Photo Credit: ALMS.com
The future of sports car racing in North America just got a bit more interesting with Wednesday’s announcement that NASCAR’s Grand-AM Series and the American Le Mans Series would merge into one entity beginning in 2014. Also included in the merger is Road Atlanta and the racing lease on Sebring International Raceway.
Grand-AM founder Jim France and ALMS founder Don Panoz made the announcement Wednesday morning in Daytona Beach. Joining them was Scott Atherton, ALMS President and Ed Bennett, Grand-Am President.
There are a lot of details still to be worked out including the make up of the classes, schedules and how to combine the best elements of each series. The consensus is that there will be a 12 race season, starting with the 24 Hours of Daytona in January.
For Corvette Racing fans, one of the key issues is whether or not the new entity will be able to maintain its relationship with the ACO, the governing body for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The current agreement is only through 2013. The ACO regulates the technical aspects of the cars that race in any of the Le Mans classes and provides invitations for teams who win at Sebring or Petit Le Mans, as well as for teams that win the Championship in their class.
Corvette Racing’s Doug Fehan has called Le Mans the cornerstone of the factory-backed program. He was quoted by Racer.com prior to this morning’s official announcement:
“We’re in the position of being very happy with the way things were going, for the most part. The classification of GT racing in the American Le Mans Series, I think it’s the best GT racing that this country has ever seen.
“From whatever this new organization looks like, in 2014, they need to pay close attention to how close that is, and don’t fix something that’s not broken. I can tell you for 2013, we’re solid. That’s not an issue. What form it will take and what it will look like in 2014, is open to conjecture, and we have to wait on how this organization comes together, what it looks like, and obviously make our decisions based on that.
“Any prudent businessman would take cause and wait to see. Maybe we’ll have some answers after Wednesday, although I highly doubt it. I’m not certain how much of 2014 is sorted between the two of them, I’m not sure yet.’
“It’ll be a challenging time for us, and for all our decision-making, on how we’ll look as we go forward. We’re in the American Le Mans Series now because, for our needs, it’s a much better fit. The association with the ACO, ability to compete on a global stage at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, that’s been the cornerstone of the program. Chevrolet is a global brand. Corvette is the tip of that spear. Now we have to see how that may change.
“If it changes, we have to take a look at where we are to meet all our marketing objectives. We have always gone forward with all options on the table. We evaluate where we are during and at the conclusion of each year.”
ALMS President and CEO Scott Atherton, who will be President of the new organization, seemed to calm those fears at Wednesday’s press conference:
“From our very first meeting, from when Jim [France] and I sat down in February, he made the comment that he thought it was an important priority to retain the relationship with the ACO and to retain the link to Le Mans,” Atherton said.
“I think we’ll all admit that it’s easier said that done, but our vision and plan is to retain that relationship. Don had that idea many, many years ago. There are 15 years of equity established in that relationship. We’re up to the task.”
An official statement from Mark Reuss, President of GM North America said “This is an exciting moment in sports car racing. This merger combines the best attributes of GRAND-AM Road Racing and the American Le Mans Series to create a singularly focused series. Congratulations to Jim France and Dr. Don Panoz on having the passion for sports car racing and the vision to take it to the next level. The joining of these two series will provide a foundation for Chevrolet to develop technologies and race cars with tremendous relevancy to the production vehicles we sell today and in the future.”
As far as driver reactions, Oliver Gavin tweeted “First 2 races in 2014 will be Daytona 24hrs, then 12hrs Sebring!! Amazing races to start season!!”
This new racing series has the potential to take sports car racing in North America to new heights. We can only hope that the exceptional racing we’ve seen in GT is maintained as well as the links to Le Mans. It’s going to take a good amount of time for all this to come together and I wouldn’t be surprised not to hear anything concrete prior to 2013.
You can watch the Grand-AM/ALMS merger announcement in its entirety at www.alms.com.
For more on the Grand-AM/ALMS merger, check out the excellent reporting by John Dagy at speedtv.com.
Bondurant School of High Performance Driving