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Bill Oursler on Ten Years After

They say that politics makes for strange bedfellows. In truth it is the mutuality of interests that draw people together that normally would never associate with each other. Clearly, the folks at Le Mans and Don Panoz have found a comfort zone that works. And, while they may not be strange bedfellows, they come from vastly differing backgrounds.

The tradition of Le Mans goes back to the beginning of the 20th century, almost two decades prior to the first 24-Hour in 1923. On the other hand, Panoz’ time in motorsport goes back little more than a decade. Indeed this is being written in the pressroom at Road Atlanta on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the Petit Le Mans 1000 -mile event that marked the start of the American Le Mans Series, which began the following year.

Goin’ Home

Now, the ALMS has come into its own, with a flavour that while respecting the wishes and desires of Le Mans, not to mention the ACO’s regulations, has a distinctly American attitude. If one talks to Scott Atherton, the boss of the Panoz Motorsports group and the ALMS, he will emphasize that the ALMS intends to remain in the ACO fold. At the same time, Atherton is proud of the fact that the ALMS has become an exciting, vibrant venue. In short, the series has achieved that valued U.S. goal of being entertaining. And that, ladies and gentlemen means profitability.

In Europe, at least to this American columnist, it seems that there are many other factors that go into to the thinking of rules makers other than entertainment. Here, however, entertainment, even though the ALMS has adopted an ever-growing “green” attitude, remains king. It is this latter fact that brings us to heart of an issue, which could cause problems in the relationship between the ALMS and the ACO.

I’d love to change the world…

Specifically, the ACO is demanding that the LMP2 division spyders add 50 kilograms to their weight for 2008 so that they do not in any way steal the thunder of the LMP1 Audis and Peugeots. The problem for the ALMS is that there are no Peugeots here. And thus if the Porsche RS Spyders and their Acura counterparts, the very cars that have made the ALMS what it has been in 2007, can’t compete with the R10s next year, then the bright future the ALMS has built for itself could be in trouble.

Atherton insists that the ALMS will follow the ACO’s lead. However, when asked how he intends to see that happen, his answer is, “very carefully.” You can bet on that, for if the ALMS is to survive ‘ “nipping at the heels” of their LMP1 counterparts. For Atherton that means that under the right conditions and on the right tracks, the LMP2 contenders can win outright. Will the ACO go along with the ALMS boss? That is the question. If not there could be some unwanted fireworks. If yes, and that seems a distinct possibility, it could mean the growth of what is fast becoming a new golden era in North American sports car racing.

                                                                                     Bill Oursler
                                                                   October 2007

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