars, which will race unchanged in the newly branded USCR GT Le Mans (GTLM) class, is just one of the issues that led to the decision.
“We're definitely out of Rolex GT,” said Johnson. “If we still have the [GT] Camaro in the shop, we might choose to do Daytona, but our focus for next year will be the Continental series. It's a lot of money to do a GTD program for not a lot of benefit. If you figure a GTLM, DP and P2 are all 10 seconds a lap faster than us, or whatever it ends up being at most tracks, and there's 30 or more cars running that much faster than us at every track, you're going to spend the race in the marbles just trying to get out of the way.”
Stevenson enters Camaros in both series, with drivers Robin Liddell and John Edwards having already earned four Rolex GT wins and the inaugural North American Endurance Championship. The duo currently holds second in the season-long GT championship, making the specter of losing one of the top Rolex Series teams due to choice, rather than budget woes or other pitfalls rather surprising.
The team's Continental Tire Series entry, piloted by Edwards and Matt Bell, is second in the GS class standings with one win and three podiums, and with Stevenson's pending switch, the production-based championship receive full attention from the North Carolina-based outfit in 2014.
“While it's not the favorite choice for us, our owners and drivers, we have the [GS] car, the Conti schedule will be amazing – the best it's ever had, you'll get live TV, although it will be on Fox Sports 2, and you can sit back, wait for the [USCR] to figure itself out and what they're doing and save ourselves a lot of money.
“After the Conti race at Daytona, maybe the Stevenson's will want to stay over Friday night and tell us to roll the [GTD] Camaro out to go play, but at this point, our main plans are being redirected to Conti next season.”
A change to the driver classification system for GTD has also influenced Stevenson's decision. The new requirement for one pro-am driver to be used in every car – a change from the current rules that allow an all-pro lineup – means GTD teams like Stevenson Motorsports will need to comply and ditch a Liddell or Edwards in order to continue.
Stevenson has had success with pro-am drivers in the past, but it often came in a second Rolex GT entry and was also done by choice. Forfeiting that choice, according to Johnson, isn't the greatest concern for the team, but losing the ability to market its cars as the second-fastest machines in the USCR evenrts has become a limiting factor.
“Maybe you get through the first few laps and enjoy that, but before too long, the whole field is going to be blowing by you like you're standing still,” continued Johnson. “There's not a lot of fun in that situation, especially for the gentleman drivers who are supposed to be a big part of the GTD class. It's tough to see how you're going to have a bunch of guys lining up to pay for that experience.
“The bottom line is we're like everyone else waiting for the series to say something about where it wants to take the GT class in the future.”