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.

ALMS has five classes

P1  Fast technologically-advanced prototypes like WEC and Le Mans, currently without manufacturers in ALMS but the privateers are top quality. Small fields lately as they cost a lot which is a shame as fans love them. May see a last hurrah in ’13.

P2  Like P1 cars toned down, also found in WEC, ELMS and Le Mans. Many are cost-capped to help budgets. Pro-Am driver format. Mix of chassis (Lolas, ORECAs, HPDs) mated to Nissans, Judds, HPDs (Hondas). Great racing in Europe but small fields in the US – that could improve.

PC  Single-make low-cost ORECA-Chevy prototypes acting as an entry point for the other two P classes to bring new teams into the series.

GT  Almost identical to the GTE classes you find in WEC, ELMS and Le Mans but not split down Pro and Am lines. The ALMS version is VERY competitive, with closer racing featuring many more cars. in fact it is likely the best GT class in any series anywhere! Multiple manufacturers (Corvette, Ferrari, Porsche, BMW) who employ top teams and drivers to run cars for them. VERY close and exciting races!

GTC  Low-cost class just for Porsches, an entry point into GT racing at this level. The GT equivalent of the PC class.

The P1, P2 and GT classes are very close to Le Mans spec but may at times have modifications to suit the North American market.

Rolex Series has two classes

DP  Daytona Prototypes. Despite being named prototypes to my untechnical eye they seem almost to be fast GTs rather than ‘prototypes’ in the usual sense. Chassis from Riley and others mated to big name manufacturers like BMW and Ford, plus the quick Corvette entries. Seem to sit at ALMS PC pace but gets there with horsepower where PC is all downforce. Seems to me there’s the potential to call this one GTP:  GT Prototypes.

GT  Multiple manufacturers in close races! Rules are unique to the series but recently started accepting modified GT3 cars. Porsche, Mazda, Corvette, Ferrari, Audi. Seem to be a similar pace to ALMS GTC.

GTX  A brand new class for experimental GT cars, a class which hasn’t run in anger yet so I can’t really comment on it.

My Thoughts

I’d love to keep P1 and P2 but the numbers have to support it and the entries don’t seem to be there. If P1 teams pick up P2s we’ll see some great racing – that’s the case in the ELMS where P2 is the headline class. It would just be a shame to lose the potential for a non-WEC American P1 team to go to Le Mans – not to mention the awe-inspiring sight of the big cars on often narrow bumpy US tracks.

Daytona Prototypes should be kept. Where to place them? Emotionally I’d like to see them as the second/third class behind the P cars. Objectively it is harder to define which should be on top. I certainly wouldn’t roll P2 and DP (or PC) into one class – that would be messy.

ALMS PC served a purpose for which it worked well – bringing in teams – but is there a need now and is there room? I argue not in the main series. I’d strongly consider making it the top class of a reworked Continental Tyre Series, then promote that series better. Let’s have a place to learn a mix of prototype and GT traffic before moving to the headline series. If grid space allows I’d consider inviting PC guys to the endurance races.

ALMS GT is fantastic and shouldn’t be touched at all. Not even adjusted for windscreen strengthening at Daytona. Keep it as it is!

Rolex GT is almost as good – or even as good – as ALMS GT from what I’ve seen of it. Great mix of cars and good racing. Keep it! Perhaps in a Pro-Am format to attract new teams. Work to keep it cheaper than the other GT.

ALMS GTC cars can be rolled into the GA GT class or moved into Conti series. I don’t see a space for a separate class. It served a purpose in its day but that day is over – new teams can just join Rolex GT.

My Class Structure

I’d structure it this way:

P – the current P2 unchanged, per Le Mans LMP2 with any adjustments for North America just as they do now. In a dream world I’d have P1 *and* P2.
GTP – the current Daytona Prototypes, preferably with open tyre competition even if that takes another year or two to happen;
GT(1?) – the current ALMS GT unchanged;
GT(2?) – the current Grand Am GT unchanged or mostly so, but I might make them a smidge quicker;
GTX – Keep a space for that as it might be interesting.

A single-letter class isn’t appealing. Maybe I’d call it SP (Sports Prototype).
I’d remove ‘Daytona’ and ‘Le Mans’ from class names, whichever you make fastest fans would complain ‘their’ cars aren’t as quick. That’s also why I’m renaming DP to GTP, that and it is a cool name!
I hesitate to use GT1 and GT2 because that’s been done to death and might be confusing trying to say GT1 = GTE at LM/WEC. And yet it is also the clearest choice.

Another option could be to move DP to the top as the new P1, keeping P2 as P2. You might do that by switching the slower DP tyres over to P2 cars, and having the faster rubber put on the DPs and adjusting aero and power to make them quicker. That is not my preference as sports prototypes should be up front – and with respect I think race attendance figures back that up – but I do agree there is space to make adjustments to ensure GTP/DP stay just behind P2s and well ahead of GTs. I’d happily go with that.

Four competitive classes open to multiple manufacturers, plus an experimental class!

Where To Race?

Nobody needs to worry about the potential race schedule. Combine the two series and you have an embarrassment of riches. The problem will be narrowing it down! Look at where they raced this year:

ALMS:  Sebring 12Hr, Long Beach, Laguna Seca, Road America, Lime Rock, Mosport, Mid-Ohio, Baltimore, Virginia, Road Atlanta (Petit Le Mans);

GA-RS:  Daytona 24Hr, Barber (Alabama), Homestead-Miami, Laguna Seca, Mid-Ohio, Detroit Belle Isle, Indianapolis, Road America, Watkins Glen, Lime Rock, Kansas.

Lot of crossover and both series will run at Austin’s CotA next season.

Let’s start with the endurance races.

2014 will start with the 24 Hours of Daytona, followed just a few weeks later by the 12 Hours of Sebring. This has already been confirmed. Now that is a very tough, very cool way to start the year!

The other enduro is Petit Le Mans and there’s a question mark. After running 36 hours to open the season, do you want to finish up with a 1000-mile race? That’s a lot of hours of racing! Road Atlanta came with the purchase so you can bet there’ll be a race in 2014 – but will it be the modern classic? They could choose to run a shorter race – if they do I hope it is a temporary measure. PLM is a firm fan favourite.

ISCAR already admitted it isn’t looking beyond 11 or 12 races per year, to keep costs manageable for teams. If they do go for three enduros you can understand why!

Now let’s look at venues common to both series:

Road America, Laguna Seca, Lime Rock, Mid-Ohio, and, next year, Austin;

Can’t argue with much of that. My only question is Lime Rock, already it is a frantic place, with four busy classes with a different speed profile than we currently see it might become too tricky to race there. The others should be permanent fixtures.

Finally we look at keystone events:

Long Beach, Baltimore, Mosport CTMP, Indianapolis, Belle Isle, Watkins Glen;

Long Beach will remain because it’s Long Beach – a bit of a pain but a classic venue in a place they need to be seen. I like Baltimore but it is a bit of a crash-filled event and is beset with financial troubles. Mosport is essential and not just because it is the only Canadian event and is very popular (bigger than Toronto IndyCar apparently).

Belle Isle makes sense on Detroit’s doorstep, important in keeping local manufacturers sweet. Indy is a great venue to say you visit but the road course is terrible and none of the Brickyard 400 fans turn up so I don’t see this lasting. Watkins Glen is another essential – I very much miss the IndyCar race there and I’d love to see a 4-class sportscar field tackle it!

I’d keep all of them.

That leaves out:

VIR, Barber, Homestead, Kansas.

I only skip VIR because I never saw a Rolex Series race there and I’ve not yet caught up with their ALMS race on the streaming site – I don’t know the place.
Barber seemed barely suitable for Grand-Am’s two classes, mix in faster LMPs and a field of more GTs and I can’t see it working (I have similar concerns about Belle Isle). We already have two races in Florida so Homestead is out. Kansas is a wait and see, I want to see a race there first.

I left out all manner of excellent circuits not presently visited, like Sonoma Raceway in California, Miller Motorsport Park in Utah, and Montreal’s F1 track which GA departed this year. They’re all potential locations.

Here is my personal preference in a very rough order:

Daytona 24
Sebring 12
Long Beach (with IndyCar)
Laguna Seca
Austin (with WEC)
Belle Isle
Watkins Glen
Indianapolis (with NASCAR)
Mosport CTMP
Road America
Baltimore (with IndyCar)
Petit Le Mans @ Road Atlanta

I took out Lime Rock and kept Indy as I think that’s more likely. I’m still not convinced Indy is necessary or that Baltimore will survive. In truth if you hit 9/10ths of this list you’d make the fans very happy indeed!

That’s thirteen diverse events, one or two more than ISCAR wants. I hope after the initial building years they’ll be happy to run 12-14 races annually. Of course the tracks may vary from year to year so I think this is a solid base to work from. I appreciate the tremendous logistical and other challenges!

I’ve given it a good stab but even if I’m only 2/3rds right the 2014 & 2015 schedules should be fantastic.


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