GRAND-AM, American Le Mans Series forge historic sports car merger

The Daytona 500 Club at Daytona International Speedway is transformed to host the GRAND-AM and American Le Mans Series merger announcement in Daytona Beach, FL on September 5, 2012. (Photo: Brian Cleary)
The Daytona 500 Club at Daytona International Speedway is transformed to host the GRAND-AM and American Le Mans Series merger announcement in Daytona Beach, FL on September 5, 2012. (Photo: Brian Cleary)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — A pair of sports car racing sanctioning bodies agreed to share a common vision on Wednesday, with the announcement of the landmark merger of GRAND-AM Road Racing and the American Le Mans Series.

Both GRAND-AM and the International Motor Sports Association — which sanctions ALMS events — will operate separate schedules in 2013 before coming together under one banner beginning with the 52nd running of the Rolex 24 At Daytona in 2014.

“A lot of people have been waiting many years for this day to come. It’s here,” said GRAND-AM founder Jim France in making the announcement at Daytona International Speedway. “This is a real milestone occasion, not only for sports car racing, but for motorsports in North America.”

France was also announced as chairman of the board of directors formed to operate the new combined organization.

“This is a golden opportunity to take the sport forward using the best of what we’ve created,” said ALMS founder Dr. Don Panoz, who will be vice chairman of the board of directors.

Other members of the board are 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.

“This is a bold move — but it’s the right move at the right time for the long-term, optimum growth of sports car racing,” Bennett said. “Today’s announcement will transform sports car racing on this continent, along with having world-wide industry implications. Aside from the organizations involved, everybody wins: drivers, teams, manufacturers, sponsors, tracks — and most all, the fans.”

Collectively, the 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.

Also included in the agreement are the Road Atlanta race track 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.

Post-merger branding is still being determined for the new organization and its principle series. Also to be announced are the competitive class structure and technical rules.

“This merger will blend the best assets and attributes of each organization in terms of technical rules, officiating, marketing, communications, personnel, scheduling and broadcasting,” Atherton said. “The result will be one of the strongest, most competitive and powerful motorsports marketing platforms in the world.”

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.

France said the occasion brought to mind a meeting in Daytona Beach nearly 65 years ago where his father — Bill France Sr. — chaired a meeting of the leaders of American motorsports.

“Out of that meeting, NASCAR was formed,” France said. “Today, all these years later I’m in front of another gathering of leaders of motorsports, and I want to echo my dad’s words with some editing. I think sports car racing has a distinct possibility, and I definitely feel like we are going to improve present conditions. There is no doubt in my mind that the answer lies with the two groups who are combining forces starting today.”

Greg Engle
About Greg Engle 7421 Articles
Greg is a published award winning sportswriter who spent 23 years combined active and active reserve military service, much of that in and around the Special Operations community. Greg is the author of "The Nuts and Bolts of NASCAR: The Definitive Viewers' Guide to Big-Time Stock Car Auto Racing" and has been published in major publications across the country including the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He was also a contributor to Chicken Soup for the NASCAR Soul, published in 2010, and the Christmas edition in 2016. He wrote as the NASCAR, Formula 1, Auto Reviews and National Veterans Affairs Examiner for and has appeared on Fox News. He holds a BS degree in communications, a Masters degree in psychology and is currently a PhD candidate majoring in psychology. He is currently the weekend Motorsports Editor for Autoweek.