The effective merger that will bring together the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) and Grand-Am Road Racing Series (Grand-Am) in 2014 is starting to take technical shape, as announced today in Daytona Beach, by the technical experts from both series: Scot Elkins from ALMS and Richard Buck of Grand-Am.
While the announcement reflected conceptual plans for the upcoming merger that begins with the 52nd Rolex 24 at Daytona, it's evident a great deal of planning went into this beginning salvo that delineates class structure for the first two seasons of combined racing.
Elkins emphasized that he and Buck want to continue equity in classes but cautioned that details are still forthcoming. They wanted, with the Roar Before the 24 test session ongoing this weekend, to have the opportunity to share the plans that they've been working on together with the Automobile Club de l'Ouest (ACO) in France, which designates rules for the Le Mans 24-Hour race.
The objective in the new prototype is to increase the performance of the Daytona Prototype, most likely by adding downforce to these cars, but for the production-engine-based P2 class, the intent is to make certain the teams can still go to Le Mans.
The 2014 regulations for Le Mans are drastically different so the combined American group is taking a conservative approach toward them. As we're not really sure how those 2014 regulations will turn out, "We'll keep our eyes open and see how it works out," looking toward 2016, when this current grouping can be changed, Elkins mused.
The same intent would hold true for ALMS' current GT class, where many entrants receive invitations to compete at Le Mans. Both organizations' production-based GT classes will continue as separate, distinct categories based on their performances, preserving each class' proud history and loyal fan following. As such the ALMS GTC class will join Grand-Am's GTs in competition. The group intends to keep relevancy in these classes by continuing them as Pro/Am outlet. "We want to make it fair," Elkins stated.
ALMS' Prototype Challenge (PC) category for spec prototypes will continue to run as a separate class in 2014-2015, the duo stated, while Grand-Am's new GX class that debuts in this year's Rolex 24 later in the month is being explored as a possible addition to the Grand-Am half of the GT mix. GX may run as a separate, fifth class, Elkins and Buck stated. "This class is about new technologies and we'll just have to see where it ends up in the future," Buck said.
A large aim is to keep the constituency already in place with regard to suppliers and, while Grand-Am has a pact with tire maker Continental and ALMS currently uses a variety of tire options, both Buck and Elkins said they wanted everybody to be happy. "We don't want to lose partners so there's really no answer yet on the tire situation," Buck revealed.
The classes announced today are "what we have" and the new merged series will continue to have an emphasis on Green Racing, a mantra for ALMS throughout its history. The important thing is to make sure there's "room for everybody to play."
The largest hurdles for Buck and Elkins as they've been poring over the changes needed to make this merger work have been different. "When I saw initially that both Dr Panoz and Jim France were agreeable on this merger and had smiles on their faces, it sure settled my mind," Buck said. Elkins' emphasis has been on the class diagram. "I knew it would be a daunting task and I knew they would be the most difficult thing," he allowed. "I'm optimistic even with two very different classes that will compete for overall wins."
So while there will be four distinct classes competing in the 2014 Rolex 24 at Daytona, it wouldn't be wise to expect ALMS prototype entrants to cross that bridge quite yet. While there was a test earlier with Conquest Endurance running Continental tires on their P2 car - and it was successful - there won't be much, crossover at this time.
Cost containment is the No. 3 job after safety and good competition, Buck stated, with keeping the competition level even a big job for him. Elkins is looking at the sustainability of the sports car series. "We'll be conscious of budgets and looking to keep people" in the game.
This effort intends to merge the best of both worlds with four individual classes. The first step is to reach out to the industry and understand their perspective, Buck said. "We want to keep everyone's investments in equipment relevant. The teams are our stakeholders and we wanted to make sure there wasn't a huge financial impact.
"We'll continue to look at the characteristics of the cars and how they race, using simulations to gather information. We want to race together without massive financial impact to our teams," Buck said.
As the two series continue to work on all of the details that need to be ironed, one needs to realize that this is just the beginning with what is now a conceptual agreement.