State of the Union

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By Gordon Kirby

Next year, Grand-Am and the alms with come together. Everyone hopes for the best from the merger but at a track like Laguna Seca, for example, an LMP2 car is five seconds faster than a Daytona Prototype, so it’s going to be very difficult to create a level playing field. Four-time GrandAm champion Scoff Prueff led Chip Ganassi’s team to its fifth win in the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona in January. Prueff believes the merger will be a great thing for American sports car racing if the powers that be are able to get the formula right.

“That’s the million-dollar question right now,” Prueff says. “The challenge is, how do you bring it together? A key thing, I think, is how many LMP2 cars are there going to be? If there are two or three, then it’s an easy decision. If that’s the case, you just continue with the current Daytona Prototype. If there are 10 LMP25, then it’s a very different challenge. But how many P2 cars are there?

“The reality is that the France family has invested heavily in the current Daytona Prototype and spent a lot of time, effort and money in looking at equality, consistency and durability, while looking at puffing on a great race for the fans and also keeping the budget at plus or minus $3 million a year. If you go through the pit area I think that would be a common number. There are lots of things to consider and think about, so it’s not going to be an easy decision.”

Chris Dyson is the lead driver and boss of Dyson Racing. Founded in 1974 by his father Rob, Dyson Racing is the ALMS’s most experienced and successful team with 68 wins and 19 championships to its credit. Rob retired from driving a few years ago and shares responsibility for running the team with Chris, who leads from both the cockpit and the sporting director’s office. Driving Lola LMP1 and P2 cars, Dyson and Guy Smith won the ALMS championship in 2011 and finished second in 2012. This is the team’s 30th season and Chris hopes to continue competing for many years to come in the merged Grand-Am/ALMS.

“It’s definitely a tall order to strike a balance between the LMP cars and Daytona Prototypes,” Dyson says. “But I think they understand that preserving the variety and the sophistication in sports car racing, particularly in the prototype classes, has to be an essential component of a successful series.

“It’s definitely a tightrope. But I’m hopeful that they can come up with a package that’s inclusive and embraces to the greatest possible extent the traditional type of sports car racing that we enjoyed when there was a united IMSA 20 years ago. It’s not going to be perfect by any means, but if they approach it with the right affitude I think it can be a very potent platform.

“We really hope they realise the need for the cars to have mindblowing levels of performance. I really do believe there needs to be a certain inaccessibility to driving this level of automobile and I think that’s one of the things that perhaps hasn’t been sufficiently prioritised over the last 10 years, in either American sports cars or open-wheel racing.”

Of course, the fact is that beyond the Rolex 24 Hours, the Grand-Am series struggles to draw crowds or media. Meanwhile, the ALMS pulls healthy crowds at most of its races and there’s no question that ALMS fans love the championship’s technical variety and its willingness to embrace new technology. Nor is there any question that most ALMS fans are left cold by Daytona Prototypes. The affraction for ALMS fans is the aesthetic and technical appeal, not the mantra of close racing espoused by NASCAR, Grand-Am and IndyCar.

Can a happy medium be achieved? Every form of motor racing faces the same challenge and it will be intriguing to see if Grand-Am/ALMS or any other sanctioning body is capable of gaffing it right over the next few years.