FIA WEC Silverstone 2014 – Mini Preview

I’m off to Silverstone tomorrow for the FIA World Endurance Championship opener, but who is there and what does it all mean?

 

LMP1-H

Toyota Racing once again rely heavily on former Formula 1 talent for their LMP1 roster; Alex Wurz and Kaz Nakajima join with Stephane Sarrazin in the #7 TS040, with the #8 crew formed by Ant Davidson, Sebastien Buemi and Nico Lapierre (A1GP winner).

Over at Audi Sport, former Pirelli tester Lucas di Grassi takes the seat of Allan McNish in the #1 R18 e-tron quattro, alongside Loic Duval and Le Mans legend Tom Kristensen. The #2 car of 2012 LM24 winners Fassler, Lotterer and Treluyer is not to be counted out.

Porsche makes a return to the Prototype ranks with their new 919 Hybrid, Mark Webber is the obvious name to look for in the #20 car and he shares with Brendon Hartley who has impressed for other teams in the LMP2 class and elsewhere, and top sportscar stalwart and Le Mans winner (while loaned from Porsche to Audi) Timo Bernhard. The #14 is shared by top sportscar talent Romain Dumas (another LM-winner when loaned to Audi), Marc Lieb and Neel Jani, the latter you may know from Champ Car and A1GP.

LMP1 is split into two sub-divisions this year and these three heavyweight teams compete in a category called LMP1-H, or ‘Le Mans Prototype 1 – Hybrid’. This features energy recovery and fuel flow regulations similar to, but more open than Formula 1 in 2014. This allows each of the three teams to run a different hybrid solution. The rules are complex but the simplest explanation is to say a team can choose how much energy it can recover with their hybrids, anything from 0-8 MJ per lap of Le Mans (and this is adjusted by a ratio for the other tracks). The more energy you recover in this way, the less fuel flow per lap you are allowed. Toyota and Porsche are at 6MJ and, in a surprise, Audi at just 2MJ at this opening round. Last year’s restrictions on only operating hybrid above 120 km/h and in specific zones, has been removed.

Audi: 4.0 litre turbo V6 running on diesel, with a single hybrid system on the front axle with energy stored by flywheel; Audi elected to run to 2MJ rules, so less hybrid power in exchange for more fuel flow per lap compared to their rivals.
Toyota: 3.7 litre normally-aspirated V8 running on petrol, with a dual hybrid system using front and rear axles with energy stored in supercapacitors; Toyota are running to the 6MJ rules with the ability to use more recovered power, the talk I’ve heard on Radio Le Mans suggests they can do 8MJ easily if they want to, just not necessarily over a full stint.
Porsche: 2.0 litre turbo V4 running on petrol, with a dual hybrid system with F1-style braking recovery on the front axle and exhaust energy recovery on the rear. Porsche are also running to the 6MJ rules.

LMP1-L

The other ‘branch’ of the top class is LMP1-L, or ‘Le Mans Prototype 1 – Light’. This is aimed at privateer entries without manufacturer backing who cannot afford all this expensive hybrid stuff. There were due to be three entrants here too, but all three have run into supply difficulties building their new cars – especially with the common motorsport supplier base also having to work around the new F1 rules – so none of those cars are here.
Thankfully one of the teams has very sportingly decided to bring along their Lolas from last year for one last hurrah, and Rebellion Racing must be applauded. Their lead line-up in car #12 features Nick Heidfeld and Nicolas Prost alongside Mathias Beche. The #13 car has the pairing of Dom Kraihamer and Andrea Belicchi and remarkably they are joined by 2013 GP2 Champion Fabio Leimer. What does it say about GP2 (or Leimer?) when the Champ isn’t signed by an F1 team?
Lotus are one of the other teams and when they rejoin the series it will be with ex-Minardi ex-Spyker man Christijan Albers. OAK Racing were also building a car but seem to have put it off to 2015.

LMP2

The second prototype category is for privateer teams who buy chassis and engines. The dominant powerplant in LMP2 globally is now Nissan and they power the whole WEC LMP2 field, sat in the back of chassis from Oreca, Morgan (OAK), or Dome. The important note here regarding drivers is that this is a Pro-Am category.

Sadly the best and most high-profile teams have all withdrawn from Silverstone either because their new cars aren’t ready (Strakka Racing), or their financial backers are having a bit of difficulty (Millennium / ADR). This is a shame as it costs us the sight of last week’s Long Beach Grand Prix winner Mike Conway, and former F1 drivers Shinji Nakano and Stefan Johansson, as well as rapid drivers Oliver Turvey, Danny Watts and Jonny Kane.

We do still have Nicolas Minassian for SMP Racing although his team-mates across both cars are obscure to me to say the least. An interesting addition is Asian Le Mans Series team KCMG and it’ll be fascinating to see how they get on. Also SMP Racing from Russia, who have cars entered in the ELMS as well.

Hopefully the field bulks out a bit for the next round at Spa. In the meantime, the best LMP2 racing this weekend will be in the supporting ELMS.

GTE

Grand Touring Endurance for cars based on road-going sportscars is split into two classes, a Pro class and an Am class. The cars are identical but the latter, like LMP2, runs to a Pro Am format (a mix of some professionals and some.. not) whereas the former is stacked with top professionals throughout.

GTE Pro is the one to watch. It features:

Gianmaria Bruni and Toni Vilander driving the #51 AF Corse Ferrari. Their #71 car will have hot GP2 talent James Calado and former Superleague Formula champion Davide Rigon.
Ram Racing’s #52 Ferrari has Alvaro Parente, who was hot in GP2 and WSR not so long ago, along with Matt Griffin who is very fast.
Then you have two Porsches, you can never count out the likes of Bergmeister, Tandy, Pilet, Holzer, Makowiekci and Lietz.
Finally there are the two Aston Martins. No Bruno Senna at this race, but they do have Darren Turner and Stefan Mucke and I wouldn’t necessarily rule out MacDowall, O’Young and Rees who might struggle against this field but should be there at the end.

GTE Am may be Pro Am but the Ams are quite good these days, and the Pros could race anywhere.
AF Corse signed GP2 man and Mercedes F1 tester Sam Bird for the #81 car at Silverstone and Le Mans.
Ram Racing are another team present in both GT classes, they have Johnny Mowlem and former ‘Stig’ Ben Collins.
Aston Martin are here too, with the all-Danish car likely a contender, programmer David Heinemeier Hansson is no slouch. Their other car has Pedro Lamy who is both an asset and a liability at times, at least when he did LMP1 for Peugeot!

My bets for the wins at Silverstone:
LMP1-H: Toyota #7
LMP1-L: Rebellion #12
LMP2: G-Drive Oak Racing #26
GTE Pro: Porsche #91
GTE Am: Ram Racing Ferrari #53

Full entry list.

Timetable.

The 6 Hours of Silverstone starts at 12:00 on Sunday with coverage on MotorsTV, Eurosport and Eurosport Player, the FIAWEC.com website and app (both subs), and in audio at RadioLeMans.com.

European Le Mans Series

Silverstone also sees the opening round of the ELMS with a 4-hour race at 2.30pm on Saturday again with coverage on MotorsTV, RadioLeMans.com and I think the ELMS website.

The ELMS features the LMP2 class and a much larger field of them than the WEC, and a little more variety in chassis and engine combinations.

Notable names include Christian Klein (#43 Morand Racing) and Karun Chandhok (#48 Murphy Prototypes), but I think it’ll come down to a battle between Jota Sport’s #38 with Filipe Albuquerque (who’ll drive the Audi #3 at Spa and Le Mans) and Harry Tincknell, whose manager is none other than Allan McNish, up against the #41 Greaves Motorsport car of ALMS winner Chris Dyson and ultra-fast Tom Kimber-Smith.

There is only one GTE class in ELMS and it runs to the same rules at WEC GTE Am. There are a whole fleet of Ferraris, 8 of them in a 13-car class. One of them is driven by footballer Fabien Barthez who apparently won the French GT championship last year, so look out for the #58 Team Sofrev-ASP entry. I think AF Corse will win this class, though they could be pushed hard by the Aston Martin and Gulf Racing teams.

The 3rd class here is GTC where the cars run to GT3 rules. A nice big field of 15 cars full of names I’ve never heard of makes it hard to pick a winner, but look out for Corvette Racing’s Jan Magnussen in the #60 Formula Racing Ferrari. Ultimately though I think it will be hard to look beyond the car of Alex ‘son of Martin’ Brundle and Ricardo Gonzalez in the #99 McLaren of GP2 team ART Grand Prix. Mika Salo was due to race this class but I think their car has been withdrawn.

My winners at Silverstone:
LMP2: Jota Sport #38
GTE: AF Corse #55
GTC: ART Grand Prix #99

Full entry list.

Depending on battery and coverage I will be attempting to tweet from @toomuchracing on Saturday and Sunday, and possibly uploading to my new Instagram accounts either @toomuchracing or @patwotton.

Predictions For F1 In 2014

Everything changes in 2014, yet some things stay the same. I always say the teams split into groups, they always have. Occasionally teams move from one group to another and wholesale rule changes usually provide that opportunity.

My groups?  Championship Contenders, Upper Midfield, Lower Midfield, Slowcoaches.

Those Rule Changes

1.6 litre turbos with 100kg of fuel and a big step up in energy recovery systems – the new ERS is 10x more powerful than the old KERS – as well as harder tyres, bigger DRS flaps, and personalised car numbers. Throw in a load of new drivers and a lack of testing and this year looks to be the most exciting in years, especially the early races!

Here are a couple of great videos explaining the new rules. Red Bull’s is brilliant as ever, and good to see F1.com stepping up this year.

Red Bull Motors: http://www.redbull.com/uk/en/motorsports/f1/stories/1331638258301/new-f1-rules

F1.com: http://www.formula1.com/news/features/2014/3/15539.html

After seeing some practice and qualifying at Albert Park it is clear the new cars are much harder to control. This is brilliant! The drivers are really having to work hard. We could see drivers making errors and losing positions, even retiring, because they lose control. This adds to the uncertainty – no longer can we assume a car ahead of another will just stay there.

Here are my predictions for 2014:

Championship Contenders

Mercedes and McLaren will steal a march in the first few races. Ferrari and Red Bull, and maybe Lotus, won’t be far off but some won’t get their heads around finishing races until Barcelona. Interestingly, this year unlike so many in the past, there is no testing data at all for these cars at Barcelona – all the testing was done at Jerez and Bahrain.

In the summer, maybe before the summer break or maybe after, we will see the order shaken up. I see Red Bull having sorted their problems long before then and putting in a charge in the many, many races after August to cut down Mercedes’ lead. I still can’t get my head around that from September 1st there are still 8 races to go, which changes everything compared to what we were used to a few short years ago when it marked the end of the final 1/3rd of the season.

Drivers and Constructors titles will be between Mercedes AMG and Red Bull. Ferrari drivers will take points off each other and that will be the only reason they aren’t in contention but Ferrari could compete for the Constructors’. After summer I expect McLaren to slip back as they turn their attention to Honda 2015.

Upper Midfield

Lotus and Force India will be rejoined by a resurgent Williams, who’ll score several podiums. In theory Lotus shouldn’t even be in this group but their testing was woeful, and they skipped the first test entirely. If they can sort out their car by mid-year they’ll score enough in the latter half to make up any deficit they’ll lose now. Really though I wouldn’t put it past Williams to top this group, that’s how much they’ve improved. They’ll certainly score the points in the early part of the year. The continuing saga of Force India’s money will roll on and on.

Lower Midfield

Sauber and Toro Rosso could be joined by Marussia who look to have a promising car (unless they were running low fuel all winter to attract sponsors, in which case they’ll be Slowcoaches again). I see Marussia scoring a few points here and there especially if the car lasts to the end and others don’t. Mind you, after the first practices in Albert Park it seems they’ve dropped to plum last again – so who knows. The only way Sauber & STR will get out of this group, at least in the points standings if not the timesheets, is if they are reliable and faster cars are not.

Slowcoaches

In testing Caterham didn’t seem to have caught the others at all, which is a shame. But still they could score a point or two with the odd 10th place if their car can finish and others do not. They suffered terrible luck in testing, except in the final test – will that be enough? It’s possible Marussia and STR will drop to the back here.

Reliability

I think instead of pushing it and having cars not finish races we will see teams turn the settings down and have the drivers cruise. They did that early in the season, especially Melbourne, when the switch from V10s to V8s happened, I expect Melbourne this year to be the same. So instead of cars dropping out they’ll slow down. Prepared teams will still take advantage and take the points. By the time we get to Silverstone it won’t be so much of an issue.

Predictions

Champion Driver:  Lewis Hamilton
Champion Constructor:  Mercedes AMG
Most Wins:  Lewis Hamilton

MotoGP to BT Sport in 2014 (IndyCar & NASCAR too)

UK TV coverage of MotoGP will be switching to the new BT Sport channels from the 2014 season. IndyCar will also be on those channels later this season. I’ll focus on MotoGP as that is by far the bigger series in terms of fans and ratings.

Err, What?

BT Sport is a new venture from the telecoms company after it bought ESPN UK & Ireland, which itself grew out of the ashes of Setanta Sports. The line-up will be BT Sport 1 and BT Sport 2 – each with HD and SD simulcasts – and the existing ESPN channel will be retained, but it’ll be run by BT instead of ESPN. The existing ESPN Classic and ESPN America will be discontinued. MotorsTV has moved on the Sky EPG to make way.

Is this a good thing? The elephant in the room is Sky Sports, the dominant player in subscription-TV sports. If Setanta nor the mighty ESPN could make it work against Sky, could BT, despite little experience operating linear TV? BT already offer an on-demand service via IPTV (it beat Sky to that by a couple of years), could that make the difference?

Given Thursday’s announcements they are certainly giving it a damn good try!

No Free-To-Air MotoGP

Now for the bad news for many – no more BBC or Eurosport MotoGP coverage.

The free-to0-air* BBC2 airs all races live, and Moto2 and Moto3 races, and MotoGP qualifying, are live online and on the red button.

* excluding the Licence Fee but since everyone has to pay it anyway it is moot.

British Eurosport – but I believe not many other branches of Eurosport across the continent – air all sessions live for all 3 classes apart from the MotoGP race, which is delayed to give BBC2 the priority. Eurosport only requires a £5 extra fee on Sky (along with a whole host of other channels in the Entertainment Extra pack), and is on a fairly reasonable tier on Virgin Media cable TV, I think? It also has a very affordable web and app presence costing only £2.99/mth which is how I watch it.

The sharing agreement was set up in 2009 specifically to boost ratings by giving priority to the more widely available BBC2. It seems priorities have changed at Dorna!

As of now the only UK TV coverage is exclusive to BT. Sadly this means, unless a highlights deal is announced, MotoGP will no longer be available on free-to-air to the whole population.

This is a huge loss for MotoGP’s UK fans. I am sure Dorna took this option for their own reasons, possibly financial. The BT deal will inevitably result in far lower viewing figures. BBC2 gets about 1 million people per race, this is sometimes higher than F1 races on Sky! BT would be doing extremely well to reach 20% of that and it might be more like 10%.

There are some people who will get it free-to-air, effectively. More on that in a minute.

What MotoGP Will They Air?

Everything. All sessions and races will be covered live. Tthey’ll be covered live from site and from a London studio, perhaps they’ll send one or two pit reporters (and crew) and keep the presenting team at home? That’s a backwards step, the interaction you get from Matt Roberts, and previously Suzi Perry, is very much worth the investment. Talking heads sitting in a remote studio is not interesting to me.

What is interesting is the promise of extra programming between races, they’ve not given specifics but I imagine that might include profiles of legends of the sport, insights into GP history, a tour of a team HQ.

How.. And How Much?

First things first – the hook:  If you have BT Broadband you will be able to get BT Sport’s channels as a free extra. I’m a BT Broadband subscriber so this makes me quite happy! Effectively MotoGP remains ‘free-to-air’ if you are already with BT.

There are those who complain it isn’t “free” but that is only valid if you are now with a competitor at a lower rate – you’ll end up paying more by switching. That’s fair enough. For those of us already paying BT’s higher rates, this offer makes those prices better value. I’m paying them anyway so anything extra is a bonus. Ok it isn’t ‘free’, it is a new feature that makes my higher cost more bearable. Believe me I was seriously considering switching away at the end of my contract and this deal will heavily influence my decision.

Don’t have BT Broadband? A subscription costs £12 per month or £15 for HD but at the moment you can only get it on Sky.

Here are the four options. They say three but there are four, I consider the web player to be separate from the app. There’s a possible fifth.

Option 1)  Sky. If you have Sky you can ring up BT and give them your viewing card number. You DO NOT have to be an existing BT customer – the difference is only in cost. If you are with BTB you’ll get Sport free, if you’re not you’ll be charged £12 or £15. Seemingly you can only get it direct from BT (don’t call Sky), I bet this is to check you’re a broadband customer which Sky wouldn’t know.

Option 2) BT TV. BT have a couple of TV options of their own. You’ll need their broadband to get either.

They want you to get YouView but that requires some hoops to be jumped: You need to have BT Infinity (“superfast broadband” as they call it), their fibre-optic system which is slowly rolling out across the country.

If like many people you currently can’t get Infinity you can have BT Vision instead. For that you will need normal BT Broadband, or ADSL as most of us may know it. There appear to be no other restrictions on getting Vision. (Annoyingly there’s also a Vision-branded section on YouView – don’t confuse the two).

BT Sport will be delivered by encrypted Freeview channel needing a viewing card in exactly the same way ESPN is currently, but it’ll be the SD channels only and there’s a £10 fee for the card.

Update – more details here.

Both systems are focused on ‘On Demand’ services so I hope BT Sport content will appear there for free.

Option 3) Web Player. Seems to be BT subs only. Go to btsport.com and login with a MyBT username (the one you use to look bills). A big concern here is the use of unreliable Microsoft Silverlight which is my main bugbear with ITV Player.

Option 4) App for tablet or smartphone again needing a BT login.

I hope options 3 and 4 become available to non-subscribers. If BT are serious about bringing sport to the masses at lower rates than Sky, they would surely allow people to subscribe only to the web player and/or the app.

Potential Option 5) Virgin Media cable TV. No deal has been agreed right now but you can bet they are working on it.

Away from BT, another option for fans is the VideoPass on MotoGP.com – real diehards only though, a standard pass costs £85 per year or £21/month! A ‘MultiScreen’ pass is £30/mth.

Existing ESPN subscriber? I’m pretty sure I saw that your subscription will only run until ESPN changes hands at the end of July. If that means you have unused months I suggest you ask ESPN for a refund.

The Takeaway

Depends on what you have already.

++ for anybody with BT broadband and a Sky dish or YouView. Just ring BT and get all this stuff for free. If you currently pay for ESPN you’ll save £10-15 per month.

+ for anybody with BT broadband but no Sky dish. You (and I) will get the web player and the app for no extra fee. Most of us are perfectly used to watching BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, 4OD or Eurosport Player so this is a very good thing for us.

~ for people with Sky but not BT. £12-£15 isn’t going to break the bank if you only want BT Sport, but if you want Sky Sports too it’ll soon mount up. If you pay for Sky Sports and ESPN right now nothing will really change, a sport or two will have moved from one place to another as they do every year.

- for those who can and would pay for BT and/or Sky but are currently with other providers – switching is a hassle.

– if you can only afford one set of premium sports channels, do you choose Sky for F1, or BT for MotoGP & IndyCar? It’ll fall on your preference of racing and other sports.

— for anybody without BT or Sky and are unwilling or unable to switch for whatever reason. Cost is likely the main reason as both BT and Sky are expensive. There are a lot of people who just can’t afford it.

MotoGP’s ratings are going to drop substantially in 2014. ESPN’s ratings at the moment are dire and that will not change for a while. Even Sky Sports, the market leader in subscription sport, usually has poor ratings compared to Free-To-Air.

The increase in shoulder programming is a good thing – will anybody watch it?

I applaud BT for not only allowing their current customers access for no further fee – remember how often people complain the sweet deals are only for new customers – and also for keeping the monthly cost at a minimal level for non-broadband customers.

On a Personal Level

I have BT Broadband with BT Vision TV – unfortunately the Freeview part is broken so I can’t get ESPN, but even if the box worked I live in a transmission blackspot – if you pick up a main transmitter you see all Freeview channels but if you use a local repeater transmitter you only see half of them. Guess where I live! I must get an engineer to move the aerial.

I should be able to see a lot On Demand for free with Vision which is good. Anything I want live I can see on my PC or iPad for no extra charge, also brilliant.

Alternatives? I’m in a rented property so I can’t have a Sky dish – I might be allowed at this address but who’s to say how long I’ll be here and if my next landlord would let me? I also live well outside Virgin’s cabled area. These are the reasons I went for BTV in the first place.

Is this deal any good for you? Let me know! It certainly feels better than the Sky F1 deal but is that because I’m now used to that idea, is it because I know I’m getting availability for no extra cost?

Other Racing

IndyCar – BT seem to have taken over ESPN’s current IndyCar deal right off the bat, from channel launch this August. Good news. IndyCar fans were faced with having no coverage at all so it is a very different position to MotoGP which is reducing viewers. I’m *VERY* happy to finally be able to watch one of my favourite series completely legally for the first time since 2002!

NASCAR – There has been mention of NASCAR which I presume to be the 1-hour highlights show of the Sprint Cup. Time will tell. If so it might even mean I’ll stay with Cup for a season for the first time.

At the moment that seems it for motorsport but anything could change between now and the 2014 season.

Other Sport

Football, football, and more football: English Premier League, Scottish Premier League, FA Cup, UEFA Europa League, Serie A, Ligue 1, Bundesliga, MLS, English Women’s League.
English Premiership Rugby. WTA tennis. Red Bull ‘extreme sports’ (interestingly including Red Bull Crashed Ice!). UFC. And these from the head of digital production: “Our confirmed list of US sports: college basketball, Indy car, NASCAR, college football, MLB, Red Bull, MLS.”

It seems like a very decent line-up if you like those sorts of things. I’m not too into the different types of football so I wouldn’t pay for the channels, but since they are free-to-me I might dip into a few things to see if I like them!

The Reveal – United SportsCar Racing

I’ve posted a lot about the merger of the US sportscar series ALMS and GrandAm so it is only right I comment on Thursday’s big reveal.

In summary – I approve!

The new name of the series is United SportsCar Racing.

United-SportsCar-Racing-Logo-031413-mainYes it is a little bit of a wishy-washy name, and it does seem to have ties to the name of the ALMS before it was the ALMS, which was Professional SportsCar Racing. Those are minor gripes. On the other hand, how many people actually know PSCR? The important thing is that it is a clean break from the current ALMS and Grand-Am names and doesn’t borrow anything from either of them. It allows them to move forward cleanly. It also reinforces the point they’ve been trying to get across since the Autumn – this is not a takeover, this is a true merger.

Okay so the actual helmet design I would say is a weak point but that’s not important, things like that can be tweaked over time.

You can watch the full half-hour reveal presentation with Q&A on the Grand-Am site.

Or you can see this short promo video:

In broader terms, the name of the sanctioning body is equally important and this was the first announcement. It pleases me, and just about everybody I think, to say the famous IMSA name is retained as the name of the sanctioning body. As they very clearly pointed out during the press conference, everybody told them this was the way to go! It makes so much sense with the old connections IMSA had with NASCAR, the renewed ties it has with that group, as well as the more modern association with the ALMS. Bringing it all together, it just makes so much sense to use that name now.

They have completely dropped the intermediary ‘ISCAR’ name as they always said they would, that’s good, that was a terrible name.

These are very positive developments.

Official Class Names

The 2014 class structure was loosely defined without names back in January. Now those plans have been firmed up and they are pretty much as-announced, now we have class names and confirmation of the fate of GX. There will be five classes.

P – Prototype – the ALMS P2 class joins the Grand-Am Daytona Prototype class, along with cars running to the DeltaWing concept. Technical information on how this tricky balance will be achieved should be revealed ‘within the next 90 days’, according to Scott Atherton. The P2 cars will be able to go to Le Mans.

PC – Prototype Challenge – the ALMS PC class as it is this year.

GTLM – GT Le Mans – the ALMS GT class as it presently is, unchanged and retaining the links to Le Mans including the ability to race there.

GTD – GT Daytona – the Grand-Am Rolex GT class plus the ALMS GTC class.

GX – the experimental GT class introduced to Grand-Am this season remains as a separate class.

P2 cars will be similar to ACO (WEC/ELMS) cars but tweaked to suit United SportsCar’s needs. It apparently will be possible to convert between specs to go to Le Mans, and similarly the European or Asian teams will be able to go to Daytona, Sebring and Petit. Unsaid, but much rumoured, is the possibility the rest of this class will also one day be able to go to Le Mans, including DPs or whatever they morph into. Will that happen in 2014? I doubt it. 2015? I think that’s a strong possibility. Let the merger bed-in then invite the merged class to play at La Sarthe.

They actually did the complete opposite with the GT classes that I had suggested! I said it would be best to avoid comparisons between Le Mans GTs and Daytona GTs, you’ll inevitably attract complaints from the small subset of fans who insist that America be faster (most American sportscar fans aren’t at all like that by the way, most would patriotically celebrate a home win whilst appreciating everyone else’s performance at the same time). But I can see their thinking: The cars with LM in their name go to Le Mans. The cars with D in their name came from Daytona. Nice and simple in a year in which it could be hard to explain the differences between two GT classes with potentially big grids.

Le Mans & ACO

Confirmation came today, Friday, that the ACO and IMSA have agreed to continue the relationship started by the ALMS, namely that IMSA teams and drivers remain eligible to enter the 24 Hours of Le Mans and that the Road Atlanta round shall continue to be called Petit Le Mans. Celebrate! I was genuinely worried that PLM was dead – worry no longer, the race is safe.
This line from the release was quite interesting:  “The second part is a Strategic Alliance agreement between the ACO and United SportsCar Racing to explore and develop new avenues and horizons for endurance racing together in North America“. What could this mean? Is this simply their way of saying that P2 and GTLM (or their future replacements) will remain valid in USCR competition?

Future

Looking forward I think 2014 will see growing pains but it’ll also be very exciting. Even more exciting than that though is the potential for what we might see in the future, let’s say 2015-2020. Those years could prove to be a new golden era of this style of racing in North America, and globally, too.

2014 Merged American Sportscar Class Structure

I’m a fan of the American Le Mans Series. As I described (potentially quite poorly) in a couple of recent posts, that series has been purchased by the rival Grand-Am organisation which runs the Rolex Series. Thankfully rather than an IndyCar-style rushed takeover or a straight wipeout of ALMS/IMSA assets, the top brass from both organisations are continuing with their separate series, albeit under a united banner, during 2013 while working together to create a truly merged series come 2014.

The merger threw the plans of several teams and drivers well into the air. Why buy a new car this year if they can’t run it next year? What about cars they bought last year? Some much-needed clarity came on Friday with an announcement about the general structure of car classes.

They had a tough job.

Continue reading

Grand-Am & ALMS Merger: Cars & Tracks

This is a follow-up to my opinion piece on the merger itself and in this post I focus in on the potential race classes as well as my choice of schedule for the 2014 season and beyond.

Class Structure

This part is phenomenally difficult. Trying to merge two series, one with five classes and the other with two when all have different speeds, different strengths and weaknesses not just in performance but in cost. Add in a whole set of team owner agendas as well as the desire to liaise with the ACO to retain a link to Le Mans and you have one big headache!

This is how they are now, and what I would do with them.

Continue reading

On The Merger of Grand-Am and ALMS

Exciting things are happening in sportscar racing at the moment. A succession of changes in outlo0ks is reshaping top line series everywhere.

Globally this is no better seen than in the reintroduction of a long-overdue World Championship for those competing at the Le Mans 24 Hours. On a regional scale the Blancpain Endurance Series is going from strength to strength in Europe, and although sadly FIA World GT1 had to be scaled back and relaunched next year as a Europe-only GT Sprint series perhaps that is the best format for it.

The biggest change at a regional level, and one which may have far-reaching implications, was the announcement that IMSA’s American Le Mans Series by Tequila Patron, and Grand-Am’s Rolex Series would be merging by means of a buyout. At long last!

The Reaction

The unexpected news was greeted with universal praise – just four and a bit years after Indy unity, ‘the other’ two warring American series were coming together. It was as if a big weight had been lifted from everyone’s shoulders. Just one thing.. how DID they keep it a secret?

Almost immediately after that came the worries. Grand-Am was making a purchase and Grand-Am is owned by NASCAR – does that mean the independent spirit of the ALMS will be lost? Are we going to get yellow flags for light debris, lucky dogs and green/white/checker finishes? Will they cut the link to Le Mans and lose those cars?

We are told repeatedly that this is NOT a takeover. We’re told this is definitely and defiantly not the same as the IndyCar purchase of ChampCar, in which anything related to the latter was mostly rubbed out, where just a few teams, drivers and events remained, and very few series staff and other assets. Some would later find their way in and others headed elsewhere (particularly to either sportscar series) but altogether it was a messy business.

Positivity

This time it is very much an integration. The companies have ALREADY merged. They call themselves ‘ISCAR’. No, me neither, but they can change it later. ISCAR has both Grand-Am and IMSA/ALMS figureheads at the helm, with equal say, and a mantra of ‘open dialogue’ being the order of business: They are listening. To fans. To teams. To drivers. To manufacturers. And to each other.

We’ve witnessed the united approach for some months now and do you know what? I believe them. They really are considering the best – and worst – of both existing series and organisations. The biggest card in their favour is time. There is no rush for 2014.
IndyCar’s hand was forced by having to get it all done in a matter of weeks. Had the IndyCar deal happened a year ahead of the actual series merge it would’ve come out of it very differently indeed. Lessons have been learned that experience (and some now in sportscar racing were involved in the IndyCar ‘merger’ – they know what they are talking about), it isn’t an experience anyone wants to see repeated.

That said, there is a hell of a lot of work to do to merge two different organisations and philosophies. A year isn’t very long in that context. Indeed the teams and drivers need to have an idea of class structure fairly swiftly – and I mean very, very soon – so they can make their purchasing decisions for 2013, if they buy now can they keep their cars for the new series or will they have to buy again?

ISCAR also specifically state they want to keep the link to Le Mans. I’d like to see how that manifests itself. I reckon that means keeping at least two ACO-compliant categories and leaving a gap in the calendar for teams to go over, or allowing them to skip a round.

Continue reading