Although I tend to write most of my articles on NASCAR and I admit, I know most about the NASCAR world than any other racing series in the world, my heart lies in the world of Sports Cars. This includes any touring car series, such as the V8 Supercars of Australia, the BTCC and WTCC of Europe, the FIA GT series and, of course, the Le Mans Series. I also cannot forget about the truly wonderful series that are present in North America, such as the American Le Mans Series that formed out of the historic IMSA GT Championship and still runs under the IMSA banner and the Rolex Sports Car Series, which formed out of IMSA’s sister series, the USRRC. These two North American based series each have had their fair share of ups and downs, so to speak, but currently the two, although very different in many ways, find themselves at a similar crossroads.
First, in my personal opinion I have never liked a series of racing more than I like the ALMS. There is something about the atmosphere, the drivers, the cars and the number of classes that makes it the most attracting series in the world. One of the aspects of the ALMS that has blossomed out of its predecessors is the fact that there are basically four races going on at the same time. The four classes of cars, generally, are split into Le Mans Prototypes (LMP), which are closed wheeled cars with the soul purpose of racing and can exceed the speed of an F1 car, and Grand Touring (GT), which are more along the lines of production-based cars. Within these two classes are sub-classes. Over the years, the LMP sub-classes include the LMP/LMP1/LMP900 as the faster of the two sub-classes and the LMPC/LMP2/LMP675 sub-class. The GT class has, over the years, been split into GTS/GT1/GT and GT/GT2/GTC.
Since the series officially started in 1999, the LMP classes have been the face of the series, producing great racing and incredible championship battles. In its initial years, the LMP battles have included a dominant Audi camp, a strong Panoz team early on, an occasional Porsche RS Spyder that made some noise and the historic Intersport Lola, which is currently one of the remaining pioneer teams in the series. Over the past few years, however, there has been a steady decrease in these powerful and competitive teams. Panoz has not raced full-time since 2003 and Porsche left the series at the end of 2008, but plan to make a 2014 comeback, and despite running the major races every year (the 12 Hours of Sebring and the Petite Le Mans), Audi has also not raced full-time since 2008. In the two seasons since both Porsche and Audi left, the title has been endlessly fought over by Dyson Racing, Team Cytosport, Highcroft Racing, Drayson Racing and DeFerran Racing. Only Dyson and Cytosport remain. With the massive decrease in the number of LMP entrants, and with the LMPC class (which is only in its 2nd season) still attempting to find a foothold in the series, the spotlight has shifted away from these technological wonders and into the Touring divisions.
There is a similar pattern in the other major Sports Car Series in North America: The Rolex Sports Car Series. Although the initial years (2000-2002) the cars of the Rolex Sports Car Series and the American Le Mans Series were very similar, in 2003 the RSCS had a change of identity and went to only 2 classes and switched from Le Mans Prototypes to Daytona Prototypes as the face of the series. These cars have been criticized for their lack of aesthetic appeal, but are in line for a 3rd generation makeover for the 2012 season. Similar to the ALMS, these prototypes have produced excellent racing. Unfortunately, over the two seasons, the number of DP entrants has dropped and one team, Chip Ganaissi’s #01 car of Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas has won 14 out of the 21 races in 2010 and 2011 (so far) combined. The competition level of the DP class has sharply declined.
It’s no question that these two series are going through a time of change and there’s no question that the economy has affected the number of prototypes that are entered in a given race. Many may look down upon these two series, especially compared to the riveting success the European-based series have, but the reality is that these series still produce magnificent racing. The best racing, however, has not been present in the prototype class, unlike in recent years. I’m aware that the new T.V/Internet deal that the ALMS has taken on this year has hurt the ratings and whenever SPEED decides to show tape-delay races instead of live races for the Rolex Sports Car Series, viewership will decrease if anything. Aside from that, whenever I have watched a race this year, I have seen some of the best GT racing I have ever seen and even watching the LMP or DP classes has been fairly enjoyable.
I hope that as these two series progress, more team owners and sponsors take an interest in these two series. It is possible that the prototype numbers will regain the strength that they once had. As I mentioned, Porsche is interested in returning to the LMP ranks and Michael Waltrip has expressed interest in Sports Car Racing and cited these two series. It is, however, likely that Waltrip will stay in the GT ranks. Nevertheless we cannot lose hope for these series. Although the numbers may be down, the racing is still excellent and the championship battles are still tight.