Part IV:New Direction Needed for IMSA-ALMS

Could common rules with FIA GT3 help save the ALMS

The 2011 American Le Mans Series season will (likely) widely be remembered as the one with two very successful events, Sebring and Petit Le Mans, a very questionable television/broadcast package with ABC, ESPN2 and that fans and some media are very critical of and other than the ALMS serious fan, some other races.   What’s this you say?  Have you lost your mind? The season is only two races old, we’re in the Le Mans break, Lime Rock is but a month away, we got bunch a great races leading up to Petit-Le Mans!

Sebring, Round 1 of the Intercontinental Le Mans Championship was a great success, other than the TV broadcast-actually a .com broadcast and infomercial. Long Beach, other than a fair showing of the GT class, showed the reality of the series and what the remainder of the 2011 season will look like, except for Petit Le Mans, another ILMC event.

Sebring and Petit Le Mans, both venues in the new Intercontinental Le Mans Championship, attract an international field, larger crowds and more media coverage than the other North American events. The European Le Mans series is dealing with the same issues; reduced grids, team defections to the ILMC and the same general ambivalence to the series. The situation for the Euro LMS Series is so dismal that series organizers will likely ditch the LMP1 class and run non-ILMC events in 2012.

The ALMS is not in any better situation. If it’s been dismal for the Euro LMS, it’s just plain dire for ALMS whether anyone wants to admit it. There’s nothing on the ALMS table right now that  would indicated 2012 is going to be any different and there’s a lot of news that suggest it’s going to get worse before better.  There is no Audi or Porsche Factory, or semi-factory squad waiting in the wings or a new manufacturer stepping in to energize a LMP1 or LMP2 field. There is no manufacturer introducing a LMP car for purchase for private teams. Even if they were, there are not enough private teams with the kind of cash to buy, much less field them. The money isn’t out there for a domestic sports-prototype GT series.

If the American Le Mans Series is to maintain its own identity it may be time for the ALMS and IMSA to move in a different direction, one that includes a GT series outside of ACO regulations. The American Le Mans Series and IMSA should maintain its relationship with the ACO and ILMC with Sebring and Petit Le Mans, (and I would strongly urge negotiating a new “live” TV package for these two races). After all, it makes no sense to sacrifice your two most significant events by severing ties with the ILMC. Next, leave prototype racing to the “world” series and consider something really radical; Common rules!  

Common rules with the GrandAm GT class, or FIA GT3 and GT4 regulations. It makes economic sense for the owners and the manufacturers. It would open doors to more privateers, including European based teams looking for an American audience. There’s no shame in a cross-over racing. It is the private teams you are relying on now and it’s time to set egos aside. A separate GT series, outside of ACO regulations is practical. The ALMS is not a feeder series to the 24 Hours of Le Mans. American based teams wanting to run at Le Mans can field an entry in one of the two U.S. ILMC events, or the ALMS can negotiate a deal with ACO for a special invitation for its new GT series.

The post Sebring blues is turning into a major hangover for ALMS and the series is in need of short term fixes with quick effect. Grand Am is a step ahead of you. You’re likely going to be competing with a DTM series in 2013 that has plenty of potential to become a fan favorite. You no longer have what separated you from every other North American GT series; the exotic, advanced technology designed prototypes. It’s time to go and grow in a different direction. The alternative is very ominous.

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2 Thoughts to “Part IV:New Direction Needed for IMSA-ALMS

  1. While I agree that common rules between IMSA/ALMS and GrandAm would be a great idea I think they also need to keep the ACO and Le Mans in mind. In 2010 we had a BMW for North America that could not race overseas because it fell outside the ACO rule book. I never understood this and do feel that they should adopt and not make modifications to the FIA/ACO rules. I also agree that LMP1 needs to be like Group C and only part of the WEC, but you could run LMP2 in various national series, or skip the LMPs and only run GTs. That’s a tougher call, but there seems to be a healthy grid of wealthy gentlemen drivers in Euro GT3… global recession for some, boom time for others.

    It also seems like a good time for a fuel efficiency formula similar to early Group C (pre-F1 motors) and possibly an alignment with the DTM / Aussie V8 / SuperGT chassis and engine regulations. America needs to stop living in a bubble of our own and join the global motor racing world if we want to stay current and continue to draw interest from teams, manufacturers and, most importantly, sponsors.

  2. I no longer have any faith that egos will be set aside in time to “save” the ALMS from the dustbin of history outside of Sebring and Petit. When the GT-C class was introduced in 2009, the rhetoric was that the ALMS would look at introducing non-Porsche makes into the class as time warranted. I can’t imagine anything being a stronger indicator that something could/should have been done with the class than the realization that there would be less than 5 LMP1 cars per race in 2012, which became pretty clear by the middle of last year (if one class’s count drops, do what you can to shore another’s up, right?). The obvious decision (and I’m only sorry that I didn’t crank out a 6,000 word blog post about this when I came to the realization about July of last year) would have been to open up the GT-C class to all the European GT3 cars, as the first and easiest way to breathe new life into the ALMS. Didn’t happen. Anything that comes from here on out, short of a wholesale merger with GrandAm, ChampCar/IRL-style, is sure to be too little, too late.

    It was a good run, ALMS-circa 1999 to 2009. We’ll always have our fond memories, right?

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