Monday
Mar142011

And So It Goes… Editorial

Hardly seems like we’ve made a full journey around the sun since the 2010 Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring, yet here we are, poised to launch the 2011 American Le Mans Series season.

Looking forward, I can’t help but look back. It’s funny how we always feel we have our finger on the pulse of things, yet we never really do. If racing is anything, it is unpredictable. Both on and off the track. You can skew your predictions based on the business of business, the economy, the rules, the players, the competition and nowadays, even the environment and price of oil. Skew as you may, you’re predictions will still probably be wrong.

Personally, I anticipated a rougher road for the Series in 2009 and 2010. In 2009 I really thought we’d take a bigger hit given the state of the economy and the state of GT1. Kudos to the Series adding LMPC and GTC for 2010. It added to the content, the show and the health of the Series.

But 2011? I’m concerned on one hand, yet on the other, I’m encouraged by my own inaccurate previous predictions.

First, I think the schedule leaves something to be desired. I’ll give high marks for Sebring and Petit. There’s no doubt those two will be barn burners and full-on endurance racing the way it should be. Lots of relevant content via a full representation of true global sports car racing. It’s how it should be. I have reserved yet optimistic high marks for the addition of the Baltimore Grand Prix. The event shows a lot of promise backed by city participation and a fantastic venue. My reservation? IndyCar. I think the ALMS stands to lose exposure via IndyCars flashy over-promise / under-deliver hype. ALMS is by far a sexier show better suited to an upscale audience.

There’s nothing wrong with the rest of the races… nothing that a kick in the promotional ass wouldn’t help. What I mean by that is these events are slipping into the mode of simply “happening.” They fly under the radar, drawing reasonably good crowds and basically go on without a hitch. But unless you’re there witnessing the tree falling in the forest, there’s no real buzz. And while admit to being slightly jaded, they just seem to move and go by like the hands on a ticking clock. Monterey has had some fantastic moments, but I don’t know how you build a following when you keep playing hide and seek with the race date. I like Road America… I’m glad and I’m glad they’ve added to the race length.

So given those remarks, the ALMS seems vested in generating buzz for Baltimore and riding the buzz for the two International Le Mans Cup races; Sebring and Petit. ALARM! ALARM! ALARM!

Where’s the beef?

We need to be careful here. Sixty cars at Sebring then 30 cars at Long Beach. Hmmmmmm… kind of reminds me of 50 entries for the 24 at Daytona and 30 at the Grand Prix of Miami in Grand Am. And what adds to my concern is the ILMC halo over Sebring and Petit potentially taking the shine off the ALMS and the remaining races? Let’s be realistic… other than Sebring and Petit, there’s no Audi, no Peugeot and as far as we know, no defending ALMS Champion in the prototype division. For all intent and purposes, there’s not much happening in prototype racing for the rest of the year. Currently we’re looking at two teams in LMP1, Dyson/Mazda and Muscle Milk, and one two-car team in LMP2 (Level 5). Highcroft, the defending Champion, appears only slated for Sebring and Le Mans, while two stalwart privateers, Intersport and Autocon are conspicuously missing from the radar screen. Intersport will campaign an LMPC car but there’s no news regarding their LMP1 car or veteran ALMS drivers, Jon and Clint Field.

Next we have to address the gaping hole in the 2011 schedule. After Long Beach in mid-April, we will not hear the sound of an engine until the Series reappears July 9 at Lime Rock Park in Connecticut.

You know… I’m a huge fan/supporter of the ALMS. Seriously, I love these guys. But this gaping hole in the schedule is not going to go away and it’s not going to help an already tenuous situation.

I’m not hear preaching doom and gloom. But there’s a elephant in the room. I realize the ACO and the 24 Hours of Le Mans is the underlying basis for where the ALMS found its roots. But at what point does too much become “too much?” ACO as an organization has: left potential prototype content and competitors wafting in the breeze depleting any incentive to participate, created Le Mans practice scheduling that all but destroys the ALMS calendar and any hope of building momentum, and lastly, they steel the thunder from the two true US endurance races via the creation of the ILMC.

The Good News

The two highlights for 2011 in my opinion are the incredible grid developing in the GT class and the new TV package.

GT racing will without doubt be a battle for the ages. All the pieces are in place… manufacturers, great cars, stout teams and awesome driving talent. It’s going to be Ben Hur without the spurs. The potential for GT racing could set the table for an unprecedented era of a GT racing in North America. It could capture the attention of national audiences and car enthusiasts unlike anything since, dare I say, “stock car” racing. It’s fast, it’s loud, it’s sexy and you know what, it’s even kind of “green.” People look at these cars and they know what the hell they are. The ALMS GT class is quite capable of convincing manufacturer’s they can win on Sunday and sell on Monday.

The TV package is brilliant. Ok… I know it want seem brilliant next week. But I assure you, in 24 months… it will be hailed as brilliant. Given the Series does not have the budget or audience of NASCAR, what they’ve put together in this TV package is going to accelerate the Series’ visibility to one of the highest and most accessible forms of motor racing in history. It’s cutting edge, it’s smart and they’re ahead of the curve on this one. For those that complain about what they’re missing, stop looking in the rearview mirror. Anticipate the next set of curves. This package is going to deliver the best of everything and more of it. As the marketplace catches up with the technology (and given new technology, this happens faster than ever) you’re going to have all the access to sports car racing that you’ve always wanted. You can anticipate coverage of practice, flag to flag racing, gorgeously packaged post race coverage and pre/post race wrap around shows. And what’s more you’ll get it when you want it and where you want it. This is the future and the ALMS has got this one MORE than right.

So with that, I’m hooking up all my HDMI cables, organizing my cameras and travel gear, stocking the house with enough sun block to hand April-June downtime and, believe it or not, getting excited about heading to Sebring. It’s going to be fun and I’m glad to be part of it.

« Here we go, here we go... | Main | “Witch Hunt” – The Introduction »