2013 Toyota Prius. Click image to enlarge
Article and Photos by Lesley Wimbush
Austin, Texas – A brand new motorsports track originally constructed to host the Formula Grand Prix, the Circuit of the Americas is 5.153 km long and features 20 turns with elevation changes of over 40 metres (133 feet). Some of the world’s most renowned raceways inspired its construction, and many of the track’s turns are recreations of their historic turns. Great, sweeping bends encourage multiple racing lines and more passing, to the great enjoyment of racing fans.
Both the American Le Mans Series and the World Endurance Challenge made their inaugural debuts at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) this past weekend, in front of a combined estimated three-day crowd of 33,591 fans – despite torrential rains on the Friday.
It was a double-header weekend featuring endurance racing of the finest calibre – a two hour and 45-minute ALMS (American Le Mans Series) race on Saturday, followed by the six-hour WEC (World Endurance Championship) on Sunday. Both races are modelled after the 24 Hours of Le Mans – the greatest endurance race of them all – which consists of multiple classes of cars from modified sports car to purpose-built prototypes.
It was the fifteenth and final season for the ALMS, which will be replaced by United Sports Car Racing next season.
With the return of the SRT Viper this year, the hot competition was in the GT1 sports car class, with the Viper and nemesis Corvette waging some steamy battles over the course of the season. This round belonged to Corvette, although the #93 Viper driven by Jonathan Bomarito put up a fierce fight to come in second.
Sunday’s six-hour World Endurance Race was a continuation of the epic battle between Audi and Toyota during the 24 Hours of Le Mans in Sarthe, France where Audi took first and third, Toyota second and fourth.
In Austin, a single Toyota went up against a pair of Audis in a heated struggle during which theToyota TS030 managed to force one of the Audis off-track – and yet another became airborne after a rear punt from one of the GT cars. Although Audi was again on the podium taking first and third, the Toyota managed an impressive second place.
On no other world stage would those two auto manufacturers be considered competitors – since they inhabit very different realms of the automotive market. Yet, not only do Audi’s R18 E-Tron Quattro and the Toyota TS030 represent the very top tier of endurance racing – they have more in common than you may think.
2013 ALMS Double-Header at Circuit of the Americas. Click image to enlarge
Both of these prototype vehicles represent the ultimate efforts of their respective technology and engineering departments – and both are hybrids.
But what does this have to do with the average consumer – especially the typical commuter who has no interest in motorsports of any kind?
Audi has enjoyed spectacular success in endurance racing – dominating at every stage of world competition. A veritable juggernaut with an overwhelming presence at Le Mans, Audi’s success in the gruelling world of endurance can’t help but have a trickle-down effect on the public’s perception of Audi toughness and durability.
As for Toyota – the TS030 not only embodies the next level of their hybrid technology leadership – it goes a long way towards erasing their long-held reputation for building boring and soulless transportation, and a return to their sportier roots.
But does that old adage of “win on Sunday, sell on Monday” still hold any relevance today?
The 2012 Motorsport Sponsorship Report issued by Foresight research in Rochester, Michigan suggests that many buyers are still influenced either directly, through attending events, or indirectly, through marketing perception or peers.
More than 16 percent of buyers who attended a motorsport event claimed that it had significant impact on their buying decisions. One out of five buyers participating in the survey had watched racing on television, while one in twelve had actually attended.
According to the report, typical motorsports fans love cars and trucks, and tend to spread their opinions and advice. Some 44 percent of race goers will share their recommendations with their peer group who are in the market to buy.
Racing influences those outside of this sphere too, with up to 25 percent of new vehicle buyers having occasionally watched at least one event on television.
Many buyers just aren’t interested in raw performance from their daily drivers and have even less interest in racing. Yet some of our greatest vehicle technology breakthroughs originated to cope with the rigours of on-track competition.