Grand-Am Road Racing Media Conference
Topics: Grand-Am Road Racing, United SportsCar Racing
January 4, 2013
THE MODERATOR: Today we are going to announce the conceptual structure for the new unified sports car series for 2014‑2015. We have a couple gentlemen here in a few moments that are going to really be able to provide a lot more details than I am, but just give you a quick rundown.
We are going to announce that during the 2014 GRAND‑AM's GT and the Le Mans Series P2 classes will be combined into one Prototype category. The Le Mans Series Prototype Challenge class will continue to run as a separate class. The great separate GT competitions in both the organizations now are going to come back again as two separateclasses for GT.
We are also going to talk a little bit about the future of the intriguing GX class which is debuting at this year's GRAND‑AM Rolex 24. We are going to go ahead and get right into some opening comments from our two guests.
We have Scot Elkins, the COO of both the International Motorsports Association and the American Le Mans Series, and we have the managing director of competition for GRAND‑AM, Richard Buck.
We are going to open up with Scot Elkins, an opening statement. Scot, all yours.
SCOT ELKINS: Thanks, it's a great day and it's nice to see a lot of friends out in the audience.
The class structure is conceptual and it's primarily conceptual because we have about a year to figure out all of the specific technical details.
I know a lot of people want the technical details straight way but the conceptual fact is that we have tried to be as inclusive as possible in maintaining all of the equipment that exists in GRAND‑AM and the American Le Mans Series. The idea is that it's the best‑of‑both‑world's approach where we can take everything that exists and still compete with it in 2013 separately, and then combined in 2014 and 2015.
The idea is one that we felt was the absolute best approach. We worked together very, very hard. Richard and I, we spent a lot of time together and all of our groups together, technical staff from GRAND‑AM, and we have done a lot of things that are critical to the merger process.
The fact that we have been able to work together, and frankly all of us, as I've said many times, a lot of us have become very good friends during the course of the process.
So it's a very, very positive thing.
The thing that we also did was we had a massive amount of input from stakeholders, stakeholders is a word we all use but it means teams, friends, everybody who has a vested interest in what we are doing. We are not done with that yet. We still have meetings we are going to have and we are still going to have very detailed meetings, specifically about the details and technical specs going forward.
But today we wanted to get the announcement out that gave everybody an idea of what is going to happen for the next three years. We felt that that was important; to be inclusive, and so that everybody can know, and so that's very important.
The other aspect, too, and before I go into a little bit of details about the class, one thing that's important is that we have also kept our relationship with the ACO from the ALMS side and working with them and keeping them informed and them aware of the process and the work that we are doing. That relationship is very important to all of us as GRAND‑AM and ALMS and we have made sure that they were involved, as well.
That's enough chitter‑chatter.
The combined class, that we have not named yet‑‑ we have not named any of the classes. We have got kind of an internal name that we are using with stuff. We are not going to put it out there because we don't want people to think that's what it's going to be called but we are planning on the names of classes along with the name of the new merged combined series.
I think everybody knows and everybody has seen the press releases that we have some branding agencies and our marketing guys, Vitreol (ph) and Pettitte (ph) working on that with the agency. We don't have a date for when all of that is going to be done. Again, we are really trying not to do things in a hurry because we know we have one shot at doing this right. So all of those names will be announced at a later date.
So our conceptual class, the top prototype class which is the Daytona Prototype and the P2s, it's a little bit of work that we have to do to make those two work. A lot of people have told us that it seems like it's impossible but we know it's not impossible. We have done a lot of work jointly, especially on the GRAND‑AM I'd and on our side we have been doing a lot of simulation and we have done a lot of pre‑work to determine what we can do is possible.
Because of the link with the ACO, the intention is to keep the P2 car as close to that technical specifications as we possibly can and increase the performance level of the Daytona Prototype through the variousaerodynamics, brakes, stuff like that, those are the details we are working through and we will utilize the year we have through 2014 to make all of those consolidated.
The second class is ALMS what we call the LMPC class. That class exists as not necessarily a second gear but an additional PC class that is the same as it is in ALMS. It was predated to have the prototype racing experience at a reasonable budget and with the possibility of drivers that are not necessarily total professionals. So that class will exist as it is in the ALMS.
And then the third class that we are talking about is the ALMS GT class, arguably some of the best GT racing in the world along with Rolex GT racing right now. And that class will be again unchanged from the way it exists in ALMS with the link to the ACO and the ability to take that car and run it at Le Mans.
Those are the first three classes, and I'll pass it over to Richard.
RICHARD BUCK: Thanks, Scot. First before I get started, what a great place to make this announcement and communicate here at Daytona our plans for 2014.
We have got a great race coming up here in 2013 with the Rolex at the end of January, and our inaugural unified race will be here in 2014. So, what a great place. I want to say thank you to Joie Chitwood III and his staff, have been great to work with and we look forward to the racing coming up and the future.
The next class we would like to talk about is the GRAND‑AM GT and the ALMS GTC looking at those two vehicles and classes and equipment, as Scot stated, it's very important to us that as we look at this stuff that we really understand the impact it's going to have on the teams. We try to make that minimal.
We look at the great racing that comes out of both of those classes. We look at the architecture and the hardware, and between our teams working together, we feel that it's a very good fit. They are very minimal changes, so the next class would be the GT GRAND‑AM and the GTC, we would put together.
It showcases great drivers, great teams, as well as the equipment in the cars that you see in the showroom floors that are available to the public. Both those classes are very fan‑friendly, whether you're the avid fan or whether you're just the fan that's becoming new and becoming‑‑ will become a bigger fan.
The next class we spoke about earlier is the GX class, and that's a new class and there's been a lot of hype about it. We are looking at the future of where that's going to go. It's a work‑in‑progress, if you will. It's turning the wheels for the first time here, we have got a lot of excitement about it. It's new technology and it will be a work‑in‑progress and we'll look forward to watching that and seeing where we end up with that in the future.
I think that's it for the classes for the GRAND‑AM side.
THE MODERATOR: One of the coolest things about both GRAND‑AM and Le Mans Series is the interaction with fans via social media channels.
So this morning we threw out a line to our fans and see if they wanted to become involved, and one of the questions that was very prominent recurring, so we thought we would go ahead and start it off, and we'll attach it to one of the gentlemen who asked it with the unique handle, @MetsGuy47, he wants to see what is going to be the extent of this new unified series alignment with the ACO and the 24‑hour Le Mans.
SCOT ELKINS: It's kind of like we said before. We are working very diligently to continue the relationship that we have with the ACO. They are aware of everything that we are doing and they support everything we are doing.
I know that Ed Bennett, Scot Atherton, Don Panoz and Jim France are scheduling some more meetings with them to spell out exactly how we are going to continue.
We have made the step to keep two of the classes technically compliant, and the intention is to still have the opportunity for the combined series to send cars to Le Mans with automatic entries just like we have done in the past.
So it's still a work‑in‑progress like a couple other things, but we are very positive about the outlook and we fully expect that relationship to continue.
Q. You say a combination of ALMS GTC and GRAND‑AM GT moving forward, ALMS GTC is a pro‑am class that envisions that the combined class would be Pro‑Am, and as kind of a related follow eye on, the prototype challenge class that's coming forward, does that end up as being a Pro‑Am class, as well?
RICHARD BUCK: I think like we said, the work is in progress. We are looking at all the options, and we are looking at the best of both worlds. I think when we take a look at the ALMS and the ACO and the way that system is run, and then we look at GRAND‑AM and the way that we have evolved here, we have had many discussions on what level and how to establish those.
I think going forward, that's obviously closely top to the list. The first thing we wanted to do was about the hardware. Everybody has an investment and we wanted to make sure we could balance it and without incurring too much cost on the competitors, on their budgets, and also make sure that the equipment was going to be viable.
SCOT ELKINS: We have not made the full decision yet, but I think internally we like the idea of having drivers with ratings and being able to‑‑ it's not 100 percent perfect every time and nobody 100 percent agrees with it, but we like the idea of being able to have regulations that would apply to different rated drivers to make it fair for some of the Pro‑Am side.
So it's something we are looking at. We have not quite got it 100 percent yet but there are some things about both ways we do it in terms of how the terminal works, things like that in GRAND‑AM, along with having great drivers; not 100 percent.
Q. The resurgence in‑‑ numbers for ALMS for next year and the numbers are still a little questionable. What was the process‑‑ inaudible‑‑ and the tire manufacturers, where tires were closed or in particular categories?
RICHARD BUCK: I think I owe Scot Atherton 20 bucks because I said he would be the first guy to ask about P1.
SCOT ELKINS: P1, I think if you follow sports car racing, you have an idea and you have a good understanding of the P1 regulations in 2014 are changing quite dramatically. It's going to an energy allocation and it's turning into, even more so a full‑on manufacturer result. The regulations are going to be in a way that is going to make it very difficult for what we tend to call privateer teams to compete.
Again we are seeing a little bit of a resurgence just from cars that don't want to run and interested in coming over here in racing with us, but I don't know that the resurgence is necessarily that strong. It's a business decision of ours. I think we are taking a conservative approach to see how the 2014 regulations play out.
We are making an announcement today on class structure for 2014 and 2015. We are going to keep our eyes open and we are going to pay attention to the racing world and we are going to see what happens and we'll make decisions respective of where they need to be.
SCOT ELKINS: You know as well as anybody that P1 chassis and P2 chassis aren't that different; the biggest regulations are within the engines. So if there are P1 cars that want to meet the regulations and come compete as a P2 car, I think we can figure out how to make that work. That's another 20 bucks I owe.
The tires are part of the situation that we are trying to work through. To be completely honest, with the merger that came together, there's a lot of commercial agreements that both series have with different tire suppliers and we need to work through those and get an understanding of what makes sense.
It's one of those cases where we want everybody to be happy and we don't want to lose any partners, ever. So we are taking that one very, very slow. It will come into play a lot when we get into the balancing of the DP and P2 cars, the tires will be huge on the performance side of it.
. But it's something coming down the road and it's another one of those technical details we're going to be working on but we still don't have an answer now.
Q. Is the class structure going to be‑‑ inaudible‑‑ like you do now‑‑
SCOT ELKINS: I think where we are at now is we are competing to United States sports car racing and the classes that we have are the classes that we have.
While the ALMS has done it in the past, we have allowed cars to come over and race. Our specifications are those that match specifications from Europe, so if those guys want to run, they can run‑‑ we need to be focused on U.S. sports car racing in my opinion. I think we all agree.
Q. In regard to the Daytona Prototype, the P2 class, DP Gen 4, is there any discussions in equalizing these cars to make all this ClassA co‑eligible?
RICHARD BUCK: I think the fact that we are in constant dialogue with the ACO, we appreciate their input. But as Scot said, we have two distinctive cars that fit here in the U.S. as our top class that we have announced today, the Daytona Prototype and LMP2. I think our focus right now is on the balance of those two vehicles. They are different philosophies, and we have gone quite a ways down the road with that but we still have a lot of work to do to make sure that we have good, competitive racing with both those cars and that class. That's currently our focus right now.
Q. Given the fact that GRAND‑AM won't be running‑‑ inaudible‑‑
RICHARD BUCK: I think both of us can answer that because it's one of the topics right now with us‑‑ our partner, Sunoco, is a leader in the world and a great partner throughout all NASCAR racing, GRAND‑AM and the other series.
I think the forward thinking of ALMS and the partners that we have, again, it's going to be a mix; we have had many discussions and there will be am going forward. We are very much alongside Sunoco and ALMS want to be good partners, good partners for the environment and good partners going forward.
Q. It's definitely a feature of the ALMS to carry forward‑‑‑‑ inaudible.
THE MODERATOR: As somebody clearly a fan of the continental tires, what's going to be the future of Continental in the series?
RICHARD BUCK: As Scot said, we have good partners with agreements in place. I can tell that you Continental from both sides, they are very excited about the future and want to be part of it going forward. We have actually had a chance in part of our development to run a P2 car at Daytona here in the test and did it on Continental tires and was very favorable.
So I think as we continue to explore and go forward, we will meet our contractual agreements. But as Scot said, there's room for everybody to play and we want to keep everybody happy and we will look at each situation as we move forward and go from there.
SCOT ELKINS: Continental has been an amazing partner, there's no question about that, and they are here in the room today.
I think the fact of the matter is that our focus going forward is to test on the tires, and we have set up a couple other tests. They have been an amazing partner for GRAND‑AM, and we want to make sure we are amazing partners going forward, absolutely.
Q. Would you describe going in what you thought was going to be the biggest hurdle of this merger, and then what you think so far has been the biggest hurdle, and looking towards the future, what do you think the most important result from all this work is?
RICHARD BUCK: I can tell you what I saw that made the biggest impact on me, when I walked in the room and Don Panoz and Jim France were buddy‑and‑buddy, arm‑in‑arm; they were already connect. From the top down, it's been like that since day one.
SCOT ELKINS: Yeah, absolutely.
In terms of a struggle‑‑ just the thing to be totally honest about it, the thing about merging two prototypes that are a little bit different has always been something that we felt like would be probably the biggest amount of work. You look at the other classes and they are pretty much plug and play from the respective series. It works very well.
So we know it's a daunting task and we have the technological resources with the NASCAR R&D center all of our friends and manufacturers‑‑ but we are not concerned about. It we are very optimistic about it and excited about it and we are very happy to announce it today because it takes the ability for two classes from two separate series to be able to come and compete for overall victory for amazing race car fans at Daytona.
So we are very excited about the challenge that we have ahead of us.
Q. A little off‑target but what's going to happen with the Lites series?
SCOT ELKINS: Yeah, I think it's something that was a part of merging the strength of the two organizations together with the incredible fields that Continental Tire Series has matching up with our Porsche GT3 Series and the Prototype Lite Series.
It's something we have talked about, and everyone ]is going to get a glimpse of at 2013 at Road America when GRAND‑AM, ALMS and the Continental Tire Series, Porsche GT3 and Prototype Lites all race on the same week. It's a bit of a dream as one of the most incredible sports car racing weekends that possibly exists.
So those development series are very important in terms of allowing drivers to enter the sports car market at a lower price point and have the ability to move up to the big series.
We love the development series and it's a very important part of this merger.
Q. How many classes will be in the Rolex 24 next year?
SCOT ELKINS: Cut your thumb off and you have the classes.
Q. Cut my thumb off? With both fingers or just one?
SCOT ELKINS: I didn't know how many hands you had, I'm sorry. Yeah, four with the possibility of still trying to work through what we are going to do with GX because it's such a new class.
Q. Is there a six‑month window there there's a thought of running any ALMS cars here for this race?
SCOT ELKINS: I don't think so, because of the differences that we have, some of the performance levels and some of the other items that we have to deal with in terms of commercial contracts, things like that.
Honestly, it's not been six months; this merger was announced in September, so we have not had that much time to be honest‑‑ oh, right, sorry.
Q. You've got cost containment now‑‑ how do you address the DeltaWing in terms of cost‑‑
RICHARD BUCK: Well, in terms of cost, our philosophy is always‑‑ first of all, it's safety, and it's good competition and cost. And the costs we take very seriously. We work closely together on that but we want good competition and we want safe cars.
I'll let Scot speak to the DeltaWing but I think everything in our decisions as we move forward is based on those three things when we look at making changes or adjustments to get the competition even.
SCOT ELKINS: A big part of this process and a big part of this merger process, what we have done is try to create a sports car series that's the safe and one that has budgets that are reasonable. Cost containments are tough to accept.
You know, racers are racers and they are going to spend money wherever they can. But what we need to do is be conscious of being able to have budgets that allows people to continue to racing for a long time. It's something that honestly it's at the forefront of almost everything we talked about and what's going on in terms of manufacturing.
In regards to the DeltaWing, we are working with the folks at Elan Technologies right now. Obviously the DeltaWing is going to run in the American Le Mans Series next year. We think it's probably going to be in the P2 class so that it will fit within 2014 but we are still working with guys in the manufacturing facility on that. It will be balanced no different than what we are doing with DP and P2 cars.
We utilize the technologies that we have, whether it's an air restrictor or something like that to make it at the same performance level as the other cars; while still giving it the new advantages that it has in terms of the lightweight and fuel capacity and high efficiency. It again, is a work‑in‑progress and we are going to use it the entire year of 2013 of running in the ALMS to gather data on it. So, no, that's exactly what we need to do in terms of balancing the other two cars.
Q. Any consideration given to the fact that the two class situation, by adding four, potentially five classes, that maybe that dilutes the product a little bit or makes it more difficult for people to follow in the races outside of the Rolex 24?
SCOT ELKINS: Yeah, it was a definite consideration, as a guy who has been in the ALMS for the last four years, we always looked within GRAND‑AM‑‑ in the spirit of a merger, trying to truly take the best of both worlds and be inclusive of both paddocks and understanding that people are making an investment in equipment and trying to make it work, that was the right answer for the short term to have more classes.
Again, we are talking about running 13 separately and 14 and 15 and then evaluating the situation; being smart about what the class structure is at a later time. This is an inclusive approach so that everyone can play with the toys they have.
RICHARD BUCK: I'll add a little bit to that. One of the first things we did was reach out to the industry and stakeholders and try to understand what their biggest concerns are.
Obviously their part in this is immense, and we wanted to understand from their perspective and one of the first things was all of the equipment, all of the hardware, the engines from the cars, all that stuff, is it going to be junk or can I use it.
We looked at it and we understand from their input the lifecycles of the stuff and the equipment and it's generally on a three‑year cycle and that's really what has helped us is the collective input from the stake holders.
Q. With the two cars that ran the tests, two in the GTs, their times were basically the same but one was strikingly faster in the Super Speedway and the other was strikingly quicker in the infield; with you wanting to keep P2 pretty much the same for ACO, it sounds for a heavy burden on the GT teams, but from a financial standpoint is there a thought of helping them not to have to spend too much money to be competitive? And with only two really P1 teams out there, have you talked with those two folks and have they given you any indication what their thoughts might be on getting ready for 2014?
RICHARD BUCK: I'll answer the first part of that, and, yes, there's always consideration. There's some pretty incredible tools and resources from the NASCAR R&D Center and through Scot and the ALMS, things they have learned to do through engineering.
And once again, our teams and stakeholders, the information they have; the ALMS team came here to the Speedway fully intrumentated so we can understand how that car works on this track and take that information and take it forward into technology, some other technology, all the way into what Formula1 teams are practicing with 3D full‑on simulators to really put that to the test and see what we needed to do, see what direction we need to go. And always in mind, keeping the financial impact that would occur on a team, whether it be GRAND‑AM or ALMS.
Also the characteristics of a car and the philosophy of how they are designed and built, how they race; with all of that information, we were able to move forward and like we said, this is a work‑in‑progress and we were able to identify that we will be able to get to the goal of having the two cars be able to race together and not have a financial burden that keeps our teams coming to the racetrack, as well as keeping the characteristics of the car and visuals of them and so on and still being able to meet ACO regulations.
SCOT ELKINS: We pointed out earlier that the two cars make their lap time in different ways. And with the ability of the driver‑in‑the‑loop simulation and other items to know exactly that we need to work on. We have a car, a P2 car, that is a higher downforce car that has less horsepower than any sort of Prototype. So you can add downforce to the Daytona Prototype that has horsepower and get that balance if it makes sense.
In reference to the P1 teams, absolutely, yeah, Scot Atherton spoke‑‑ they know what we are doing and they understand the big picture and they understand that the 2014 rules for P1 cars are dramatically different.
I would not say that they are thrilled, but they understand they are very strong stalwarts of this sport and they have been supportive for a long time and they are going to continue to support us. It's a period of transition, and like we said, they can run those cars with some modification.
Q. By being all‑inclusive with the hardware that currently exists, how does the current FIA regulations for field size fit into 2014 and how many teams can race?
SCOT ELKINS: Well we are in a very unique position. All of the race series' in America areof ‑‑ NASCAR is the high end of the FIA worldwide.
As a sanctioning body in America, we follow the FIA guidelines and FIA regulation, but we don't all have to follow it; the whole allocation number for a circuit is a recommendation for us, because we work off of our own rule book.
So we follow it as a guideline but we don't necessarily always have to. When we had the at WEC at Sebring‑‑ inaudible ‑‑ but we run, you know, I think both GRAND‑AM and ALMS surpass the FIA allocation. So we have the ability to manage the competition. We know what we are doing and we do it in a very, very safe manner and again, that FIA number is just a recommendation.
Q. Has there been any indication or do you have any thought about races such as the Rolex 24 or Sebring 12 hours of letting the new P1 class come in in 2014 as a special basis?
SCOT ELKINS: We kind of answered that question a little bit before. I think our focus is on U.S. sports car racing.
I think we want to focus on the classes we have and the new P1 cars‑‑ you know, I don't know. I mean, they have a place to race in the WEC. That's kind of their primary place and where the manufacturers want to go. I think we need to focus on what we are doing with our series to grow our business.
THE MODERATOR: That will conclude the Q&A portion.
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