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Sports car merger – it’s got to be right

September 5, 2012

As forecast by SpeedTV.com’s John Dagys several days ago, the American Le Mans Series and Grand-Am series are about to merge – but it’s definitely more of a takeover than a meeting of similar minds. With a press conference held in what will become the new entity’s Daytona Beach hometown, presided over by Herb Branham, PR directive for the NASCAR-owned Grand-Am group, while the gathering had a message of inclusion it is easy to see who got the larger share of the pie.

Even though the Automobile Club de l’Ouest in France had nothing but kind things to say about the “merger”, stating it was “carried out with the approval of the ACO, has become necessary to enable endurance racing to continue to evolve,” Pierre Fillon, ACO president said. “In 2014 (year of the merger) this branch of the sport will have a bigger calendar and high-quality fields,” he spoke. “I”m happy to meet up with the new team directing this new series in the near future and to start working with them on this North American Championship.”

One can only hope that means the retention of the current GT specifications as outlined by the ACO and WEC, rather than Grand-Am’s dumbing down of GT racing through its bespoke series. What will happen to the prototype classes is anyone’s guess, but since the 2014 ACO rules are still a work in progress, perhaps a combination of what’s good about Grand-Am (its close competition) and ALMS (manufacturer support) might be commingled into one delightful grouping that works for both ACO and the North American group, whose name is yet to be determined.

The fact that this pact was derived during a six-hour round of golf is quite appropriate; the fact that Jim France of NASCAR/Grand-Am and Dr Don Panoz, father of ALMS were able to agree to terms speaks of the merits of both gentlemen. Their Non-Disclosure pact should be just that – it’s nobody else’s business but theirs, even though the future of many extremely talented people is on the line.

I’m hoping that the merged group keeps the best of all worlds, the tech group that keeps ALMS humming and the manufacturers that keep the Daytona Prototypes going. While Mark Raffauf is a good friend of mine and we’ve known one another for a long, long time – dating back to IMSA’s beginnings – I think the current IMSA group that officiates ALMS does the more spectacular job.

The merger of Champ Car and INDYCAR managed to dump some genuine stars out to the unemployment line, including Lon Bromley, who headed Champ Car’s safety team (still the best in the biz) and Billy Kamphausen, the little firecracker that ran that organization’s pits and paddock. Billy got a slight reprieve by working with the current Detroit Grand Prix but his talents are being wasted, totally wasted – he’s needed in the Indy cars, as is Bromley.

Successful sports car racer Alex Job, who has fielded cars in both Grand-Am and ALMS has an appreciation for both series’ tenets. He’s pleased that the new group is giving itself an 18-month window to get this merger right to “forge a sturdy business and technical plan. I am looking forward to going to the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona in January of 2014 and then to Sebring for the 12-Hour a month and a half later, like the old days.”

Dyson Racing’s Rob Dyson has raced in sports car competition for three decades and feels the “variety of technology and competitors during that period has defined the sport and produced the memories that sustain its growth today and propel its future. We expect the newly combined series will produce an even more enhanced arena of value for manufacturers and privateers alike,” he said.

Mark Reuss, who – as president of GM North America – helped bring Chevrolet to the fore in Grand-Am Daytona Prototype competition feels, “This is an exciting moment in sports car racing.” Because it creates “a singularly focused series,” he believes there’s a foundation for Chevrolet “to develop technologies and race cars with tremendous relevancy to the production vehicles we sell today and in the future.”

Ford, too, is heavily involved in Grand-Am and won the Rolex 24 at Daytona this past January with Michael Shank Racing. The principals in this agreement visited Ford’s Dearborn headquarters prior to making this announcement and won the support of Ford Racing director Jamie Allison. “The opportunity to take the best of ALMS and Grand-Am and create a strong, unified professional road racing series is what the fans have wanted, the teams have wanted and the manufacturers have wanted for many years.” He congratulated both leaderships for their leadership “for the good of the sport.”

The good of the sport depends on what happens in the coming months as both entities work to generate one series from parallel universes. They’ll go their own ways in terms of competition in 2013 and join for the 52nd annual Rolex 24 at Daytona in January of 2014. I just hope they make the right choices heading into that pivot point.

By Anne Proffit

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