Motorsports is in for a revolution when 2014 arrives. The biggest announcement to come out of the last couple of years for 2014 is going to be the merge between the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series and the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patron. This is in the hopes of combining the two premier sports car racing series in North America under one roof, now going to be known as the United Sportscar Racing Series.
The only question is, is it a good idea?
So here’s some background to those of you who are not familiar with either series. Grand-Am consists of two classes: the Daytona Prototypes (often shortened simply to “DP”) and the Grand Touring class (“GT”). The DP cars are racing-only cars that have much more power, downforce, and grip than the GT cars, and they are currently in their third generation of bodywork since the class’ inception in 2003. The GT cars are standard Porsches, Mustangs, Ferraris, BMWs, Audis, Camaros, and so on. These are heavily modified street cars, as each car is unique to it’s manufacturer: here, a Porsche 911 that is racing will look almost identical to a Porsche 911 that one will see on the street (albeit with an added rollcage, rear wing, different power output, etc.). These cars do not have the same grip of the DPs, and therefore do not go as fast around the track. However, both classes race at the same time on the same track, so the drivers are constantly dealing with traffic from either GT cars trying to run their own race or DPs rushing to get around them as soon as possible. Overall, this combination makes it one of my favorite series.
The American Le Mans Series is modeled after the class structures found at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, an endurance race run on public streets in southern France in June. The series is similar to Grand-Am, although there are five classes: Le Mans Prototype One (“LMP1” or just “P1”); Le Mans Prototype Two (“LMP2” or “P2”); Le Mans Prototype Challenge (“LMPC” or “PC”); Grand Touring (“GT”); and Grand Touring Challenge (“GTC”). These five classes all race at the same time as well, thus amplifying the same traffic dilemmas that the Grand-Am drivers have to face.
Here’s where it gets a little complicated. The new series will feature five classes: Prototype (“P”); Prototype Challenge (“PC”); GT Le Mans (“GTLM”); GT Daytona (“GTD”); and Grand-Am’s new alternative-technology GX class. P will combine the Daytona Prototype and the Prototype 2 classes; the Prototype Challenge class from ALMS will carry over; the GT classes in both series will carry over (GTLM is from ALMS, GTD is from Grand-Am); and GX will continue as-is. The LMP1 and GTC classes will be eliminated. Complicated, but it makes sense.
On paper, it is set to be a fantastic series – all of the best drivers, all of the best classes, and all of the best rules (they sort of combined the rules, as well) will be shoved together. They have kept my favorite DP and ALMS GT classes as well as the new GX class, so the fans will get to see lots of new tech over the coming years. Any driver will tell you that they are excited for the merger, and the announcers are all psyched for the start of the 2014 season. However, I still have some issues with it.
Personally, the DP class is one of my favorites along with the ALMS GT class. While I am glad that they kept the GT class, I am a little disappointed that they combined DP with the less-than-spectacular P2 class. I think that the DP class should have remained as it is, and that the P2 and PC classes should be gotten rid of altogether. The cars aren’t much to look at, and the racing just does not appeal to me. Secondly, I hated that there were so many classes on track for ALMS; it made for a congested race and way too many leaderboards and standings to keep track of. The Grand-Am structure of just two classes was ideal, since there were only two races going on at one time instead of five. It keeps me (as well as others, I’m sure) entertained for longer since it is much easier to keep track of what is going on. And while they have taken out the god-awful GTC class, there are still five classes, which is going to be a lot for the fans to deal with. The ideal series would be to combine the Daytona Prototypes with the Le Mans GTE-spec cars (they look better than the Grand-Am GT cars, and the racing is so much better), but I think that the organizers have done what they can with what they have.
So while it may not be the perfect series, it should still be interesting to see how the action turns out to be. I have a feeling that it is going to be either the best series ever invented or a complete flop – I don’t think there will be an in-between. I hope that the best of the two series will outweigh the downfalls, and that is exactly what the organizers aimed for, so I am feeling confident that the series will be exactly what the fans want. Final verdict? We won’t know until we try, but expect great things to come out of this series.