Sebring, Fla. – The iconic Sebring International Raceway is hosting the American Le Mans Series for a two-day winter test and as usual, ALMS executives Scott Atherton and Scot Elkins addressed the media during a press conference. Not surprisingly, the two were peppered with questions regarding the merger of the series with the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series, and they responded without hesitation.
“The mindset of getting it (the merger) right the first time was part of our original announcement five months ago, and while it may not seem so, a tremendous amount of progress has been made,” Atherton said in his opening remarks. “First and foremost, I think we kept our promise of getting the class structure out (done at the Roar before the 24 in early January). The merger has been reasonably well received. The idea in what motivated the decisions were inclusion and if you do the math, 94 per cent of the cars in Grand-Am and the ALMS are able to continue (racing) relatively unchanged. The GT categories are relatively unchanged.”
He called the class structure announcement as the first step with the second step, which includes naming, branding and logo development, the next order of business. And more news on this step is expected to be announced during the days leading up to the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring.
The elements of this step have been worked upon from the outset, and these pieces are considered to be very important steps, so important that a New York firm has been engaged to assist with the process. “One of the most important elements of this process has been to get the name and logo right the first time along with the branding elements that go with it,” Atherton noted.
The third step will be the 2014 race schedule of the merged entity. Between the two series, they have 22 races at 17 different tracks, and the goal is to have between 10 and 12 races in the first season, which means Grand-Am competitors will have a 10 and 12-hour race added to their schedule and the ALMS forces will add a 24-hour event to their schedule.
The objective is cost containment and to minimize the pressure on everyone, starting out on the conservative side and progressing from there.
Said Atherton about scheduling, “We have had a lot of input from present and tracks not on our schedule now and we have told them that it is going to be a process based on two things: the significance of the venue and the historical value of the event along with the business surrounding that market – the OEMs, the teams and sponsors that have raced with us. People want to race in parts of the country that are important to their business.”
Atherton complimented all parties on the level of cooperation by everyone involved. Also, he wanted to assure everyone that it is a true merger and not an acquisition as many had mistakenly thought. “We are seeing tangible evidence that this is a true merger,” Atherton stated with authority, going on to say that Grand-Am executives Jim France and Ed Bennett have been very accommodating with the ALMS hierarchy. Many meetings have taken place, and there’s been considerable give and take at every level.
As the 2013 season unfolds, Grand-Am officials will be attending ALMS events and likewise, ALMS officers will be at the Grand-Am races, to learn and build on their relationship.
In addressing the P2 and Daytona Prototypes, Elkins said the two sides are making progress. “We have determined that the aerodynamics of the DP cars needs to be improved to make the car faster, to get it ahead of the GT class,” he said. “And there are a few things we have to look at in the Rolex GT class for 2014.”
While not discussed in detail, the ALMS’s P2 participants are thought to be having difficulty sorting through their plans for the future. “There will be P2 cars racing at Sebring and I think we may have created our own issue because our PC class has been so successful,” Elkins commented. ”It is quite the opposite of what has happened in Europe.” He admitted that P2 has always been a struggle for the ALMS once the cost cap was adopted but he has an optimistic outlook for the 2013 and 2014 seasons. And he has assured the P2 teams that the DP platform will not be the default platform.
The executives talked about the three-year plan for the merger with the competitors being assured that they will be able to run their existing equipment. And as time progresses, changes and refinements will be made to keep the competition close, to address stability and to accommodate all concerned parties.
They did say that manufacturers have expressed a strong interest in the merger and are relieved that it has happened.
Fan interest is a high priority of all parties, and they pledge to take the necessary steps to keep the fans satisfied.