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In the span of time since SPEED reporter John Dagys broke the news of an imminent GRAND-AM and ALMS “merger” this past weekend, rumor and conjecture has flowed like beer on the 12 Hours of Sebring green park. We’ll refrain from summarizing most of it as it mainly appears to be simply rumor or opinion of racing experts much like our own hopes and suggestions on how the new combined series might change. Still, there are a few things we think bear mentioning, including GRAND-AM’s own brief announcement of tomorrow’s press conference.
First, Sifting Through the Echo Chamber
There’s a very informative and well-though piece over on SportscarInsider.com penned by TruthAboutCars eidtor Peter De Lorenzo. De Lorenzo claims to (and likely does) have contacts that have given him an inside line on what’s going down. The main difference from this weekend’s Dagys piece is that this isn’t a merger but rather a takeover. It seems GRAND-AM and the France family that owns it are buying out the ALMS – a deal that will most likely include outright ownership of Road Atlanta and a takeover of the lease of Sebring International Raceway.
De Lorenzo shares a lot of his own input and opinion, suggesting future race classes going forward and making some assumptions like this perhaps being the end of the LMP1 class in this series once it sees its expected launch at the beginning of 2014. This is worth the read and we’d suggest clicking through.
Press Conference – Watch Along.
Late this afternoon GRAND-AM sent over an announcement that it would hold a press conference tomorrow (September 5) at 10:00 AM EST via the web. Jim France (GRAND-AM co-founder, NASCAR Vice Chairman/Executive Vice President), Ed Bennett (GRAND-AM President & CEO) and other significant players are expected to attend and take part. You can watch it on their website at GRAND-AM.com.
What It All Means
We’ve already theorized about what we hope should happen in the series in our story from this past weekend. Whether it be class schedule, class arrangement or the idea for a feeder series that uses 24 Hours of Nurburgring class rules (and thus GT3 at the top) in order to coax Le Mons teams into real endurance racing, we’ll refrain from expanding upon that any further. Instead we want to focus on what this means for current Audi efforts.
For Audi Sport’s Le Mans-dominating R18 squad, the only real effect to the current status quo to Team Joest and company is the American round of the WEC. This year that round was Sebring though it remains unclear if Sebring, Petit Le Mans or some other race will qualify as the U.S. round of the series. Given the ALMS will likely still be around next year, we’d put our money on Sebring for 2013.
Beyond 2013, this all depends on the strategy GRAND-AM chooses to implement. Sebring has proven a crucial heat-of-competition ramp-up to the 24 Hours of Le Mans. That track proves a grueling test for teams prepping to travel to France in June. Were it to disappear from the schedule, likely WEC teams would lobby for some sort of equivalent on the calendar. How that shuffle would go would be one question. Another question might be where the WEC will go for an American round should GRAND-AM choose to go it alone as they have in the past. If they do, WEC would be left to find a promoter and an event that would be stand alone for the American round. Certainly F1 tracks in Texas and New Jersey might be looking for additional events.
As for Audi Sport customer racing, this will prove more likely to continue. The R8 is already in GRAND-AM though performance leveling that’s been labeled as unfair by many familiar with the program has left the R8 GRAND-AM less than competitive in the series. Further, only one team currently fields a full-time GRAND-AM effort.
With luck, GRAND-AM will carry over the GTE class from ALMS largely unchanged. To quickly ramp up manufacturer involvement, they’d be smart to bring in the GT3 class as well… in which the Audi R8 LMS ultra competes more seriously thanks to considerably more development. Whatever the case, a single sportscar series in America likely would appear as more attractive to Audi and that would likely assure the R8′s continued presence here.