The day participants and fans of North American sports car racing have hoped for – and/or feared – appears to be at hand. After many years plying separate paths – and philosophies – Grand-Am's Rolex Series and the American Le Mans Series are tipped to be ready to tie the knot and become just one series.
Is it a revelation? A miracle? A blessing? A curse?
When the report by SPEED.com's John Dagys of a merger to produce joint race operations, likely beginning in 2014, initially broke Saturday mere hours before the ALMS race at Baltimore, it's first impact was of profound surprise. My initial on-ground perspective from talking to various teams, drivers and crew members in Baltimore over the weekend was of shock and disbelief and further conversations since then have only bolstered this impression. While many racing “secrets” are usually at least well speculated on or predictable in advance of their official announcements, this one caught almost everyone off guard. In today's day and age of instant information, it was a genuine shocker.
It was such a bombshell it took almost all the attention off the race (ABOVE), which was intriguing enough as it turned out with 15 cars from four different classes on the overall lead lap with less than a half an hour to go, before a P2 class entry won overall and the GT class winner took a top-five finish. That spoke volumes about the ALMS' level of competition on a day when it didn't need to put on a thrilling race, but it didn't hurt its cause, either.
Yet the race was merely a brief interruption to the conjecture and opinion about possible outcomes that could soon follow. An announcement is expected to be forthcoming on Wednesday that will provide more details – namely, the philosophy, class and technical structure, and human elements of what happens to all the people involved on either side.
Ahead of that presumptive assembly of the various puzzle pieces in play, here's what some of the key players involved within the industry had to say:
BOBBY RAHAL, TEAM CO-OWNER, RAHAL LETTERMAN LANIGAN RACING (COMPETES IN ALMS WITH BMW M3)
“The same as with IndyCar, it would be nothing but great, for the sport, the scene, spectators, for everybody as it would be one series. I think it would be huge for the sport if it came about. Having both Sebring and Daytona in one championship as it once was. The list of tracks goes on. If it all works out, it would be great for the sport.
“I certainly hope the ACO formula, or classes are still used. When I raced IMSA, it went from Sebring to Le Mans and big international teams came over. When you have a singular focus, that could happen. It would be huge for racing as a whole.
“I would hope the ALMS formula would be kept, but if the worlds come together, you have the might of ISC, the television of FOX or SPEED, or ESPN3… there is some real leverage, some real clout. I don't think this is anything but a win for endurance racing. You'd have the marketing might of ISC/NASCAR combined with the ACO formula and the manufacturer involvement, and it's nothing but fantastic.
“I don't know how they'll go about timing. It could probably be handled better than IndyCar (in its merger with Champ Car -Ed.). IndyCar was last-second, some guys in Japan and some at Long Beach. It was one of those things. In this case, we have a chance to do it with a little planning. How it comes out, I don't have a clue. The formulas are different.
“If they are coming together, whatever it is has to be done to make it happen.”
DOUG FEHAN, PROGRAM MANAGER, CORVETTE RACING (ALMS)
“We're in the position of being very happy with the way things were going, for the most part. The classification of GT racing in the American Le Mans Series, I think it's the best GT racing that this country has ever seen.
“From whatever this new organization looks like, in 2014, they need to pay close attention to how close that is, and don't fix something that's not broken. I can tell you for 2013, we're solid. That's not an issue. What form it will take and what it will look like in 2014, is open to conjecture, and we have to wait on how this organization comes together, what it looks like, and obviously make our decisions based on that.
“Any prudent businessman would take cause and wait to see. Maybe we'll have some answers after Wednesday, although I highly doubt it. I'm not certain how much of 2014 is sorted between the two of them, I'm not sure yet.
“It'll be a challenging time for us, and for all our decision-making, on how we'll look as we go forward. We're in the American Le Mans Series now because, for our needs, it's a much better fit. The association with the ACO, ability to compete on a global stage at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, that's been the cornerstone of the program. Chevrolet is a global brand. Corvette is the tip of that spear. Now we have to see how that may change.
“If it changes, we have to take a look at where we are to meet all our marketing objectives. We have always gone forward with all options on the table. We evaluate where we are during and at the conclusion of each year.”