With the ripples being created from the Grand-Am/American Le Mans Series merger for 2014, some of the biggest players in the shift – however it evolves – are those who largely operate behind the scenes.
Consider the thoughts of those involved in the marketing, activating, technical and tire sides – sides who all need to have their thoughts put into play once this revitalized series hits the track at Daytona in January 2014.
“I think it's going to have a significant impact right out of the gate; there should be a really cool race schedule in year one,” says Zak Brown (LEFT), founder and CEO of Just Marketing International, better known as JMI – the world's largest motorsports marketing agency and a major player in some of racing's biggest sponsorship deals the last decade.
“I think NASCAR can bring its ideas, resources, clout and management to the infrastructure, and bring some of cost containment racing to the table in what Grand-Am has. On the other hand, ALMS has done well with the technology side of the sport. There is a balance between how spec you want to make things versus open and extravagant. Sports cars are meant to be unique, and there, I think they have good international experience and teams. Blended together, you could have a really cool product, with the outcome you want having the best possible sports car series, being able to cherry pick the best of both worlds.”
A name brought up during Wednesday's press conference as having helped move the discussions forward was another Brown – Patron Spirits CEO and Extreme Speed Ferrari driver Ed Brown – whose participation in this year's Rolex 24 at Daytona was as much a business trip as a racing one.
“I'd had interest in (acquiring) the ALMS, but the way it could have happened might have almost defeated the purpose, which is making sports car racing the greatest thing on the planet,” he explains. “Some of the assets – Road Atlanta for instance – might have needed to be diversified.
“And here, there were really two players playing in the same pool. I wondered, ‘Why wouldn't the thing just merge?' You ask questions and it comes back, ‘It tried to happen, but the parties don't like each other.' So I started working on both sides. I worked on Jim (France) a lot.”
With officials from both sports car series on the grounds at Daytona, and a major sponsor to the ALMS in Patron helping, Brown described how talks evolved.
“The thing I came out and told both of them is, ‘What the hell, the worst thing that can happen is nothing,'” he says. “So let's get in the same room and see if there are some similarities, equal visions and the goals are the same, because I think you'll find out, they pretty much are.”
The man who's been tasked at organizing the playing field for the manufacturers who have come to play in the ALMS – IMSA chief operating officer Scot Elkins (LEFT, shown from during his prior stint in Champ Car) – seems thrilled at the prospect of seeing what this new series can bring.
“To be honest with you, I think it's one of the greatest things that's ever happened to American sports car racing,” he says. “It's something that I'm, at this point, very much a part of – and looking forward to figuring out to see what this series looks like in 2014.”
Nothing was outlined specifically Wednesday in terms of the class structure for 2014, although ALMS president and CEO Scott Atherton indicated the ALMS' GT will be a part of it. At present, with Rolex having two classes (DP and GT) and due to expand to a third (GX, for new and experimental technologies) in 2013, with ALMS' five (P1, P2, GT, PC and GTC), there's going to be a fair bit of finagling to condense the categories.
Then there's the GT3 aspect. Particularly popular on the world platform, GT3 has not as yet found a home in America, although some GT3-based cars were introduced into Grand-Am this year (the Ferrari 458 and Audi R8, although each was fairly modified). Zak Brown's not just a marketing maven but a driver and team principal as well; his United Autosports team has run Audi R8s (RIGHT), McLaren MP4-12cs in GT3 spec and also done sporadic ALMS and Grand-Am races in prototypes.
“There's so many types of GT racing out there, with GT3 by far being the most popular on the basis of number of cars sold and different championships,” Brown admits. “And they're all pretty close but with different rules. Do they try to adopt GT3 rules and go ahead and modify those?
“And on prototypes, if right now you have three or four LMP2, five or six LMPC, and 10 DPs, there you've got a class. Maybe it's done where there's a prototype race, a GT race and maybe three or four times a year, say at Daytona or Sebring, they're all put together. I think everything's on the table and there's a lot of people with a lot of opinions. Seeking different views and with everyone chiming in, that will help things.”