THE TWO HALVES OF SPORTS CAR RACING By: Bill Oursler The question is: "Do two halves make a whole?" When it comes to professional sports car racing in North America the answer is apparently not. The American Le Mans Series and the Grand Am's...
THE TWO HALVES OF SPORTS CAR RACING
By: Bill Oursler
The question is: "Do two halves make a whole?"
When it comes to professional sports car racing in North America the answer is apparently not. The American Le Mans Series and the Grand Am's Sports Car tour have each chosen dramatically different directions. The ALMS has gone with the traditional high technology approach when it comes to its cars, while the Grand Am has followed the path of lower technology and more competitive equality in its search for success. So what's happened as a result? The Grand Am has the car count and the ALMS has the sophistication, both have their appeal. But, both find themselves lacking all the ingredients necessary for the kind of growth they so desperately are looking for.
In truth the Rolex tour features some of the best, closest, most exciting racing in the history of the sport, and yet nobody cares. Crowd attendance can only be described as "sparse." And, while paucity of spectators has been an unwanted companion to the Rolex camp, its television programming likewise has done little to garner the kind of numbers that might make people take notice. Still, the ALMS when it runs of SPEED -- the home for the Rolex title chase - doesn't do much better. True, the ratings for the two championships have grown, and when it's on CBS, the ALMS has a respectable amount of folks tuning in.. Yet in absolute terms they, like the Indy and Champ Car open wheel tours are but blips on the screen when compared to NASCAR. Of course, the spin meisters for both tours will counter all of this each claiming that they are progressing well. And, maybe these 60 plus year old eyes have missed something -- like the point the PR representatives are trying to get across, a point they believe is true.
Yet, when one watched an ALMS event in 2006 there really wasn't much competition to go along with the sophistication. Only in the GT production categories could one find something to maintain one's interest: the two team Corvette-Aston Martin war in GT1 and the three-way battle between Porsche, Ferrari and Panoz in GT2.
For 2007 there is good and bad news when it comes to the ALMS. The good is that there will be no less than four Porsche RS Spyders, two recently purchased Dyson entries and two Penske factory cars squaring off against three Acura engined factory supported teams, two with Courage chassis and the other with a Lola in LMP2. The bad that is not the case in LMP1. There is effectively only Audi and its all conquering R10 turbo diesels with maybe one or two occasional opponents. And, to make matters even worse, in GT1 the Corvettes may have no opposition at all if Aston doesn't come and play.
As a long time sports car enthusiast it would be nice (although not realistic) if the two sides, who say they're not in competition with each, could indeed get together. The fact is that there are only so many who are willing to invest in the sport. Thus, when the entrants move over to the Rolex series, they don't generally "double dip" and run in the ALMS. Are there solutions to all of this where independently the two sides can grow.
For the ALMS it could be some drastic steps like barring factory teams (not the factories themselves, however) from participating in the championship, and by likewise broadening the definition of what constitutes a factory team, generate more privateer interest. Similarly the ALMS might well at some point consider combining LMP1 and LMP2 into a single category to bring a new and all important focus at the front of the field. For the the Grand Am it is a case of getting the public to change its perception of its still rather ugly Daytona Prototypes, improving their appearance and upgrading their performance potential. Indeed in a pure fantasy moment one could see the DP set, in its improved form becoming a class in the ALMS.
That won't happen. But, we can dream can't we? AS I said, I would be nice to wake up one morning and discover that the two halves have become a whole.