ALMS/ACO Maserati compromise close

By Bill Oursler Charlotte, N.C., Feb. 5, 2005 - A compromise reportedly has been reached between officials of the American Le Mans Series and representatives from the annual 24-Hour Sarthe event that will allow the controversial Maserati MC 12...


By Bill Oursler

Charlotte, N.C., Feb. 5, 2005 - A compromise reportedly has been reached between officials of the American Le Mans Series and representatives from the annual 24-Hour Sarthe event that will allow the controversial Maserati MC 12 to compete in the 2005 ALMS tour.

The dispute between the Automobile Club de l'Quest and the Don Panoz-owned ALMS, which leases it regulations from the French long distance classic, is said by sources close to the Maserati camp to have come about after Le Mans authorities backed away from an agreement that would have permitted the MC 12 to race in the GT1 Production category even though it remained ineligible to run at the Sarthe itself.

The ACO originally had barred the Maserati, which is based on the Ferrari Enzo street Super Car from the 24-Hour, because dimensionally it did not meet their regulations. The ACO maintained that position even after Maserati had modified car in an attempt to appease the French rules makers.

Over the winter, ALMS representatives including series president Scott Atherton, negotiated a deal which would have allowed the modified but still Le Mans illegal MC 12 to race in its GT1 category as a means of making the ALMS more attractive to its fans. This past Monday, on the eve of the announcement that the Maserati would come to North America, Le Mans authorities balked, saying the arrangement was off.

This reportedly set off a dispute that saw the ACO go so far as to tell the ALMS that if the MC 12 were allowed to run, that the ACO would pull the plug on its lease deal with the Panoz organization. In the end however, it appears that a compromise will be reached that will allow the current version of the Maserati to run in the ALMS until to June, when a second revised variant, meeting the criteria demanded by Le Mans will be completed.

The settlement brings to an end a situation, which potentially could have caused a serious, if not fatal split between the French and North Americans, ending a relationship that has proved successful for both sides. It also demonstrates a growing - if still somewhat underground influence - the ALMS is beginning to have on the thinking of the ACO.

Several years ago, the Le Mans camp nixed a previous deal that would have allowed the special lightweight BMW M3 coupes to compete in the ALMS even though the BMW - like the Maserati - had essentially been barred from the 24 Hour classic. That move by the ACO was seen as a blow to the then GT category, which was largely an all Porsche show, needing opposition for the Zuffenhausen cars to keep fan interest alive.

With the ALMS facing a lean year on the prototype front, insiders said it was critical to keep the organizations' headlining production car division as exciting as possible, rather than leaving it the domain of the Corvettes. In part the ALMS will achieve that goal with the new Pro Drive Aston Martins. However, those two cars are said to be set for only a limited ALMS schedule, making the presence of the MC 12s even more important to the championship over the course of the 2005 season.

The ability of the ALMS and the ACO to reach an agreement on what was potentially a divisive dispute, according to sources, is an example not only of a maturing in the relationship between the ACO and the ALMS, but a realization of its importance to both parties.

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Series ALMS , Le Mans , Blancpain Sprint
Drivers Don Panoz