Motor Sport: Thoughts on the 2014 Grand Am/ALMS Class Structure

Earlier today, the Grand Am Series and American Le Mans Series  announced the class structure for their merged 2014 series.  I saw several sources refer to this as announcing  2014 “rules” but this was far from the case.  The only thing announced today was the class structure for 2014; no technical or sporting regulations were announced.  The structure of the merged series will consist of four classes, 2 prototype and 2 GT:

  1. Grand AM Daytona Prototypes, ALMS LMP2, and the Delta Wing will be combined into the premier prototype class.  Balance of Performance will be used to “maintain close competition.”
  2. The ALMS LMPC (Prototype Challenge) class will carry over as the second prototype class.
  3. The ALMS GT (Le Mans/WEC GTE type cars) will be one of two GT classes.
  4. The Grand AM GT class and ALMS GTC class will combine for the second GT class.

The new for 2013 Grand AM GX class could be incorporated as a third GT class or blended in to the combined Grand Am/GTC GT class.  At this point, only the class structure has been announced; they won’t be announcing a series name or names of the classes: “We have one shot to get it right.”  So far, I think we can best describe the approach of those responsible for creating the merged series as cautious, and that’s probably a good thing.

If American Sport Car racing fans are taking sides, I would definitely come down in the ALMS camp but I am satisfied with the class structure that will be used by the combined series for the few few seasons.  I think it is the product of a good compromise which takes into account the current economy and popularity of the two series.  Primarily, it will allow teams to carry over equipment that they already have with what sounds like will be a minimum of modification.  This means there won’t be a lot of extra expense involved in entering the 2014 season. There seems to be much hand wringing over the exclusion of LMP1 cars but we have to be honest, the LMP1 class hasn’t seen high car counts except at Sebring and Petit Le Mans for some time now.  It will be easier to performance balance LMP2 cars with the Daytona Prototypes (and the Delta Wing performance seemed to be right there with the LMP2 class) so utilizing them for the top class makes sense even though some in the ALMS camp won’t be happy about losing LMP1.  Quite honestly, the inclusion of the LMPC class was a surprise – but it was a positive one.  LMPC is a relatively low cost entry way into the prototype categories and provided some good racing in 2012.  The GT classes of both Grand Am and ALMS are very popular with the fans, so the inclusion of both in the initial seasons of a combined series makes sense.  There is enough of a difference between the two that balance of performance would probably be difficult so keeping them separate except for folding GTC in with Grand AM GT is a good idea.

I was satisfied with the class structure announcement but I have to admit I was dissatisfied with the amount of additional information.   If the class structure is a skeleton, the announcement lacked any “meat on the bones.”   One of the biggest concerns of fans in the ALMS camp is how the premier prototype class will be balanced.  Are they going to speed up the DPs or are they going to slow down the LMP2s?  It would have been nice to have some information on this, but there was a positive comment made during the Q&A portion of the presser, expressed in this tweet from ALMS and Grand Am:  “Intention is to keep #P2 as close to ACO spec as possible while increasing performance for #DP.”  The exclusion of the LMP1 cars makes it less of an issue but the question of fuel is still a good one; will the opportunity to use different fuels exist in the new series.  More important is the question of tires; will all of the classes use a control tire, or will the top Prototype and GT classes have tire competition?  In the case of a team such Falken, the answer would be key in whether they participate in 2014 or not.  Other teams that have a tight relationship with a tire manufacturer may have to make a similar decision as well.  It is also important for tire manufacturers such as Continental and Michelin which have tight promotional relationships with the series and broadcasters.

Radio LeMans had great coverage of the announcement this afternoon with on-the-fly analysis by John Hindhaugh, Daily Sports Car’s Graham Goodwin and  Racecar Engineering’s Sam Collins, you can listen to it here.  Radio LeMans is also going to try to get Scot Elkins on their upcoming Wednesday “Midweek Motorsport” show to answer questions, so it should be a webcast or podcast to catch next week for more information and analysis on the announcement.

Even though there wasn’t as much to today’s announcement as I would have liked there to be, I am satisfied with what was announced.  Although there are still many questions to be answered there continues to be reason to keep a positive outlook about the future of sports car racing in America.  I’ll continue to keep an open mind and look forward to future announcements regarding the sports’ future!

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