The Meaning of Zen, or how I Separated Myself from the Aco
Associations are beautiful things, or at least beautiful if they serve a purpose.
When Don Panoz took over Andy Evans’ crumbling Professional Sports Car
Racing empire in the late 1990’s, he decided he would align himself with the
Automobile Club du l’Ouest, leasing the ACO’s rules for its 24-Hour affair, and
calling his new road course championship the American Le Mans Series.
A Parisian in Atlanta
At the time, it was, perhaps, one of the better moves Panoz could have made.
Certainly in the years since the ALMS has prospered and grown into a major force
in North America. Even so, the lease agreement has tied the ALMS to the fortunes
of the ACO, which for 2004 are in something of a downturn, at least as far as the
prototype divisions are concerned. Thus, when the ALMS announced that it and
the ACO has agreed that the Panoz group could postpone the implementation of
the new 2004 prototype regulations, everyone applauded the move to stick with
last year’s scriptures.
Still, while the focus is on the short term benefits of leaving the prototypes as is,
no one appears to be talking about the potential long term effects of what
amounts to at least a loosening of the heretofore ties tightly binding the fortunes
of the ALMS to those of the ACO. While, on the surface the relationship between
the two as been harmonious, there have been occasional hints that some within
the ALMS have chaffed at the restrictions.
No visa… no entry.
One such moment came a couple of years ago when the ALMS and BMW worked
out a formula that would permit the homologation M3 “special” with its race-
oriented V-8 engine to continue its ALMS GT division career despite the ACO’s de
facto banning of it for its owns 24-Hour show. Without informing the ALMS, the
ACO summarily turned thumbs down on the deal, leaving the ALMS with a
“Porsche only” category until the recent appearance of the Ferrari 360 set.
Quite what the ALMS folks said to the ACO counterparts is unknown at this point.
However, one suspects that they made their case in a “firm and direct” manner.
After all, why not? To most observers, the increased interest in the Rolex Grand
American Sports Car series, especially in the new Daytona Prototype class, has
put some pressure on the ALMS. This is particularly true given the fact that the
number of potential customers for all kinds of prototypes, the Grand Am’s and
those for the ALMS, is not infinite, but has clearly defined limits.
1,2,3…. Go to the head of a class
With more than 20 of the Daytona cars already sold, and more sales pending, by
the time the ACO sorted out its regulations and new cars were built that
conformed to them, there might be a paucity of buyers lining up to make
purchases. Now, no one can predict what might or might not happen. Even so,
while limited the ALMS seems to have given itself some maneuvering room to
preserve its own future as it sees fit, such as using the Daytona Prototype concept
in modified form to create a new class of its own.
Even though the Grand Am has restricted the DP set in terms of componentry and
horsepower, insiders say that the cars, without any changes at all could take as
much as 800 horses and use them successfully. Use as different aero package,
slap on some “old fashioned” carbon fiber brakes; perhaps even upgrade the
wheel/tire packages, and “voila,” you’ve got a car that just might compete on equal
terms with the “as yet to be built” new ACO prototypes.
Far fetched? Perhaps, but then again perhaps not. Remember, only a limited
number of such cars could help make the front end of a 2005 or 2006 ALMS field
look far more attractive than it otherwise might be. Would the ALMS ever consider
going this route? For that, one would have to ask them; a question that probably
would be answered in the negative, if at all. Still, don’t bet against the fact that the
ALMS and its Panoz-controlled sanctioning partner, the International Motor Sports
Association (PSCR restored to its original moniker) will be thinking about along
Bishop takes Knight
The announcement from Paris may appear at first to be “localized,” temporary
move to fix a singular momentary problem. Yet, its real importance is that it
seems to open the door to a future independence that could radically improve the
ALMS’ position in the marketplace. Keep in mind that IMSA founder John Bishop
had no problem telling the European what they could do with their rules when he
felt the FIA’s “fuel economy” Group C concept was wrong for America. Bishop told
the FIA and Le Mans what they could do with those scriptures while instituting his
power-to weight ratio based Camel GT Prototype class that was quite similar to
Group C, but embodied the characteristics Bishop thought would sell on his
home turf. Ultimately, Bishop was proved right. Maybe history is about to repeat
itself, this time for the betterment of all.