GRAND-AM and ALMS announce historic merger

The most significant development in the history of sports car racing in North America was announced today, with plans for a landmark merger of GRAND-AM Road Racing and the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) unveiled at Daytona International Speedway.

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.

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 GRAND-AM founder Jim France as chairman and ALMS founder Don Panoz 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.”

Post-merger branding still is being determined for the new organization and its principal series, as are specifics regarding the 2014 schedule. Also, the competitive class structure and technical rules beginning in 2014 have yet to be finalized.

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 for all involved, as we now look forward to a bright future for sports car racing.”

(image: Grand-Am)

10 Comments on GRAND-AM and ALMS announce historic merger

  1. Biggest fear is the “dumbing down” of the Le Mans classes to fit the “redneck” NASCAR type spec car racing in GA. Everyone involved says that the connection to Le Mans must be maintained. That is a plus. It is a minus that the GA folks want to push the DP cars. If DPs end up headlining as the top class, international legitimacy will be lost. In order to bring in top flight WEC teams for the marquee races, the top class needs to be internationally recognized and DPs are not.

    With the lack of LMP1 cars in recent ALMS seasons, this class can go away in the new series and be a guest class at Daytona, Sebring, Petit Le Mans. LMP2 can easily headline, is already cost capped and still provides avenues for new automotive technologies. Some DP teams may step up to join this class. If DPs have to be included, they can recieve enough of an upgrade to be equal to LMPC cars and mergewith or replace that class. LMGT needs to remain untouched. The GA GT cars a roughly compatible with the GTC cars and can be combined into a single lower GTC class.

    This leaves the new series with 4 distinct classes, 2 of which that remain Le Mans eligible, and integrates the best cars of each series. The prototypes are either cost capped or spec car to manage costs and the GTs largly untouched.

    I would prefer to see the ALMS racing rules remain intact as they are much quicker to hand out penalties for contact etc and allow a better team/car to win by several laps rather than let slower cars artificially catch up during yellows. Also I am not a fan of multiple restarts to bunch up the field and try to entice carnage.

    I do wish these guys luck and am cautiously optimistic.

  2. @Marcus:
    Agree. The only way this can have a future is with LMP2 as the main class, letting the DP’s run as a second, lower prototype class in the first one or two years to allow the DP teams to bring the same cars to the grid for a while. LMGT should stick to the same regulations as in the FIA WEC, but instead of a combined GTC/GT-GrandAm lower GT class I would suggest to allow GT3, where there are a lot of cars available worldwide. If the new championship goes to “North America only” regulations, this will be a dead end.

  3. RIP ALMS :(

    It’s very interesting to see the comments on the ALMS website — the glaring majority is very doubtful this will come out positively for the ALMS fans. The GrandAM people are psyched, of course. Now they can get their dirty little rotten fingers on a racing series that actually has elegance and relevance. …And ruin it with them insisting on the DPs as top class, and outright killing the P1s.

    I had been looking forward to 2014 — but because of the LM rule changes. Now I have to get comfortable with the idea of rooting for the ELMS / Asian LMS / WEC even though right now they’re just outright boring and not worth watching for 10 min race recaps of their 6 hour races.

    On the other hand, knowing an end date is good. Now people won’t think they can visit ALMS races in ’14, ’15 or whenever. We have approx. 12 ALMS races left before the whole thing falls into the abyss. Plenty of time to plan your holidays for 2013, and not think, ‘nah I’ll visit the ALMS races next year’.

    This is a lose/lose situation. The series itself loses – 2/3 of the board is now NASCAR/France/GrandAm, 1/3 is the ALMS. We all know what this means. Compare GrandAm and ALMS today — GrandAm sucks mightily, and gives you a good picture of what 2014 WHATEVERNAME will look like. Just mentally throw in DeltaWings into the picture (which might end up as the only car that can join the ’14 24 hours of LM and be competitive), throw in the ALMS GT but tone them down until the Rolex GT can win easily again, and THAT’S IT.

    LMP2 can never remain in this joint series. How? DP is supposed to be its top prototype. The DeltaWing and P2s are already way faster than this tube framed piece of junk with corporate branding lipstick on it. So what will they do? Burn money for developing prototypes that no one on this planet save for some NASCAR guys want? No way. They’ll restrict everything that’s faster than the DPs until those can win easily. Hey, there’s only 2 seconds of space (laptime wise) between DPs and GTs? So what! by 2014, with the natural evolution of GTs, the latter would most likely be the race winners over the DPs.

    This is all so f*cked up. Thank you for killing a perfectly perfect “product”, Mr Atherton, Mr. Panoz. If 20M$ was all you needed — you should’ve started a kickstarter project.

  4. @kw
    Darn, fergot to through that in there. Totally agree on the GT3 stuff. Much easier to adapt the teams current cars to GT3 (nearest international class in performance anyway)and allow new entrants to purchase cars readily available. One sticking point may be the rollcages. I recall Audi mentioning that GA specifies much thicker material than in europe.

    @Martin
    Totally agree that DPs CANNOT be the headlining class. If they are this series is dead before it gets started. Totally forgot about the DeltaWing angle as well. Hopefully this bodes well for LMP2 as the top class because it is the closest class to the DeltaWings demonstrated performance.

    And yes, I get one more year of Long Beach and Laguna Seca ALMS racing before the series goes the way of the Dodo bird.

  5. QUESTIONS

    1. Will “dog tracking” be mandatory as seen on the Cup cars?

    2. Will NASCAR supply enough grille and headlight stickers
    so new fans can root for their favorite manufacturer?
    3. Will all agree to provide one of their team cars for
    the mandatory figure 8 destruction derby following
    the main event?
    4. Will all drivers be forced to change their name to
    Dale jr?

  6. SAD DAY for non red neck race fannies! ACO / LeMans ideas hopefully survive.This years 60 th. ann.Sebring was terrific,150,000+ fans. 94 VINTAGE / HISTORIC CARS IN ONE OF THE NUMEROUS GREAT SUPPORT RACES. Perhaps this may help obtain sponsors if quality TV is added. We may have to run an Electric car at LeMans 2014. TIDE ferrari racing,palm beach. 81 LeMans 5th.O.A. IMSA class winner, TIDE pozzi ferrari france 512BBLM;#31589.Save the MIAMI MARINE Stadium.

  7. In addition to my last comment, @Martin:
    I see no other way than LMP2 being the top class and not DP.
    The DP’s are 1970’s/1980’s racing technology, and if the GrandAm/ALMS fusion doesn’t take the opportunity to swith from out-dated racing to modern, internationally availabe racecars, the series will be dead within two years. Ask any race driver who has driven both LMP and DP, and he will tell you the DP’s are less developed than a modern GTE or GT3. Of course that’s the same for the NASCAR circus show, that’s even 1960’s technology, but that works different than a prototype series, which I hope the GrandAm authorities will learn.

  8. In theory a merger should be good news but I share everyone else’s concerns about this being a Grand Am takeover rather than a merger. Much has been said about DP’s being elevated to the top of the order at the expense of true carbon fibre monocoque prototypes and I agree that would be pathetic. But nobody’s mentioned the other problem with Grand Am rules: phony GT cars like the “RX8” and the “Camaro” which are cosmetic shells on top of tube-framed race chassis that have nothing to do with the road cars. If a manufacturer wants to go GT racing, build a proper road car whose underpinnings allow it to compete against true GT hardware like the 911 GT3, Ferrari 458, Corvette, Aston Martin, Viper,etc. Putting a shell on a purpose-built race chassis is the same dishonest BS that NASCAR is peddling.

  9. @Roy
    GA “GT” cars are closest to GT3 cars. IMO the current crop of GA GT’s need to be adapted to GT3 type specs/performance. This allows those that have them to race them for a couple more seasons, then they go away in favor of readily available GT3 cars. Then the GT classes will have untouched LMGT/GTE and GT3 cars.

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