THOMASVILLE, NC (September 3, 2012) — As reported on SPEED.com, multiple sources involved with the negotiations that the American Le Mans Series and the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series will announce an agreement that will see the two series race under a single banner, likely beginning in 2014.
Full details on the merger are still unclear, and offers extended to both series for comment were declined, but it’s believed GRAND-AM will serve as the sanctioning body for the new-look championship, which could feature a mix of existing classes from both the ALMS and Rolex Series.
The announcement is expected to come on Wednesday in Daytona Beach, Fla.
O’Connell Racing driver & owner Kevin O’Connell commented, “A consolidated sports car world is great for everyone involved in sports car racing from the drivers to the sponsors. We believe there is some middle ground to be determined between the cost containment formula of Grand Am and originated by NASCAR and the display of current technologies presented in ALMS. Sports car racing demands both and a well thought out class structure in both the GT and Prototype classes could achieve an exciting formula that could push the popularity of sports car racing to rival NASCAR at certain events.”
SPEED.com’s sources, including a number of manufacturers, representatives and participants, have revealed that both sides are coming together; news of this developing story first emerged two weeks ago, building to a head this weekend in Baltimore.
Initially a mirror-image to the twice-around-the-clock French endurance classic, the series has diversified in recent years by opening its class structure to more affordable machinery, including the addition of Prototype and GT Challenge categories.
Its marquee event, the 12 Hours of Sebring, maintained its international presence, while the Petit Le Mans, the 1,000-mile/10-hour Road Atlanta enduro formed by Panoz in 1998, grew to become a mainstay on the global scene as well.
The ALMS has traditionally thrived on manufacturer support, namely from Audi, Chevrolet, Porsche, BMW and Ferrari over its 14-year history and has seen recent growth in its production-based GT category, which currently sees six automakers represented.
However, its prototype categories have struggled to reach acceptable numbers following Audi’s withdrawal from P1 competition in 2009 and the end of Porsche and Acura’s factory programs. As a result, both P1 and the recently relaunched cost-capped P2 categories have almost exclusively featured customer entries.
Having signed a new one-year licensing contract with the ACO late last year, it’s understood the ALMS had renewed its agreement with the Le Mans organizers for one additional year in June.
Established one year after the ALMS in 1999, GRAND-AM grew out of the roots laid by the U.S. Road Racing Championship (USRRC) and featured the Rolex 24 at Daytona as its premier race and annual season kickoff.
While having a strong influence from the onset, GRAND-AM was acquired by NASCAR Holdings in 2008 and has operated under the leadership of executive vice president Jim France through its 13-year history.
The series has typically embraced privateers through its two categories, although receiving support from manufacturers such as Chevrolet, Ford and BMW in the premier Daytona Prototype ranks. No fewer than a half-dozen automakers are represented in GT, with a third category, GX, is scheduled to be added next year for experimental machinery.
Despite having been rival series since the onset, there has been a significant crossover between manufacturers, with Chevrolet supporting programs in both DP and ALMS GT, along with Ferrari, Mazda, Porsche and other marques and drivers that participate in both championships.
Like the ALMS, GRAND-AM’s prototype component has seen a recent drop-off of entries, but has typically thrived, notably with the introduction of new GT3-based cars adapted to Rolex Series’ GT category.
About O’Connell Racing: O’Connell Racing (OCR) competes in Sports Car racing in the Grand-Am Rolex Series and Stock Car racing various touring series in NASACR as well as various Vintage Racing series throughout North America.