Where Do We Go Now, O’Sweet Child of Mine

Could Axel & Flash Fire Up The ALMS

The original working title of Part II of this series on the ALMS was “Out Manuvered and Out in the Cold.”    Following a couple of press releases, one on the 2013 Oklahoma City race (exactly what we need, another processional street race, but that’s another story)  and  the return of “a” P1 team at Lime Rock, I kept wondering where are they going. What better theme for the ALMS today than Axel Rose and Slash “Sweet Child of Mine.” We all know the chorus, “Where do we go, Where do we go now, Where do we go, Sweet Child o’ mine.” Okay, let’s not debate theme songs for the ALMS. This is about how they got here and where they’re going.

 In five years the ALMS has transformed from the premier sports prototype-GT series in North America to one that is arguably in survivor mode.  In 2006 the American Le Mans Series was at its pinnacle, a showcase for sports car racing technology that featured major teams and manufacturers and most importantly, great racing.  All the pieces were in place for success. The series had manufacturer involvement in each class. Audi, Honda and Porsche were the headliners in prototypes and the door-knocking GT class featured Ferrari, Corvette and BMW.   The teams were no less spectacular, not just names known to the hardcore enthusiast, but names the casual racing observer recognized; Penske, Andretti and Rahal-Letterman. The driver lineups were exceptional and boasted accomplished talent from sports-car, IndyCar, Rally and even Formula 1.

Near global economic collapse spared no one. Free spending corporations slashed budgets and sports sponsorships vanished. All racing was hit hard, even the multi-million dollar series (billion dollar for F-1) Formula 1, NASCAR, IndyCar were all battered. Some were knocked around harder than others. The fortunate teams reorganized which meant downsize to one car efforts or run reduced schedules, or both. The not so fortunate succumb to the economy and never recovered. Manufacturers scaled back or quit series.

In 2011 it would appear the ALMS is fighting for an identity and maybe it’s very existence in a diluted racing market. The economic recovery is painfully slow in the U.S. Sponsors are elusive and teams continue to struggle to find the big dollars necessary to compete.  Its’ main rival, the Rolex Grand-Am series, not only has a rich uncle in NASCAR, but may well be outmaneuvering the ALMS where it’s strongest in the GT ranks. As previously reported by Speed.com, GrandAm is in negotiations with Audi, Mercedes and Lotus to adapt their GT3 and GT4 cars to the Rolex series and Ferrari has committed to build Grand-Am spec 458 customer cars. 

Mercedes and Audi are keen to compete in the American market, but without the cost of a LMP1 or Le Mans GT program. Audi is focused on ILMC and Le Mans. Mercedes primary focus is winning the F-1 World Championship and as an engine supplier. A Grand-Am crossover platform for existing GT3 and GT4 cars makes economic sense for manufacturers and teams. A stronger GT field and the forthcoming evolution of the Daytona Prototype body/aero kit (with more direct manufacturer involvement) is a winning combination for the Grand-Am, especially when everyone is trying to attract the “casual” racing fan and keep cost in check.

As if the North American racing market wasn’t saturated enough, the story that will not go away is the U.S. DTM series.  Marshall Pruett, SpeedTV.com, broke the story on the NASCAR-DTM partnership for a 2013 series.  The U.S. DTM series would consist of 12 races. Six to run as support races at NASCAR events and six as support races at Grand-AM races.

Suddenly the NASCAR-Grand AM looks like Ali and the ALMS Foreman.  The ALMS is on the ropes. The fight is on.

Next Week; Part III;  An Ally Becomes the Rival

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3 Thoughts to “Where Do We Go Now, O’Sweet Child of Mine

  1. Edward

    Thank you for your post about the state of ALMS. I disagree wtih you about street racing, but I digress.

    On to the matter of your post. Sadly, I agree with you about where the series is now. Several years ago, ALMS was in many ways a worthy successor to the IMSA World Sportscar series. Now, partially through no fault of it’s own-the worldwide economic recession-and something that is the series fault-a media deal which provides no live TV and a online presence not everyone-I count myself among them-can get, the series is now basically in my view headed to ruin.

    Grand-Am’s ability to survive, in my opinion, comes heavily from the fact that it is owned by NASCAR, which allows both financial underpinning as well as the ability to leverage support from the likes of Ford and Chevrolet. And with the news that Grand-Am is negotiating with Audi, Mercedes and Lotus, as well as Ferrari building Grand-Am spec 458 customer cars, that may well be the straw that breaks ALMS’s back. I would be sad if that happens, because I prefer the exotic, technologically advanced ALMS cars to NASCAR’S dumbed down version of sportscar racing.

    Your analogy is an apt one. Right now, Grand-Am has ALMS on the ropes. And sadly, I fear that ALMS won’t be saved by the bell.

  2. Times are tough all around; no doubt, and a call needed to be made. ALMS made the best call they could at the time. If they were able to come to agreement with Speed do you think they would broadcast more races live? the 12 hours of sebring would have been preempted for 3 hours of nascar prerace @bristol, and long beach would have been overshadowed by the race at Dega. Theses are not little nascar races these are two of the biggest nascar races of the season. August 6th they would fight for time with Iowa (granted not so glamorous, but nascar wins by default). This isnt even calling out the grandam conflicts. It is a much different economy then a few years ago and ALMS have trenched themselves in for a long battle. Sure they have blazed a new path, and with any change there comes fear, and unknowing, but this path is one for the future. This change was innovative and bold (which are two characteristics of a winning race team) and sure it may blow up in their faces, but until then I will enjoy the best road racing America has to offer, on the web.

  3. ALMS’s biggest problem (besides no TV) is that they haven’t had the same team lineup since 08. Like Champcar they can’t grow teams and drivers into stars because everyone’s changing around each off season. I think they had a decent format last year with combined LMP1/2 and it gave them 6-10 Prototypes at every race. But the ACO’s new rules are screwing them and the non TV deal is… s—. Speed was better, for all of it’s faults at least it’s a place motorsport and car people watch. Versus would have been better… even Spike would have been better!

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