Bahrain's effect domestically is what happens to Petit now as a result. Petit is one of the two biggest ALMS events, and now will have to do without the top-level P1 manufacturers. The good news is that the full-season prototype teams would get an opportunity to go for the overall win, which they haven't had a chance to do in several seasons. Still, Petit would have to fill the void of attracting a similarly decent field to replace the WEC entrants, who, like it or not, will be in Bahrain. They also have to worry about the V8 Supercars' Gold Coast 600 at Surfers' Paradise – road racing's unofficial international all-star event the last few years – which is also scheduled for the same weekend.
Assuming IndyCars are off that weekend, it wouldn't hurt the ALMS to think about inviting its star drivers over for a Surfers-esque “all-star” event, where regular ALMS teams would run IndyCar or other guest drivers as their third drivers. The doubleheader weekends between the two series have proven popular, so why not expand on that? An easier and more likely proposition is that more Le Mans Series teams can and will sprout up. Still, in this writer's opinion, both would be smart considerations.
Overall, I'm not suggesting the ALMS is in a horrible place given the current state of affairs. Far from it, actually. The pure on-track product this year didn't disappoint despite the reduced number of cars in the prototype classes.
Indirectly – and ironically – the renewed ALMS-ACO partnership reduces its direct tie-in to Le Mans because so few of its teams can afford to run the 24 Hours on their own (neither Dyson nor Rahal, which won automatic invites, seem likely to take them up at this juncture).
Mainly, few prototype manufacturers have an interest in running a domestic championship now that an international one is available. The series may call itself the American Le Mans Series, but other than the one or two GT teams that may be able to run Le Mans in 2012, there's limited direct tie-in to the French classic.
It all creates a fascinating and somewhat bizarre situation for the Le Mans-type series in 2012. The WEC will be FIA-sanctioned, ACO-promoted and governed, and feature as its top class Audi, Peugeot, Toyota and perhaps one additional manufacturer in the purest, most expensive level of factory P1 prototypes. The ALMS runs its P1 class with older-generation prototypes, as the only arena for grandfathered cars worldwide, and the potential of one or two new cars. And the LMS has broken off from both parties and will run the cost-capped P2 formula as its top class.
As Michael Corleone quipped in The Godfather Part II, of “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.” Despite everything, the ACO is still more of a friend to the ALMS than is Grand-Am. Since the two U.S.-based sports car series don't have any plans to come together anytime soon, the ALMS must take note of the warning shots being fired from Daytona Beach.
Grand-Am has a lot of good things going in 2012: new DP bodywork, the 50th anniversary Rolex 24 at Daytona, an well-rounded 13-race schedule (ALMS could range from eight to 10 events), Ferrari 458s and Audi R8s entering its GT class – even if not in their factory forms – and live TV for every race. GM is making a big marketing decision by calling its DP body kit a Corvette and fielding some factory drivers, even though it has little correlation to the 2012 Corvette production car.
That should make the ALMS look in the mirror and realize that although it's slowly losing its global aspirations, it still can seize the role as the most internationally relevant sports car series in this country. The ALMS still has some of the best road racing class in the U.S. going – the GT class of BMW, Porsche, Ferrari and Corvette all being separated by only a few tenths is not something to take for granted. And, obviously, that still draws the fans.
If the ALMS realizes it can be the best place in the U.S. for manufacturers to run purpose-built racecars that are very close to production, as well as embrace its prototype classes as an outlet for privateers to run at a relatively cheap price (a P2 class full-season entry should be under $600,000 annually for chassis and engine specifications per the cost-capped structure of the class), it can thrive. If it makes the mistake of driving away the manufacturers from GT for whatever reason, it won't be anything more than a glorified club racing series for wealthy amateurs. Right now, it's nearing that line.
Embracing what it still has, rather than lamenting what it's in the process of losing, will keep ALMS healthy and afloat for the next several years. If not, it could resign what remains a very fun and enjoyable series to watch to the dustbin of history, and that would be an absolute shame.