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1997 or 2004

Bill Oursler on Messages…. Mixed and otherwise

  Stop “dissing” the American Le Mans Series? It appears these days that
“constructive” criticism is somehow viewed not as being part of a dialogue, but
rather as a means of “undermining” the objectives of those being criticized. As
this political season progresses more and more we’re told the danger about
“mixed messages.” To hell with messages. If you want to send a message, then,
as the man says, use Western Union – if they’re still around.

  The truth is often not pretty. And, while everyone, including this columnist, can
only express his opinion of the truth, in some cases that opinion can be dead on
the mark. On this website I have questioned the status and the future of the
American Le Mans Series. I have also praised those running the ALMS for their
achievements. My expression of my opinions; my perception of the truth as it were,
has garnered me a considerable amount of negative response.

Wing attack Plan R….
  Having been in this business of motorsport journalism for longer than I care to
remember, I fully accept the flak that goes with the territory. Even so, there are
some absolutes when it comes to the truth. Praise for trying to do the right thing
should be heaped on those struggling to achieve difficult goals. Yet, trying is not
necessarily succeeding, which is the case with the American Le Mans Series.

  Recently, ALMS boss Scott Atherton gave his annual “state” of the state
evaluation of the ALMS in which he noted that there has be documented the
progress in increasing the size of the championship’s television audience and at
track attendance. He also pointed to competitor and sponsorship loyalty as further
positive signs. Likewise he noted with rightful pride that the ALMS has gotten Le
Mans officials to give the series needed latitude in meeting its business objects
by allowing the ALMS to continue to use the 2003 prototype regulations for its
headlining sports racers, as well as allowing the introduction of a new four-door
GT class in 2005, the latter move permitting GM’s Cadillac division to return to the

The Longest Day
  Atherton also confirmed the Sarthe’s agreement to move the mandatory 24-Hour
test weekend from the first part of May to the first part of June, allowing the ALMS
to rationalize its schedule by running two races between Sebring and Le Mans,
while at the same time saving ALMS competitors making the journey to France
somewhere between $500,000 and $750,000. These are all good things. Yet,
Atherton also acknowledged the presence of the Grand Am and its continued
growth, noting that the Grand Am through its links to the France family have far
more resources than did the ALMS. So why then has not the ALMS fully utilized
what it does have which is a legacy that stretches back to the earliest days of
racing, well over a hundred years ago.

  Take for example television. Next season the ALMS will have just three non-cable
network shows, all on CBS, with two of these coming in the spring? Given
Atherton’s statement about television, and given that on the broadcast networks
the ALMS consistently draws a larger viewing audience than does the IRL, Champ
Car and Formula One, why has the series not expanded its time on the major
networks? Further, why has not G-Force, a race car builder of note owned by Don
Panoz, the same man who owns the ALMS, not gotten involved in producing its
own prototype design to flesh out the aging and thinly populated sports racing
grids at the front of the championship’s fields?

Going the distance, going for speed….
  The Grand Am has built itself a title chase dedicated to its competitors/ The
ALMS is supposedly in business to produce entertainment for its audience, and in
doing so increase the size of its audience. There are many that do not have the
SEED channel in their homes. Is it good business to build for the future based on
the relatively small numbers of those who do get SPEED? Additionally, how long
can the ALMS keep its audience based on one or two Audis and one or two fragile
MG Lolas with the occasional prototype via the British Isles And, as if that weren’t
enough, how long can the Corvettes hold up the GTS production division on their
own? All these are issues that will affect the ultimate success of the series.

  Atherton was clear in his statement about “the purgatory” the series finds itself in
when it comes to the size and variety of its fields. Yet, waiting for the problem to be
solved elsewhere could mean disaster for the ALMS. Sure, there are indications
of “new blood” arriving. But how much of that is truly significant? Are the major
manufacturers going to provide new prototype designs, or are we going to be
focusing on the lesser classes? Say what you will about the Grand Am and its
rather ugly, low performing Daytona Prototypes, their numbers keep increasing, a
fact which permits the Grand Am to control and shape its own destiny. All this
columnist wants is the ALMS to be able to do the same. Is that so wrong?

      Bill Oursler
October, 2004

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