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Posted: 09/01/12 10:57 AM
SPEED.com has confirmed through multiple sources involved with the negotiations that the American Le Mans Series and the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series will announce an agreement that will see the two series race under a single banner, likely beginning in 2014.
Full details on the merger are still unclear, and offers extended to both series for comment were declined, but it’s believed GRAND-AM will serve as the sanctioning body for the new-look championship, which could feature a mix of existing classes from both the ALMS and Rolex Series.
The announcement is expected to come on Wednesday in Daytona Beach, Fla.
Speaking with ALMS President and CEO Scott Atherton in the Baltimore paddock, the longtime head of the series denied such an agreement being in place, while a GRAND-AM Road Racing spokesman declined comment.
SPEED.com's sources, including a number of manufacturers, representatives and participants, have revealed that both sides are coming together. News of this developing story first emerged two weeks ago, building to a head this weekend in Baltimore.
Founded by pharmaceutical giant and entrepreneur Don Panoz in 1999, the ALMS brought the cars and technical regulations of the 24 Hours of Le Mans to North America, becoming the first full-season championship to embrace the rules set forth by the Automobile Club de l’Ouest.
Initially a mirror-image to the twice-around-the-clock French endurance classic, the series has diversified in recent years by opening its class structure to more affordable machinery, including the addition of Prototype and GT Challenge categories.
Its marquee event, the 12 Hours of Sebring, maintained its international presence, while the Petit Le Mans, the 1,000-mile/10-hour Road Atlanta enduro formed by Panoz in 1998, grew to become a mainstay on the global scene as well.
The ALMS has traditionally strived on manufacturer support, namely from Audi, Chevrolet, Porsche, BMW and Ferrari over its 14-year history and has seen recent growth in its production-based GT category, which currently sees six automakers represented.
However, its prototype categories have struggled to reach acceptable numbers following Audi’s withdrawal from P1 competition in 2009 and the end of Porsche and Acura’s factory programs. As a result, both P1 and the recently relaunched cost-capped P2 categories have almost exclusively featured customer entries.
Having signed a new one-year licensing contract with the ACO late last year, it’s understood the ALMS had renewed its agreement with the Le Mans organizers for one additional year in June.
Established one year after the ALMS in 1999, GRAND-AM grew out of the roots laid by the U.S. Road Racing Championship (USRRC) and featured the Rolex 24 at Daytona as its premier race and annual season kickoff.
While having a strong influence from the onset, GRAND-AM was acquired by NASCAR Holdings in 2008 and has operated under the leadership of executive vice president Jim France through its 13-year history.
The series has typically embraced privateers through its two categories, although receiving support from manufacturers such as Chevrolet, Ford and BMW in the premier Daytona Prototype ranks. No fewer than a half-dozen automakers are represented in GT, with a third category, GX, is scheduled to be added next year for experimental machinery.
Despite having been rival series since the onset, there has been a significant crossover between manufacturers, with Chevrolet supporting programs in both DP and ALMS GT, along with Ferrari, Mazda, Porsche and other marques and drivers that participate in both championships.
Like the ALMS, GRAND-AM’s prototype component has seen a recent drop-off of entries, but has typically strived, notably with the introduction of new GT3-based cars adapted to Rolex Series’ GT category.
SPEED.com will have more on this developing story as it breaks.
John Dagys is SPEED.com’s Sportscar Racing Reporter, focusing on all major domestic and international championships. You can follow him on Twitter @johndagys or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org