GRAND-AM, ALMS Sports Car Series To Merge
By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
Begining in 2014, there will be just one major sports car series operating in the United States as officials of the Rolex GRAND-AM and American Le Mans Series announced Wednesday that they will merge their operations.
The announcement was made during a press conference held at Daytona International Speedway, site of the historic Daytona 24-hour race.
“I think that sports car racing has distinct possibilities,” Jim France, co-founder of the GRAND-Am Series said, and that the merger will help those possibilities be realized.
“The world is our oyster,” Dr. Don Panoz, founder of the American Le Mans Series, said.
The new series will have a new name but that name is yet to be determined. Also to be determined is a schedule and the number of races to be held in 2014, though officials said that 12 races would be a workable number. Both the Daytona 24 and Sebring 12-hour races will remain on the schedule.
The big hurdle the series must clear over the next year and a half is settling on a rules and specification formula for the prototype and GT classes, officials said Wednesday.
Whatever form the new series takes, every effort will be made to maintain the relationship between it and the 24-hour race at Le Mans and the racing body which sanctions that annual event.
Under terms of the merger, the following entities will combine with GRAND-AM: the American Le Mans Series; the International Motor Sports Association, which sanctions ALMS events; the Road Atlanta race track facility in Braselton, Ga.; the Chateau Elan Hotel and Conference Center in Sebring, Fla.; and Sebring International Raceway, via a reassignment of the lease agreement with the Sebring Airport Authority to operate the raceway.
The ALMS began in 1999 with Grand-Am starting a year later, both attempting to fill the gap left by the end of the IMSA GT Championship which had operated from 1971 to 1998.
Both sanctioning bodies will continue to operate separate schedules in 2013 before racing under one banner in 2014 beginning with North America’s premier sports car race, the 52nd annual Rolex 24 At Daytona. A board of directors has been formed to operate the new combined organization with France as chairman andPanoz as vice chairman. Other members: NASCAR Vice Chair/Executive Vice President Lesa France Kennedy, GRAND-AM President/CEO Ed Bennett, ALMS President/CEO Scott Atherton and NASCAR Vice President/Deputy General Counsel Karen Leetzow.
“Today’s announcement will transform sports car racing on this continent, along with having world-wide industry implications,” said Bennett. “Aside from the organizations involved, everybody wins: drivers, teams, manufacturers, sponsors, tracks – and most all, the fans.
“This new approach is going to be revolutionary, as we take the best components from two premium brands, combine them and then benefit mutually from the considerable resources both sides will bring to our efforts. This is a bold move – and the right one – for the long-term, optimum growth of sports car racing.”
Added Atherton: “This merger will blend the best assets and attributes of each organization in terms of technical rules, officiating, marketing, communications, personnel, scheduling and broadcasting. The result will be one of the strongest, most competitive and powerful motorsports marketing platforms in the world.”
The ALMS began operations in 1999, with GRAND-AM debuting in 2000. Both organizations were created in the aftermath of the late-’90s departure of the highly popular IMSA Camel GT circuit in North America. IMSA was founded in 1969 by John Bishop and then-NASCAR President Bill France Sr.
“This merger will strengthen professional sports car racing beyond what either of our organizations could have achieved separately,” said Panoz. “The American Le Mans Series was founded for the fans and I’m personally gratified that they will benefit greatly as we now work together with GRAND-AM to take this sport to the level at which it belongs in the North American and international motorsports landscapes.”
France said the merger was exciting both “on a professional and a personal level, with me being a long-time sports car fan. This merger was achieved through a true spirit of cooperation. Moving forward, that same spirit will drive our day-to-day efforts.”
Collectively, this merger involves a total of eight sports car series racing throughout North America. GRAND-AM sanctions and operates the Rolex Sports Car Series, the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge and the TOTAL Performance Showcase. GRAND-AM also sanctions the Ferrari Challenge that is operated by Ferrari North America. IMSA is the sanctioning body for the ALMS, the IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge by Yokohama Series, the Cooper Tires Prototype Lites Powered by Mazda Series and the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada by Michelin.
“This looks good from a business standpoint but it also ‘feels good’ from a historical standpoint,” Bennett said. “Both GRAND-AM and the ALMS have lineages tied to Daytona Beach, Daytona International Speedway and the France Family. This announcement is a proud moment.”
Pierre Fillon, president of the Automobile Club de l’Ouest, gave the move his blessing on Wednesday.
“The merger of these two championships,” Fillon said, “which was carried out with the approval of the Automobile Club de l’Ouest, has become necessary to enable endurance racing to continue to evolve. In 2014, this branch of the sport will have a bigger calendar and high-quality fields. Everybody will benefit from this unified series: entrants in North America, drivers and fans. This rapprochement proves that Automobile Club de l’Ouest’s assessment of the situation is the right one, and one of its major initiatives is to reinforce the presence of endurance racing on the international scene.
“The foundation consists of three continental series: the European Le Mans Series, the Asian Le Mans Series and this North-American merger in 2014, which will make the base even stronger together with the FIA World Endurance Championship, while the summit of this pyramid remains the Le Mans 24 Hours. I’m happy to meet up with the new team directing this new series in the near future, and to start working with them on this North-American Championship.”No Comment