OURLSER: Questions Remain For Grand-AM/ALMS


Wednesday’s announcement that Grand-Am Road Racing and the American Le Mans Series had joined forces to create a single organization to move American road racing into a better future was much like the Republicans and the Democrats saying that they had decided to jointly look after America’s political fortunes for the good of the country.

The old cliché that “the Devil is in the details” is clearly appropriate in both cases since the parties involved, whether in the political or motorsport arenas, have had such massive philosophical differences in how to achieve their desired goals.

While Jim France, the founder of Grand-Am and the farther of the Rolex Sports Car tour, along with his counterpart Don Panoz, owner of the ALMS, stressed their accord on the big issues involved, when pressed for details, few were forthcoming.

For the ALMS it has all been about technology – the traditional food for the sports car community. On the other hand, Grand-Am has actively capped Technoid advances and limited performance in the name of cost savings.

Even so, given that according to France and Panoz, Wednesday’s announcement was the product of some six months of talks and negotiations, one might have expected at least hint of more informative answers.

For example, when it came to the question of the ties the combined championship might have with Le Mans, from whom the ALMS currently leases its regulations, both men assured their interested audience that they wanted continued relations.

However, both also stressed that the new title chase would be rooted in the needs of the North American marketplace.

While desire to find a way to continue the Sarthe association in some form is commendable, will the circumstances really allow it to become a reality?

Keep in mind that in 2003 when the Grand-Am introduced its techno limited Daytona Prototypes, it suggested that the rest of the world was headed in the wrong direction and the “DPs” would enlist a whole new road course fan base. In the seasons since that hasn’t happened.

More importantly, the increasing sophisticated advanced prototypes raced at Le Mans and in the newly formed Euro-centric World Endurance Championship have raised the profile of the sports car set greatly.

Although no one expects the privateers who are the heart and soul of both the ALMS and the Rolex to purchase any of these “factory only” machines – which, by the way, will only get more expensive in 2014 when they are forced to adopt new alternative energy rules – the question is will the traditional fans, accept and embrace prototypes whose performance is not up to the standards being set elsewhere?

The direction in which Le Mans is headed does not appear to be the direction in which sports car racing here is headed. Therefore, how does one maintain a relationship that will permit any meaningful crossover between the new American title tour and those involved in setting the course for the French long distance classic and its associated offshoots?

In the past, the road course championships here that have been successful are the one’s which stressed technological achievement – i.e. the fastest and the best.

To go back to a point made earlier, sports car fans are interested in loft dreams like those which took us to the Moon, and not nearly so much in the down and dirty competition that is the hallmark of NASCAR’s oval track success.

Over the years, starting with John Bishop’s International Motor Sports Ass’n in the 1970s and ’80s, where, when asked, Bishop said, “We race cars like those at Le Mans,” to the ALMS, which allied itself almost completely to the French 24-Hour, the link to Le Mans – either real or implied, has been critical to financial success.

There are many ways for the combined Grand-Am/ALMS folks to create something that will put the road course community here on a course for a solid future. Most of these will involve the word “compromise.” However, the question is how that will be reached. If Grand-Am’s present cost containment philosophy prevails, then there could be trouble ahead at the box office and at home with the television viewer.

Cliché or not, in the case the “devil” really is in the details.