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.

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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.

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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.

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Reaction: WEC/ALMS 12 Hours of Sebring 2012

The 60th Anniversary 12 Hours of Sebring promised much but only partly satisfied our need for answers. If anything it only got me looking forward even more to the coming season!

The Race

The first half of the race felt quite flat and I’m sure that’s as a result of the lack of action at the ultimate sharp end combined with the difficulties in actually trying to watch the race. I remember saying the race needed to improve.

The second half was much better, the coverage improved, and despite some big gaps the races tightened up as reliability struck. Could the repairs be made before the slower chasers made up the deficit? Could the fast delayed cars make up lost ground? Then you had both LMP2 and GT with cars on the same lap even after 11 hours! Aside from the outright win you couldn’t pick any class winner at any stage.

The race as a whole must have been a good one because the 12 hours flew by!

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