In a joint press conference held in Daytona Beach today, executives of the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series and the American Le Mans Series formally announced the merger of the two sports car groups beginning with the 2014 season. Participating in the announcement were Jim France, Grand-Am founder and NASCAR vice chairman and executive vice president; Ed Bennett, Grand-Am president and chief executive officer; Don Panoz, founder of the American Le Mans Series and Scott Atherton, ALMS president and chief executive officer.
While a merger agreement has been approved and a board of directors created, the details and specifics of the combined group going forward will have to be worked out prior to the Rolex24 at Daytona in early 2014.
The true value comes from the passion of our fans.
Discussions have been underway for some time about a merger and while an attempt was made some five years ago, that was tabled at the time before being renewed negotiations commenced a few months ago. According to two of the participants, they reached an agreement six months ago while on a golf course, but it only leaked out a few days ago.
No schedules have been devised but the group seemed to be looking at 12 high-profile races and assuming appropriate agreements can be reached; they would also want to continue with their participation in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. They indicated they have met with the ACO officials, who were receptive to the continued participation by the American teams and drivers.
Regarding tracks anticipated to be given races were those owned by NASCAR and the Panoz organization, which would include Daytona, Watkins Glen, Sebring and Road Atlanta.
France called the merger agreement a milestone occasion, one that many have waited for years to see happen. “This is a great day for us,” France stated. “It is a great pleasure to announce officially that Grand-Am and the ALMS will merge.” His words were nearly drowned out by the applause of the assembled group.
He went on to say that this is an exciting day for fans and sports car racing. “The true value comes from the passion of our fans,” he added. “What we tried to do was to take the desires and possibilities and market them the series in such a way to ensure that the rules will be created even and to satisfy the desires of our people.”
“I feel the same way,” Panoz stated. “This is an exciting days for fans and sports car racing. The true value comes from the passion of our fans,” indicating his slogan of ‘Racing is for the fans’ will continue.
Atherton said for 11 ½ years he didn’t think the day would come when the two groups would be coming together. “Five years ago we took a real run at this, but it wasn’t the right time,” he said. When Atherton and France were at a racing show a few months ago, the two executives not only exchanged pleasantries, but they agreed to begin talking about a merger. Initially, they planned to meet for two hours but that meeting ran much longer.
Bennett is new in his role of Grand-Am executive. “It has been a fantastic indoctrination for me,” he said. “This indeed has been a very aggressive timeline, and a lot of work needs to be done. Both sides of the aisle have put it (the agreement) together, and the process has been very invigorating. It went very fast and very smoothly with a lot of work going into it.”
Everyone admitted that extensive works needs to be done at level and with the manufacturers, tire suppliers, and the various support series that will be involved.
Grand-Am and the ALMS will run separately during the 2013 season while in the background, groups and committees will be working on specifics of the new group, which has yet to be given a name.
The executives didn’t deny that they will have challenges going forward but they seemed eager to resolve the hurdles and the obstacles that are in the road.
Said Atherton in closing, “This is day one, so stand back.”