The face of North American sports car racing has changed drastically in the last three years with the unification of the two leading series into what’s now known as the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
But what if the merger didn’t happen? What if the impromptu meeting between Scott Atherton and Jim France at an ACCUS meeting in February 2012 didn’t occur?
Would both the American Le Mans Series and Grand-Am still be in existence today? And if so, what would each series look like, amid the evolution of class structures and emerging global platforms?
It’s a question that popped into my head just this week. And while there’s no clear-cut answer on where the sport would be right now if the ALMS was not acquired by Grand-Am, it still does pose an intriguing situation.
While the WeatherTech Championship has only been two-and-a-half years in existence, a lot has already changed in the industry, and largely for the better of the sport. Let me be clear on that front. I am in no ways wishing the merger didn’t happen.
But turn the clocks back to 2012 and both the ALMS and Grand-Am had nearly entirely different machinery. GT3 was just beginning to be introduced into U.S. racing, while LMP1 cars were still the top class in the ALMS, although undoubtedly struggling for car count.
Grand-Am’s GX class — for experimental technologies — was announced for 2013, while ALMS still had a single-make Porsche Cup class — GTC — that arguably produced some of the most competitive racing in the series. DPs, meanwhile, led the pack in Grand-Am, both in numbers and in quality of racing.
Imagine where both series would be at today? While there can be many different scenarios, here’s my take on what we could have seen today, or perhaps in a parallel universe where the unification did not occur.
Note: the following is a fictional depiction and in no way implies any definitive or factual-based outcome. It is the opinion of the author only.
In 2016, the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series has continued its steady path, with respectable grids, largely made up of budget-minded privateer teams, in a two-class format. GX didn’t survive past its 2013 debut season, despite the push from Mazda with its diesel-powered Mazda6s.
Instead, Mazda made the jump into DP, joining Chevrolet with fully styled bodywork and its diesel engine. BMW opted to embrace the Gen-3 DP concept as well, with the DP class remaining relatively unchanged from a technical standpoint. Grids increased and regularly saw 15-18 DPs at each round.
In GT, a full transition to GT3-spec machinery was made in 2014, with the class having embraced Pro-Am driver enforcement, in what would turn out to be a controversial move. Costs generally rose and sent some of the existing teams to Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge.
Names like Ricky and Jordan Taylor, Joao Barbosa, Scott Pruett, Tristan Nunez and Joel Miller dominate the headlines, in hard-fought races that lacked controversy over Balance of Performance, at least in the DP class.
A half-dozen GT3 manufacturers, meanwhile, are represented on the grid in GT full-time, with a link-up with SRO Motorsports Group placing the Rolex 24 at Daytona as the opening round of Stephane Ratel’s Intercontinental GT Challenge and bringing a world-class entry of GT machinery to the Daytona high banks.
In the ALMS, international relations remained strong with the ACO, despite the growth of the FIA World Endurance Championship.
The once-struggling LMP1 class rebounded in 2014, thanks to a revised set of regulations, conceived by the ACO and FIA, with input from IMSA, that delivered new customer machinery and additional privateer teams to both the ALMS and WEC. LMP1-L remained sustainable because of its application to the U.S. in addition to the World Championship.
Muscle Milk Pickett Racing expanded into a two-car operation in the ALMS, with both Pickett and Dyson Racing taking on the 24 Hours of Le Mans that year in the LMP1 Privateer subclass. Back Stateside, they were joined by Audi and Porsche at the Twelve Hours of Sebring, with the Porsche 919 Hybrid having made its competition debut in the Florida endurance classic.
After a season in WEC, Rebellion Racing joined the series’ full-time in 2015 with its Rebellion R-Ones, while Tequila Patron ESM stepped up to field two new Honda prototypes in LMP1 after two years in P2.
With low car counts in P2, the class was merged with PC in 2015, ahead of IMSA, the ACO and FIA’s unified global P2 formula for 2017. The new cost-effective P2 class in ALMS would be a mirror-image to the WEC and ELMS, allowing American prototype teams to compete at Le Mans with ease, without any engine or bodywork changes.
GT had continued to go from strength-to-strength, with the addition of the factory Ford GT program for a two-year program beginning in 2016. Later that year, Ford announced its intentions to step up to the ALMS LMP1 class in 2018, as well as taking on Le Mans with the first American factory top-level prototype program in decades.
Corvette Racing, BMW and Porsche joined Ford with factory efforts in GT, alongside the works-supported programs from Risi Competizione, Flying Lizard Motorsports and Team Falken Tire, which had its program renewed at the end of 2015.
After many years of consideration, IMSA followed Grand-Am’s lead and introduced GT3 machinery into the series in 2015, bringing major factory support to the class, replacing GTC. It initially struggled with BoP, primarily with class separation between GT (GTE-Pro) and GT3, but got things under control by the end of the year.
Efforts to hold a joint WEC/ALMS race again after Sebring 2012 had failed due to capacity issues, but the two series agreed on shared weekends, announcing plans for events at Road America and Montreal, with ALMS races on Saturday and six-hour WEC events on Sunday at each venue.
Where do you think North American sports car racing would be right now if the merger didn’t occur? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below!