Wednesday morning, the Grand-Am Rolex Series and the American Le Mans Series confirmed their plans to unify as one sports car racing series in North America, beginning with the 2014 season.
Both sanctioning bodies will continue to operate separate schedules in 2013 before racing under one banner in 2014 beginning with the 52nd annual Rolex 24 at Daytona. A board of directors has been formed to operate the new combined organization with Grand-Am founder Jim France as chairman and ALMS founder Don Panoz as vice chairman. Other members will include NASCAR Vice Chair/Executive Vice President Lesa France Kennedy, Grand-Am President/CEO Ed Bennett, ALMS President/CEO Scott Atherton and NASCAR Vice President/Deputy General Counsel Karen Leetzow.
“This merger will blend the best assets and attributes of each organization in terms of technical rules, officiating, marketing, communications, personnel, scheduling and broadcasting,” said Atherton. “The result will be one of the strongest, most competitive and powerful motorsports marketing platforms in the world.”
Under terms of the merger, the following entities will combine with Grand-Am: the American Le Mans Series; the International Motor Sports Association, which sanctions ALMS events; the Road Atlanta racetrack in Braselton, Ga.; the Chateau Elan Hotel and Conference Center in Sebring, Fla.; and Sebring International Raceway, via a reassignment of the lease agreement with the Sebring Airport Authority to operate the raceway. Atherton said
The ALMS, founded by Panoz in 1999, has been sold to Grand-Am. Panoz and Atherton joined Jim France and Ed Bennett of Grand-Am at the announcement.
“This deal occurred in a handshake deal on a golf course,” Panoz explained with France. “We had a match. But before we went to the golf course, I'm a senior, Jim's a little younger. We had an non-disclosure agreement. We wouldn't disclose what we shot and who won. The bet was $1. That bill is labeled the non-disclosure dollar for the merger of these two great series. I have that framed. It's only a dollar, it's small. It's the cornerstone of our success going forward.
“We set a world record for keeping a secret. It was six months and 14 days before somebody broke it.”
Starting in 2014, the schedule will feature each series' marquee races beginning with the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January, then the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring in March.
Post-merger branding still is being determined for the new organization and its principal series, as are specifics regarding the 2014 schedule. Also, the competitive class structure and technical rules, including whether the series will be a single-tire supplier or open to multiple manufacturers, beginning in 2014 have yet to be finalized.
Panoz did say the DeltaWing project will play a role in whatever prototype class is established, but he did not foresee a future for P1 going forward. Atherton said ALMS GT will remain as part of the package. His further explanation described the class status as it stands now.
“It's too early to be definitive,” he said. “This will be the true merger of the two series when we go over the technical regulations. The vision has been clearly established, but by the guys in the suits. The practical applications of our suits is yet to be determined. You can understand the complexities of putting this arrangements together, getting us to this point today. Our staff has just found out, as technical. All things in time. There will be a point in time where we get it right the first the time.
For 2013, both series are unaffected. Both series have been proactive in changes to their products over the last several years. The ALMS introduced Challenge classes (PC and GTC) as a stop-gap measure to boost car count and provide spec categories for Pro-Am driver pairings in 2010, and later revived P1/P2 in separate forms for 2011, P2 restarting as a cost-capped category with a chance to race those cars at Le Mans.
Grand-Am's biggest change in its cars and categories has come with the new bodywork on DP chassis in the form of third-generation Corvette and Riley DPs for this year. Plans were also announced to introduce a third class, GX, for new and experimental technologies, starting in 2013.
We'll have more to follow ons RACER.com as more details emerge from this announcement.