More races possible at Sebring International
Allen Moody | Highlands TodayWednesday's announced merger between the American Le Mans Series and NASCAR's GRAND-AM Road Racing has more implications than just those that will take place on the track. Sebring International Raceway and the Chateau Elan Hotel and Conference Center were also involved in the deal.
Published: September 7, 2012
Published: September 7, 2012
"I believe this is a very positive step for Sebring International Raceway," said Tres Stephenson, president and general manager of SIR. "We have a bright future ahead of us."
Stephenson said all of the employees at the track would be kept on board.
"Nothing has changed here," he said. "Everybody is being rehired so we still have the same great people."
As Sebring International Raceway is leased, the Sebring Airport Authority had to approve the transfer of the lease from Don Panoz, who founded the ALMS in 1999, to the new group, headed by GRAND-AM founder Jim France.
The proposed deal was first submitted to the Federal Aviation Administration and after it was approved came before the Sebring Airport Authority Board of Directors. Chairman Scott Crutchfield said it was viewed as a very positive development.
"I believe it's quite advantageous," he said. "We're moving from an organization with limited resources in the ALMS to an organization that has extensive resources. It's a big step up."
Crutchfield said he couldn't speak for GRAND-AM and its long-term intentions, but the potential for more races at Sebring was a definite possibility.
"That could be huge for Sebring, for the race track, for the airport and for the community," he said. "We look for good things to happen."
The merger also saw Road Atlanta race track in Braselton, Ga., the International Motor Sports Association, which sanctions ALMS events; as well the ALMS become part of the GRAND-AM family.
The two series have long been considered rivals, as GRAND-AM was established the year after the ALMS. Both were created to fill the departure of the ISMA Camel GT Series.
"Never in a million years did I think I'd see this," Stephenson said. "Now there is going to be one road racing body which people have wanted for some time."
Guy Cosmo, who races for Stuart-based Extreme Speed Motorsports, said there has been a division among race fans, with each having their preferred series, but he believed the merger would eventually lead to a better product.
"It's definitely the biggest news to come out of sports car racing in some time," Cosmo said. "You have two racing series that weren't on the brink of extinction, but neither was thriving. Ultimately, it could be a very good thing."
The merger between ALMS and GRAND-AM won't go into effect until 2014, so it will be business as usual for each organization next year.
"2013 will be the last 12 Hours as we know it with the specs and the prototypes," Stephenson said. "The ALMS will run as it has in the past and then we'll see a merger of the two entities the following year."
The 2014 series is expected to begin with the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring will follow as the second event.
"I would say it's great for racing fans in the state of Florida," said Ed Triolo, vice president of Integrated Marketing Communications for the ALMS. "To have those two historic, iconic races back-to-back is great."
The main thing that will take place in 2013 is determining with the specifications for the joint series in 2014, such as what classes will be run, as well as which tracks will be used.
"A lot of this is still under development stage," Stephenson said. "We'll be able to pick the top 12 tracks in North American and everybody will want to be a part of the new series."
Coming up with a format that pleases everybody may be a difficult task, as the two different series have loyal followings.
"A lot of fans are supportive of one and not the other," Cosmo said. "We're hoping to see the strengths of both series. It will be a very strong schedule with top-notch events and with all the manufacturers and sponsors in one series. In that respect it will be a much better show and if done properly can satisfy the fans of each series individually."
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