Wednesday
Aug222012

A new idea for American GT racing: The Autoextremist Invitational.

RACE GALLERYI hope everyone out there got to see what was a superb road race at Road America over the weekend. Guy Smith (Dyson Racing Lola B12/60 Mazda) delivered a victory for Dyson Racing in the closest overall finish in the history of the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón – 0.083 seconds. The Smith/Chris Dyson entry had started next-to-last but ended-up winning the four-hour Road America Road Race Showcase in a riveting finish over Lucas Luhr driving the Muscle Milk Pickett Racing HPD ARX-03a Honda. Luhr appeared to have the race won by passing Smith in the final corner (Turn 14), but Smith and the No. 16 Lola-Mazda won a drag race up the hill and to the checkered flag. Incredibly, Luhr had stormed back from four laps down after his teammate, Klaus Graf, lost time in the pits early on in the race. See more coverage about the events at Road America in “The Line,” but what I really wanted to talk about this week is an idea whose time has come, from where I sit.

Peter M. De Lorenzo founded Autoextremist.com on June 1, 1999 as an Internet magazine devoted to news, commentary and analysis of the auto industry and the business of motorsports. Since then the site has become a weekly “must read” for leading professionals within and outside the auto and motorsports industries, and De Lorenzo is considered to be one of the most influential voices commenting on the business today.As good as the race was for the overall win at Road America, the real action in the American Le Mans Series continues to be in the GT class, which, as I’ve unequivocally stated before, is the best road racing going on in the world right now. (Yes, even better than the Australian V8 Supercars.) It’s also no secret that I feel that the ALMS is somewhat limited by its own multi-class format and their links to the 24 Hours of Le Mans in that they are unable to properly showcase the ongoing GT battle.

So imagine, if you will, that a new racing event takes place at Road America next year, one week after the Petit Le Mans, at the end of the 2013 season. The “Autoextremist Invitational” would be a throw-down battle for GT cars that will have competed in the 2013 ALMS season. A pair of flat-out sprint races for all the marbles without any other classes on the track. Eligible would be manufacturer supported teams from BMW, Corvette, Dodge, Porsche and Ferrari, as well as any privateer teams in the top GT category. The AE Invitational would consist of twin 60-minute heats, each with one mandatory pit stop for tires and a splash of fuel. One of each team’s co-drivers would run in the first heat, the other in the second.

Why? Because the GT racing going on right now in the ALMS is as good as it gets and it needs its own stage, at least for one race. I am going to engage with Scott Atherton of the ALMS and encourage him to get behind the idea, and then I’m going to enlist his help in lobbying each manufacturer to participate. The entry fee for each manufacturer would be set at $250,000, which would go right into creating a substantial prize money fund. Each manufacturer would also be able to designate a special one-off, additional team car that can have alternative drivers. Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart in a third Corvette Racing team car? You can see the possibilities here.

The AE Invitational could be packaged as a “live” television racing event as well, sort of a GT version of the “Race of Champions” in Europe, but on a natural-terrain circuit in America with factory-backed entries from multiple major manufacturers. Since the TV networks out there that are racing-oriented crave new content, you can bet the AE Invitational would present a very attractive end-of-season package.

Do I think that there’s more than a little chance that this could happen? Actually, I do. I would think that the manufacturers would be chomping at the bit to showcase their battle on the national stage and should it turn into something bigger, like a separate series within a series that would run in conjunction with the ALMS race weekends here in the U.S., well, even better.

I really believe that the “Autoextremist Invitational” is the right idea for major league road racing here in the U.S., especially given that the manufacturer participation in the GT series reflects their ongoing - and heated - battle in the showrooms.

I am going to be leaning on friends in high places over the next 90 days to help make it happen.

Stay tuned.

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