The Various Le Mans Series

Sportscar racing has always been a confusing branch of motorsport to follow. There are many fans of racing who could be potential sportscar fans but may be a bit bewildered by the variety. When discussing the Peugeot launch on Thursday,Christine and Mr C at Sidepodcast asked exactly what the ILMC actually is, and where it fits into the sportscar world. I thought I would answer that question with this blog post, but first let’s set the scene.

Here follows a fairly rough guide to sportscar racing and the collection under the ‘Le Mans’ label in particular.

A Map

There are currently three major sportscar entities in the world at the moment:

  • Grand-Am: Runs the Rolex Series and last week’s Rolex 24 at Daytona. Owned by NASCAR and runs cars to unique rules in two classes. In the past the cars were close enough to Le Mans rules for teams to be able to make simple conversions between them and run the two biggest 24Hr races in the world, sadly not true for some years now.
  • FIA: Runs the FIA GT1 World Championship with a company called SRO. Two 1Hr races per weekend, one of which is a ‘Championship Race’. GT1 cars are broadly like the GT1 cars from Le Mans in recent years but restricted. In the 90s, FIA GT featured exotic expensive cars from Porsche and Mercedes and the series was a fairly big deal. It came crashing down and spent over a decade restricting itself mostly to Europe and shedding the then top class, until costs again escalated beyond realistic budgets. A rethink brought the far cheaper World GT1.
  • ACO: The ACO is the longest-running and most important of sportscar bodies. It is the guardian of the Le Mans 24 Hours. It also knows it is important and acts accordingly. This can be a help and a hindrance because their behaviour secured the independence of the Le Mans 24 Hours for which we should always be grateful, but their officials can be more particular, stringent and fickle than the FIA has ever been in F1. The ACO are staunchly ‘sportscars = endurance’ and disagreements with SRO are partly why GT1 sadly no longer appears at Le Mans. Winning the Le Mans 24 Hours is the biggest thing you can do in this type of racing and indeed among the top of the list in all of motorsport.

Disclaimer – These are broad brush-strokes, the specifics may not be 100% detailed but they are close enough for this article. For those who wish to read a full history there are plenty of resources!

For the rest of this post we need not concern ourselves with Grand-Am or the FIA/SRO, indeed many ardent fans of Le Mans racing don’t. (That explains the guy with fresh breath in the Daytona comments.) Let’s take a look at the ACO-affiliated ‘Le Mans’ series.

‘Le Mans’

You won’t be surprised to learn everything under the ‘Le Mans’ label is based around the Le Mans 24 Hours and is closely linked to the ACO.

  • American Le Mans Series (ALMS): The first series to use the Le Mans label was set up at the end of the 1990s by Don Panoz after a trial with a new race at Road Atlanta called Petit Le Mans. After demonstrating interest, he licenced the Le Mans tag from the ACO, started the ALMS and brought in the existing American classic, the 12 Hours of Sebring. Today Sebring and Petit are internationally-renowned events bookending the LM year. There are about 8 other races usually 2hr45min in length across the US and Canada at places like Long Beach, Road America and Laguna Seca. The ALMS is run by IMSA who collaborate with the ACO on their rules but aren’t afraid to go their own way.
  • (European) Le Mans Series (LMS): Probably after seeing the success of the ALMS in the middle of the ’00s the ACO itself set up the LMS, originally the ELMS. Unlike the ALMS, the LMS is made up of fewer races which are longer, just 4 or 5 across Europe at places like Spa and Silverstone. The races were 1000km but for this year they are timed at 6hrs (1000km used to take ~6hrs but have been faster since Audi and Peugeot started fighting). Historically, sportscars in Europe ran 1000km races. Personally I’d rather see the ALMS model combining a few long races and several accessible races of about 3hrs, I think that’s more fan-friendly. Even though the LM24 is in Europe it has never been a part of the LMS.
  • Asian Le Mans Series: This fledgling series has been trying to get off the ground for about 3 years but has only managed one event per year, in fact I think they may even have dropped the name because they are only able to run a sole round every November. That round was in Japan but moved to China for 2010 and this year. Usually a very depleted LMS field goes over, with a few locals.

The ALMS and LMS format worked for most of the 2000s. Audi would often choose to do the whole ALMS or LMS, and Peugeot would do the LMS plus Sebring and Petit (and obviously both makers went to Le Mans). When the economy worsened they each decided to just do say Spa, Silverstone, Sebring and Petit, perhaps with fewer cars than before.

Some of the racing without them was good anyway, better in some cases without someone dominating, but the fact is both series drew a degree of respectability and interest by having Audi and Peugeot present – races without them just didn’t seem so professional.

The theory now is if the prize was a global championship rather than a regional one, surely that would draw Audi and Peugeot back and would justify their spend (which would not be much greater than before since the series would encompass the cherry-picked races), and perhaps even attract new entrants to face them. Hence the ILMC was born.

  • Intercontinental Le Mans Cup: Based around manufacturer titles (and team cups for non-manufacturers). I believe there is no title for drivers. The ILMC is made up of existing rounds from the other series so their entrants are added to the LMS/ALMS fields. It isn’t quite a full World Championship, but it is nearly there and could become one in a year or two. This is the second year of the ILMC. 2010 was the trial year with three races, 2011 sees it grow to seven events: Sebring (ALMS), Spa (LMS), Le Mans (24), Imola (LMS), Silverstone (LMS), Road Atlanta (ALMS), China (Asian).

I totally understand the reluctance to launch head-on into a full World Championship straight away given the history of failed sportscar series of the past, and the current global market. What is left unexplained is what will become of the LMS and ALMS. It seems as though the top teams will do the ILMC and skip the rest, only in a few cases will ILMC entrants choose to also complete a full season in either LMS or ALMS. It might seem as though LMS and ALMS are getting a raw deal at rounds where the ILMC is not present, although if those teams weren’t going anyway is it such a loss? On the plus side, there is a rumour that LMS rounds with the ILMC present may be over-subscribed! We shall see how it plays out.

I hope this has helped. I’m sorry for the long post but it is very difficult to pare this down to basics in laymans terms! I haven’t even touched on the regulatory changes among the classes for this year. That’s for another time.

Side-note: A 50-car ILMC/LMS field at new-venue Imola?? Yes, please!!


2 thoughts on “The Various Le Mans Series”

  1. The ILMC definitely doesn’t have a driver championship. There wasn’t one awarded last year and I haven’t heard anything to suggest there would be one this time around.

    The LMS has 39 entries this year before ILMC entries are considered. Admittedly, some of those entries will also be in the ILMC (particularly in the case of the GT2s, but also some of the richer LMP2 squads might be in ILMC). Given that the maximum entry is 50, it wouldn’t surprise me if they had an over-subscription issue. I don’t think the LMP1 manufacturers will be interested in doing more series than the ILMC, but a lot of the other teams benefit from local exposure as well as the global side (and therefore will want to be in one or more of the local series).

    The other benefit of the ILMC is that it has allowed the regional series organisers to insist that anyone in their races must do a complete series. Either they do a complete series of the host organiser’s races or they do a full series of ILMC. They can’t do what teams have been doing up to now and do a part-season of a regional series without committing to the other races in the series they promised to participate within. This would, for example, prevent the Mansell LMP1 entry in LMS from skipping two rounds (the first because they went testing instead to make their car work better and the second because they didn’t have a substitute for Nigel Mansell available).

    As for the 50-car field at Imola… seconded. That is going to be one amazing race, as will Silverstone (which should have the same field size).


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