Grand-Am and American Le Mans announced a merger Wednesday that will join them as one series beginning in 2014. Grand-Am founder Jim France and ALMS founder Don Panoz said in a joint statement at Daytona International Speedway that the new series will start with the Rolex 24 at Daytona in 2014 and likely include 12 races.
France, son of NASCAR founder Bill France Sr., said the merger made him recall the day nearly 65 years ago when his father led the meeting that created stock-car racing. The elder France that day referenced the “distinct possibilities” for stock car racing — a phrase his son borrowed from Wednesday.
“All these years later in front of another gathering of leaders of motorsports, I want to echo my dad’s words with some editing,” he said. “I think sports car racing has a distinct possibility, and I definitely feel like we are going to improve present conditions.”
Panoz said the merger will “strengthen professional sports car racing beyond what either of our organizations could have achieved separately.” He added that in discussions with France, the two didn’t disagree on anything.
“Our passion is to have sports car racing reach its pinnacle and be all that it could be,” Panoz said. “And I think that with the setup that we have done and the agreement we’ve made, that will happen.”
Under terms of the merger, the following entities will combine with GRAND-AM: the American Le Mans Series; the International Motor Sports Association, which sanctions ALMS events; the Road Atlanta race track facility in Braselton, Ga.; the Chateau Elan Hotel and Conference Center in Sebring, Fla.; and Sebring International Raceway, via a reassignment of the lease agreement with the Sebring Airport Authority to operate the raceway.
Both sanctioning bodies will continue to operate separate schedules in 2013 before racing under one banner in 2014 beginning with North America’s premier sports car race, the 52nd annual Rolex 24 At Daytona. A board of directors has been formed to operate the new combined organization with GRAND-AM founder Jim France as chairman and ALMS founder Don Panoz as vice chairman. Other members: NASCAR Vice Chair/Executive Vice President Lesa France Kennedy, GRAND-AM President/CEO Ed Bennett, ALMS President/CEO Scott Atherton and NASCAR Vice President/Deputy General Counsel Karen Leetzow.
“Today’s announcement will transform sports car racing on this continent, along with having world-wide industry implications,” said Bennett. “Aside from the organizations involved, everybody wins: drivers, teams, manufacturers, sponsors, tracks – and most all, the fans.
“This new approach is going to be revolutionary, as we take the best components from two premium brands, combine them and then benefit mutually from the considerable resources both sides will bring to our efforts. This is a bold move – and the right one – for the long-term, optimum growth of sports car racing.”
Added Atherton: “This merger will blend the best assets and attributes of each organization in terms of technical rules, officiating, marketing, communications, personnel, scheduling and broadcasting. The result will be one of the strongest, most competitive and powerful motorsports marketing platforms in the world.”
Post-merger branding still is being determined for the new organization and its principal series, as are specifics regarding the 2014 schedule. Also, the competitive class structure and technical rules beginning in 2014 have yet to be finalized.
The ALMS began operations in 1999, with GRAND-AM debuting in 2000. Both organizations were created in the aftermath of the late-’90s departure of the highly popular IMSA Camel GT circuit in North America. IMSA was founded in 1969 by John Bishop and then-NASCAR President Bill France Sr.
This merger will strengthen professional sports car racing beyond what either of our organizations could have achieved separately,” said Panoz. “The American Le Mans Series was founded for the fans and I’m personally gratified that they will benefit greatly as we now work together with GRAND-AM to take this sport to the level at which it belongs in the North American and international motorsports landscapes.”
France said the merger was exciting both “on a professional and a personal level, with me being a long-time sports car fan. This merger was achieved through a true spirit of cooperation. Moving forward, that same spirit will drive our day-to-day efforts.”
Collectively, this merger involves a total of eight sports car series racing throughout North America. GRAND-AM sanctions and operates the Rolex Sports Car Series, the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge and the TOTAL Performance Showcase. GRAND-AM also sanctions the Ferrari Challenge that is operated by Ferrari North America. IMSA is the sanctioning body for the ALMS, the IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge by Yokohama Series, the Cooper Tires Prototype Lites Powered by Mazda Series and the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada by Michelin.
“This looks good from a business standpoint but it also ‘feels good’ from a historical standpoint,” Bennett said. “Both GRAND-AM and the ALMS have lineages tied to Daytona Beach, Daytona International Speedway and the France Family. This announcement is a proud moment for all involved, as we now look forward to a bright future for sports car racing.”