The return of the Camaro to GM showrooms in 2010 also heralded its return to road racing circuits, both here in the United States and abroad. Domestically, one of the highest-profile race series is the GRAND-AM Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge, run as the featured support event for the Rolex Sports Car Series. With major modifications permitted only to improve safety, the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge is made up of two classes of race cars.
The big-bore Grand Sport (GS) class features a rules package that allows exotic international machines like the Porsche 996 and 997, Nissan 350Z, BMW M3 and others to go head-to-head with American iron such as the Dodge Challenger, and of course the new Camaro. The smaller Street Tuner (ST) class is GRAND-AM’s offering to the import and compact car crowd, with the Mazda RX-8 and Mazda MX-5, Chevrolet Cobalt SS, Dodge SRT4, Mini Cooper S, Acura TSX, a variety of BMWs and other models eligible. To keep competition tight, the source of the cars entered is closely controlled, and if you want to race the new Camaro in Grand Sport, you must go through Riley Technologies.
“It’s a little bit different in the Grand-Am and Europe. The way they do the rules they typically like one company to build the cars,” explains Kenneth Swan of Riley Technologies. In the Continental Series you must order a car from an approved provider of whatever model you choose. For the Camaro, Riley is the sole source.
Riley Technologies specializes in Daytona Prototypes cars – with wins in the 24-Hours-of-Daytona for six years in a row now, Riley has become the one to beat. They own and operate their own team along with building cars for other customers. Riley has had their hands in almost every form of road course racing, from late-model NASCAR, to GT2 Corvettes, to Trans-AM cars. PowerTV took a shop tour of Riley in February to see the Camaro race cars in production at this Mecca of road course racing.
The Camaro racecar debuted last fall at Virginia International Raceway in the season-ender for the Grand Sports (GS) under the Stevenson Motorsports banner. The car’s blue and yellow racing livery was modeled after the 1969 Trans-Am series Penske Sunoco Camaro, one of the most famous and recognizable racecars in Trans-Am history.
This year the Rolex 24 at Daytona began with six Camaros on the starting grid, no DNF’s, and the #57 Stevenson entry 11th overall and fourth in the GT class. The second race of the season brought a fifth place in GS for the #6 car, and three Camaros in the top ten.
Riley made the leap back into crafting GM factory-based racers after the Camaro was reintroduced for the 2010 model year and GM selected them as the builders. Many at Riley saw the new Camaro being well worth the wait since 2002, citing the new independent rear suspension, LS3 motor, and even the fuel tank as being improvements over the 4th-gen car for road course racing.
“The technology is more up-to-date than many people might think. The Camaro already competed in the American GrandAm Sports Car Challenge last year, so the car is competition-proven,” said Frans Verschuur, head of Equipe Verschuur Autosport, the Dutch dealership and motorsports team that is the sole provider of Riley Camaros in Europe. Verschuur sees opportunities for the Camaro in endurance races. “Especially for European competition, we have opted for Moton shock absorbers and a Bosch competition anti-lock braking system,” said Verschuur. The euro-spec Riley Camaro GT4 is projected to sell for around €135,000 (approximately $180,600 US).
Two cars are destined for shipment to Europe to start, with one already delivered and the one shown here on the way. Verschuur has not made any driver announcements yet, but he intends to run in the Dutch GT4 Championship for a full season. “Our goal was to get back to that market place and look to sell some more cars,” said Riley Technologies’ Swan.
In order for the car to run in Europe, the Stéphane Ratel Organisation (SRO) and the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) must inspect the car and have it homologated, which means it will be the standard that all Camaros must meet. This makes sure it does not have an unfair advantage over the competition. The ECU programming, shocks, and whether they use traction control or not are just a few of many of the issues that must be addressed before the Camaro is accepted.
“We’re fully confident the car will be homologated,” said Swan, who has been in touch with the SRO and FIA during the entire build process. Swan and Bill Riley recently returned from delivering the first Camaro for inspection. After the car is homologated it will be eligible to run all over Europe. Riley will then be the sole manufacturer and Equipe Verschuur will be the sole dealer and the ‘go-to’ source for teams running the new Camaro.
“The GT4 series races all over Europe, so our goal was to get back into Europe. To have a relationship with an established team in the series is good for us,” said Swan about Verschuur’s involvement. “It’s nice to get our feet wet over there again.”
Swan is one of the big shots at Riley and served as our tour guide for the day. He is essentially third in command and carries the title of team manager, along with being one of the driving forces in getting the Camaro to Europe.
“[The Camaro] should be a quality car over there. It will be a good economical car. A lot of parts are easy to find, and the euro to dollar [exchange rate] is a big help to us.”
Riley Technologies started out with sports cars and did Trans-Am series cars roughly ten years ago, which are closest in spirit and construction to today’s Continental Series cars. Over time, Riley phased out of the Trans-Am series, moving into GT and GTP cars.
“We moved into World Sports Car series, GTP and Daytona Prototype. Started doing GT Cars, Mazda RX8’s, and then a Corvette for [former World Challenge GT champion] Lou Gigliotti, so this kind of seemed like a natural progression for us to get back with GM,” said Swan. “Chevrolet talked to a lot of different people about it, and they selected us to build the car.”
GM built the first 2010 Camaro racecar, which is currently in Riley’s shop. While it was used as a template for the following builds, the current racecars are not identical, incorporating improvements developed in-house. The original GM car, which was the third New Camaro off the production line, is still employed as a mule to test new parts.
So how hard is it to turn a 2010 Camaro from showroom-stock to race-ready? “The good thing is it’s an all new car,” says Swan. “It’s a nicely designed car from scratch, which is great when you want to turn the car into a racecar,” said Swan.
Building a racecar starting with a brand new Camaro that has less than three digits accumulated on the odometer is always going to be easier than stripping down and rebuilding a tired vintage chassis, but even so, there are typically new-model bugs that don’t get worked out until the factory’s had some time to get into the groove. According to Swan this isn’t the case for the new Camaro.
“It’s nice to be able to find a street car and be able to turn it into a racecar with no major problems. And rare!” said Swan, after the cars have run a handful of races this season. “That [credit] goes to the engineers at Chevrolet and Riley. It’s great to have a car that runs pretty well right out of the box. At Daytona they all ran really strong with no major problems.”
Teams will be able to select from a complete turn-key race car, a complete unassembled car kit, an unassembled car less purchased parts, and a Riley Technologies Body In White fitted with a roll cage, depending on where the customer intends to run the Camaro.
The major benefits for doing such are not only the leveled playing field of competition but ongoing support from Riley. The company brings parts trailers and technicians to every Continental race where they examine the cars and perform updates or fix problems for all of the Camaros Riley sells.
“We are still trying to improve those cars and get them running up front [in GS] which will translate to the GT4 cars running up front,” said Swan. “Any of the teams can call us and we can help out at any time.”
“The addition of the Camaro to the [Continental] Challenge GS class has been anticipated since our first peek at the car, and it’s sure to become an instant fan favorite,” said Grand-Am Vice President of Competition David Spitzer. “We are glad to support GM Racing, and their selection of Riley as the supplier of both cars and kits. They have a track record of safe and successful race cars, and excellent customer service. Grand-Am will work closely with GM Racing and Riley to ensure the Camaro is priced fairly.”
The GS-spec Riley Camaro will be delivered ready to race for $130,000, with deposits currently being accepted. Time to crack open the piggy bank, kids!