As the American Le Mans Series and Grand-Am Rolex Series are set to join forces in 2014 – quite in what fashion remains to be seen – arguably one of two major talking points regarding the merger is how the schedule will look. A preliminary guess is 12 races, a number said by ALMS president and CEO Scott Atherton during the Sept. 5 press conference.
Three tracks all but certain to have a place on that schedule are three of this country's legendary road racing circuits, Lexington, Ohio's Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Elkhart Lake, Wis.'s Road America and Monterey, Calif.'s Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
They're three of four tracks which feature both ALMS and Grand-Am races on the calendar – Lime Rock Park (LEFT) is the fourth – but the other three have enough in terms of pedigree, history and paddock space to where they could serve as hotbeds for the singular series.
Beyond providing venues that feature great racing, the tracks exist first to sell tickets and cater to the interests of the ticket-buying fans.
“Without the fan support, it doesn't matter what you put together because if you can't sell tickets to the show, there's no point in having a show,” says Gill Campbell, CEO and general manager of Mazda Raceway. “I think it's very important that whatever the product ends up being is one the fans will want to see.”
“We have to be concerned about the fans, and (the two series) have a lot in common, which is great,” adds Craig Rust, president of Mid-Ohio, and formerly of Watkins Glen International. “What's the right product for the fans in 2014? You need to take the pieces that both of the series have done right.”
Of the three, only Mid-Ohio in recent years has provided a joint weekend of IndyCar and sports cars running together (on the ALMS weekend in August). Offering the best of both worlds provides the ultimate bang for the buck for road racing fans, even if it can make coverage of both during a weekend a tad bit challenging!
The financial barriers between the tracks and promoters and the current IndyCar sanctioning fee temper the desire for IndyCar to return to the other two circuits, Mazda Raceway and Road America. Road America last hosted an open-wheel weekend for Champ Car in 2007 (its last U.S. round of its last full season) while Champ Car's last Monterey race occurred in 2004.
Road America would seem a slam dunk based on the clamoring between drivers and fans alike to return. But, as track president George Bruggenthies says, there has to be something IndyCar can bring to the table beyond the desire to scarf a double brat at the St. John's stand in the infield.
“We're very open to it, but it's out of my hands,” he explained. “My understanding is that Michael Andretti has got an exclusive Wisconsin deal here (with Milwaukee). Until he's happy, there's only gonna be one IndyCar race in Wisconsin. There's nothing I can do about that.
“I've talked to Mr. [Randy] Bernard several times in face-to-face meetings. You've got team owners running the series. I don't know what their future is. Everyone's gotta pay the bills. But he [Andretti] wasn't paying hardly anything for his sanctioning fee this year. I don't know how that goes.”
While Bruggenthies denied specifics of what a sports car sanctioning fee is by comparison, he did note IndyCar's number.
“For sports cars, it is confidential, but it is much lower,” he said. “But with the IndyCar sanctioning fee, I don't have a contract with them so I can tell you what they're asking. They're asking $2 or $2.2 (million) – and I'm thinking, ‘You guys are crazy! You don't have a TV package worth much, and you don't bring anything along that brings revenue – hospitality or a partner.' It does not make sense.”