Grand-Am merges with American Le Mans Series; new unified series for 2014
|By Gary Watkins||Wednesday, September 5th 2012, 15:59 GMT|
US sportscar racing will be united in 2014 when the Grand-Am and American Le Mans Series are merged.
The merger was announced at a press conference in Daytona today [Wednesday] by Grand-Am founder Jim France and ALMS owner Don Panoz. The two series will continue to operate separately in 2013.
France, who is also vice-president of NASCAR, said: "It gives me great pleasure to announce today officially that Grand-Am Road Racing and the ALMS are merging into one sportscar racing organisation.
"I know a lot of people have been waiting for this day to come. Beginning 2014 at the Daytona 24 Hours we will have a combined championship in North America."
Panoz, who will be the vice-chairman of the organisation that will run the new series, said: "Our passion is for sportscar racing to reach its pinnacle and to be all that it can be. I think with what we have set up that will happen."
Few details of the new series were announced at the press conference.
A name for the series has yet to be decided upon, according to France.
"We do not have a name," he said. "We have got some ideas of how to come up with a name for a new combined series."
The new group also refused to discuss the class structure of 2014 series, but Panoz as good as confirmed that the LMP1 prototype class would not be part of the new series.
"In our situation were are not thinking about an LMP1 class," he explained. "We are thinking about prototypes, advanced prototypes. We are American based and this series we are putting together is an American sportscar series and we need to take care of our own market."
That statement backs up speculation that Grand-Am's Daytona Prototype class will be the top division of the new US sportscar series in 2014.
It is understood that the new group is working on how to incorporate LMP2 cars, which are presently faster than DPs, as a secondary class.
ALMS boss Scott Atherton, who will be on the board of the new organisation, stated that the GTE class, known as GT in the ALMS, would be part of the new series in 2014.
"If you look at the GT category of the ALMS, many reference that as the high-water mark of that kind of racing and it is getting stronger all the time," he said. "I am going to go on the record to say that it will absolutely be an addition to what has been at the Daytona 24 Hours."
Panoz insisted that the merger did not mean the end of the relationship with the Le Mans organiser, the Automobile Club de l'Ouest.
"I would like to say that it was an important part of our discussion, at Jim's insistence, that our relationship with Le Mans continues," he said. "I believe that Le Mans is supportive; the new [ACO] president Pierre Fillon has told me that. We will find a way so some of our teams can qualify for Le Mans."
The calendar of the new series is likely to incorporate 12 races. That number will include the Sebring 12 Hours, the blue-riband of the ALMS.
The financial nature of the deal between Grand-Am and the ALMS was not revealed, but Atherton stated that the Panoz-owned Road Atlanta and Sebring venues would be incorporated into the new organisation.