Grand-Am Road Racing and the American Le Mans Series made an official announcement of their merger at a Wednesday, September 5 press conference at Daytona International Speedway.
The two organizations will continue to run separate series in 2013, with the launch of a combined series planned for 2014.
Under the terms of the agreement, Grand-Am is acquiring the assets of the Panoz Motorsport Group. The press release says, “Under terms of the merger, the following entities will combine with Grand-Am: the American Le Mans Series; the International Motor Sports Association, which sanctions ALMS events; the Road Atlanta race track facility in Braselton, Ga.; the Chateau Elan Hotel and Conference Center in Sebring, Fla.; and Sebring International Raceway, via a reassignment of the lease agreement with the Sebring Airport Authority to operate the raceway.”
Jim France, vice-chairman of NASCAR and founder of the Grand-Am series, will serve as chairman of the combined organization, while Dr. Donald Panoz, founder of ALMS, will serve as vice-chairman. ALMS president and CEO Scott Atherton will serve on the board along with Grand-Am president/CEO Ed Bennett, NASCAR Vice Chair/Executive Vice President Lesa France Kennedy, and NASCAR Vice President/Deputy General Counsel Karen Leetzow.
No name has yet been given to the combined series, and the class structure and schedule will be determined over the course of the next fourteen months, before the season opener at Daytona in 2014.
France, Panoz, Atherton, and Bennett, the four participants in the press conference, stated their commitment to developing a class structure that would enable current teams in both series to compete in the combined program. Bennett noted that it was important to respect the current investments of teams.
Atherton stated, and France verified, that the ALMS GT class, unquestionably one of the most competitive classes in road racing today, will be preserved, although France noted that Grand-Am’s tube frame GT cars would be in the mix as well. Panoz indicated that there would be joint test days to help determine and balance the structure of the series’ classes.
While it is too early to define a schedule for the combined series, it was clear that both the 24 hours of Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring would be on the calendar. Teams ran both circuits in the late 1990s, before American sports car racing was divided into the ALMS and Grand-Am camps. Atherton indicated that while no fixed number of races had been determined, the number twelve had been used in discussions.
The group would like to maintain a relationship with Le Mans and its sanctioning body, the Automobile Club de l’Ouest. There has been a meeting, but no agreement is in place at this time.
Panoz noted that he and France had first reached agreement six months and fourteen days ago; he remarked that this was a very long time to keep something under wraps in the world of motorsport.
The group said that the response of manufacturers, teams, and other key stakeholders has been overwhelmingly positive. Of course, there is substantial work to be done to create the combined entity.
BMW Team RLL principal Bobby Rahal, in a release issued soon after the press conference, said, “As we’ve seen in Indy car racing, this is nothing but great news for the sport, for the teams and for the fans. It’s a huge win for racing in general and sports car racing in particular. I commend Jim France and Don Panoz for finding a way to come together and doing what is best for the sport. I think that with the combined schedules, the might of ISC’s marketing and the types of circuits we can focus on, it couldn’t be any better for a series. I’m very, very enthused and excited about it and looking forward to seeing it all come together.”—Brian S. MorganBack to News