The Great US Sports Car Merger: The Speed Chills View

It’s been a hectic few days for sports car fans across the pond. Last week we heard the rumblings that something was up, and after a lot of speculation and dithering the dust has finally settled on the merger of the USA’s second and third favourite road racing series. “But why should I care?” I hear you ask.

Merger_Champagne

Well, it has the capacity to affect us quite a lot. 2012 has been a year of massive change in our sport, with sweeping reorganisation and restructuring that is changing the face of racing. First it was the start of the WEC, then the ELMS being saved and now the joining of the ALMS and Grand-Am; all aimed at sorting out the lack of cohesion in world motorsport.

It’s the same in America. There were justified fears that endurance racing would fade out of existence, with fans being split across the two series and the comparatively huge popularity of NASCAR. The new series won’t start until 2014 and it doesn’t even have a name yet, but it indicates a more solid future for sports cars.

So now it’s all been announced and the suits have finished drinking champagne in front of the cameras, all of the speculation has moved to what the new series will look like at the inaugural 2014 Daytona 24 race. With nine classes to choose from and a promise that both ALMS and Grand-Am will be well represented, it’s been a source of big debate across the internet.

ALMS President Scott Atherton has suggested that we’ll probably see the ALMS GT class in the mix, which isn’t entirely surprising due to its competitiveness and good record at Le Mans. This could leave the Grand-Am GT classes to be split between being up-specced to GT1 standards or forming a second tier of GT, in a similar way to the old GT1/GT2 classification at Le Mans.

Grand_Am_Krohn

A bit of an issue arises in the Prototype classes though, with Grand-Am’s top drawer ‘Daytona Prototypes’ currently comparable in pace to the ALMS GT cars. That, coupled with the fact that they are heavily specced to provide closer racing (a Speed Chills pet hate), means that the DPs will have to change significantly if they want to stay in the mix. The new series will have to appease the likes of Ford, Pontiac and Chevrolet who provide a lot of the chassis and big investment; they might not be happy with being in the second fastest class on the track.

This all means that we might be seeing a greater American influence at Le Mans. With the top two teams in the ALMS currently getting automatic invites to the 24 hours, it’s safe to assume that the ACO will try and take the opportunity to get more manufacturers on board. If the new US series stays in line with the new 2014 WEC regulations (as Don Panoz wants) we could see companies like Ford making a welcome return to the Circuit de la Sarthe.

Really it all depends on whether the new series embraces the rest of the world or does that annoying American thing and remains insular. With people like Dr. Panoz being (at least partly) in control we can hope that it will link up with the rest of the world; perhaps a return to the Daytona 24 for LM cars and more American teams gravitating towards the WEC.

Of course it’s mostly speculation at the moment but as the full merger draws closer we’ll be learning more about the future of the sport. It’s an exciting time as sports car racing goes through a transformation, all we have to do is hope that they don’t screw it up. We’ll be keeping a sharp eye on everything they announce, so for all the news stay tuned to Speed Chills.

Jamie Snelling is a freelance motor sport journalist and 6-time Speed Chills veteran. Follow him on Twitter at @speedchillsview