Driver ColumnsSam Tickell (Editor)

The Editor’s Opinion: ALMS and Grand Am to become one?

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What is the future for these two race series?
What is the future for these two race series?

The sportscar racing world has been in a state of flux over the past few years.  The World Endurance Championship, nee Intercontinental Le Mans Challenge threw the European sportscar world on its head and now the American scene looks to have even bigger changes.

In a scene reminiscent to the Champ Car/IRL split – the sportscar world has been in two – two sets of ideas, two championships, both had glory days but now both Grand Am and ALMS are waning – particularly with their headline classes.

They stole money and resources off of each other, split fans, split teams.  This thing that is different between sportscar and open wheel racing – is that the ‘opposition’ fans don’t seem to hate the other series with such a vile passion.

Now it looks like it could be in the past – at least from 2014 as reported by John Dagys on Speedtv.com

Personally, I see an amalgamation a good thing.  I have seen it as a good thing for many years, having written about it at the now no-longer www.feedmesportscars.com

But to get these two together may not be so simple.  Sure Open Wheel took a long time but once there was a winner, the pieces slotted in quite easily.  Champ Car went.  The teams were given a little help to come over, a couple tracks came too and the Atlantic Series was left in the gutter to die an undignified death.

This seems a little different.  It’s muiltclass.  There are a lot of GT teams in both series.  The ALMS teams can run their equipment elsewhere.  Grand Am cannot. But the money and power lies with Grand Am.

Champ Car and IRL were essentially the same in the end, save a couple of ovals.  Essentially they were both spec.  They were both open wheel.  Any difference in the sporting aspect went away for financial pressures.

We don’t have that kind of think going in ALMS and Grand Am.  ALMS is open – designed to fit with the famed Le Mans.  Grand Am is not – while not being a ‘spec’ series – it is more controlled than the ALMS.

Many teams compete in the ALMS to get a ride at Le Mans.  Level 5, Flying Lizard, Corvette do; and SRT, Dyson, Cytosport, RLL could or have made noises that they would like to compete.

Granted, yes, many competitors also compete at the Daytona 24 – but there we don’t have the entry hurdles to compete.  Nor is the race as ‘big’.  Nor can ACO style cars compete there now or in the future, unless the ACO relaxes their stance on that front.

In any case, Grand Am has one race that the rest of the calendar exists to support.  ALMS has Le Mans plus Sebring and Petit Le Mans.

If we look further into the cars – the prototype cars, the P2 cars under the cost control formula have been reported to be cheaper than a Daytona Prototype.  Plus they are quicker.  And there is a bigger market for them.

If I was the France family, it’s what I would do.  Why would you risk your golden egg for something like this?

In terms of cars and tracks – bearing in mind that both series own some tracks – ALMS wins.

But essentially, that is not where such a negotiation can be won or lost.  They are just details.

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The real power is in the money.  Is in what else they run.

We can’t forget that Grand Am is part of the massive NASCAR empire – where everything they do – including Grand Am is designed to make their main series – the Sprint Cup look and perform better.

They do it well.  The Sprint Cup and therefore the umbrella organisation that Grand Am belongs to has massive grids and massive corporate power.

ALMS doesn’t.   And one would suspect that Don Panoz, the money and brains behind the initial launch of ALMS may have lost interest.  It was only a few years ago that he told ALMS that they had to live on their own.

Which they have done.

And if there wasn’t such a global down turn, they may have been able to keep up their entries.

With the launch of the WEC too, the support that they Series had from the French seems to a thing of the past, further eroding any power base that the organisation had in these discussions.

Grand Am, on the other hand has the power and money to keep the series going, to help fund teams, to direct sponsors who what NASCAR to the Grand Am program.

So from a money and corporate power point of view, Grand Am wins by quite a margin.

It is hard to see a merger (acquisition) going the way of the ALMS – whether you think it is a good thing or a bad thing, a couple of issues come up with Grand Am taking the reigns of sportscar in the USA.

The first is what cars would they run.  Under the ACO rule that another ACO style series can’t run a 24 hour race, either the Daytona 24 or the LMP and GTE cars would have to go.  Not a hard one to predict.  Daytona stays, the cars do not.

A series with a 24 hour race, a 12 hour race and a 1000 mile race is mouth watering

What happens to Sebring and Petit Le Mans.  I guess they can stay if Grand Am says so.  They would be foolish to rid these races with massive history and massive crowd support.  A series with a 24 hour race, a 12 hour race and a 1000 mile race is mouth watering.  Provided they stay.

The support series – what happens to the IMSA Prototype Lites, the GT3 challenge?  Do they die, do they come across too?

ALMS coming across to Grand Am is a double edged sword.  You get a single sportscar series but one that must bow down to NASCAR.  If I was the France family, it’s what I would do.  Why would you risk your golden egg for something like this?

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If it goes the other way, the cars can fit – LMP and DP.  GTE and GA-GT.  Easy.   Just Daytona needs a home.  Teams don’t even have to get new cars.  Continental Challenge comes over.

The Series though remains largely privateer with no real strength from factory/sponsor backing or funds to take on Indycar and NASCAR head on.

A third option could be to completely rewrite the rule book with an organisation that is different to what we have now.  But that is hard to see happening.

Whatever happens into the future it is a chance to reform the sport into the success it currently is with the WEC and the success it was in the 80s.

The news is new, there is a long way to go.  The prospects could be mouth watering.  A calendar of classic races with a few new ones thrown in.

We could have massive grids of both prototype and GT machines.  We will have the best sportscar drivers against each other.

Better TV deals will come into place.  Leading publications will have more time and resources to cover the sport.  Everyone wins.  Sportscar returns to the glory days in the States.

This is what we want.  The alternative doesn’t bear thinking about.

(c) Sam Tickell, September 2012

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