2009 ALMS at Long Beach – Click above for high-res image gallery
The American Le Mans Series is responding to economic conditions and the decline in the diversity of racing machinery on the grid by changing up the racing classes in its ranks for next season. Rather than imposing spending caps that would be tough to enforce, the series is adding new classes that are closer to production machinery.
Starting in 2010, the two-tier LMP1 and LMP2 categories will be merged into one LMP class, while a new LMP Challenge class will be added starting with the inclusion of Oreca's lower powered Formula Le Mans cars. However, the old system will remain in place for the Sebring 12 Hours and Petit Le Mans races so as to allow European teams to compete in the series' premier American races.
In the GT categories, GT2 class will be remade as GT in the wake of GT1's decline, with a new GT Challenge mirroring the LMP Challenge class for Porsche 911 GT3s. ALMS CEO Scott Atherton has left the door open to other GT3 competitors if they are interested, so hopefully we'll soon see the Audi R8 GT4 get the necessary mods to run in the GTC class.
The revised classifications should amount to more direct competition between challengers – provided the standings don't get too convoluted by the premier event exceptions.
[Source: American Le Mans Series]
SERIES ANNOUNCES REVISED CLASS STRUCTURE FOR 2010
Four classes going forward but addition of LMP, GT Challenge groups
In a progressive step designed to keep ahead of the rest of the industry, the American Le Mans Series today announced plans to overhaul its four-class structure beginning with the 2010 season. The four classes will be Le Mans Prototype (LMP), Le Mans Prototype Challenge (LMPC), Grand Touring (GT) and Grand Touring Challenge (GTC).
Scott Atherton: "We are the first movers to embrace a value-based new set of classes while at the same time retaining the core elements of what has made the American Le Mans Series the benchmark professional sportscar racing series in modern times."
"In today's changing environment, choosing the status quo over evolution is a potentially serious mistake," proclaimed American Le Mans Series President and CEO Scott Atherton. "Our sport has always been about evolution, and our plans for 2010 and beyond reflect it.
"We intend to stay ahead of the rest of the industry. We are the first movers to embrace a value-based new set of classes while at the same time retaining the core elements of what has made the American Le Mans Series the benchmark professional sportscar racing series in modern times. The automotive industry is going through radical changes, and the same can be said for most of the motorsports industry. With today's announcement we are adding value-based opportunities that expand accessibility to a broader base of competitors, manufacturers and teams."
The announcement is supported by the Automobile Club de l'Ouest (ACO), the organization that operates the 24 Hours of Le Mans and establishes the rules and regulations for Le Mans style racing worldwide.
LMP1 and LMP2 cars will compete as a single LMP class in 2010 with exception of the endurance classics - the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring and Petit Le Mans Powered by MAZDA6 - that will continue to adhere to the ACO technical rules for LMP1 and LMP2. Among the LMP race cars eligible worldwide will be the Acura ARX-02a, Acura ARX-01b, Ginetta-Zytek 09HS (hybrid), Lola B09/86 Mazda, Lola B06/10, Radical SR9, Porsche RS Spyder, Audi R15 TDI, Peugeot 908, Aston Martin Lola and Pescarolo.
LMP Challenge, an exciting new class, was introduced earlier this year as part of the Le Mans Series in Europe and at the 24 Hours of Le Mans through the collaborative efforts between the ACO and ORECA/DPPI. In Europe, the ORECA Courage FLM09 that comprises the class has a minimum weight of 900 kilograms similar to its LMP brethren, but its horsepower is 450 hp which is considerably less than the LMP cars which range from 500-700 hp. The LMP Challenge car is a true Le Mans prototype, but represents an affordable "value engineered" entry to Le Mans prototype racing. The FLM09 is a very sophisticated race car with a full carbon fiber chassis, carbon brakes, and an Xtrac sequential gearbox with paddle shifting. All LMPC cars will race on single-supply tires.
LMP Challenge, a car built by ORECA, will debut in the American Le Mans Series in 2010.
LMP Challenge cars will make their debut this fall with a display during this year's Petit Le Mans weekend. On September 27, the Sunday following the race, IMSA will provide an opportunity to test the LMPC ORECA-Courage LMF09 at Road Atlanta. It is currently taking reservations from qualified teams and drivers. The LMPC class is expected to debut at the American Le Mans Series' opener in 2010, the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring (March 20).
The GT class will follow specifications of the existing ACO / Le Mans GT2 class. Current manufacturers and models competing include Corvette C6.R, Porsche 911 GT3 RSR, Ferrari F430 GT, Jaguar XKR, BMW M3, Panoz Esperante, Ford GT, and Dodge Viper.
The GT Challenge class was introduced earlier this year at Miller Motorsports Park near Salt Lake City. Currently, Porsche 911 GT3 Cup race cars from the Patrón GT3 Challenge by Yokohama are eligible. In 2010, competition will be open to other versions of the Porsche 911 GT3 Cup cars as well. Other manufacturers are likely to be added in the future.
LMP1 and LMP2 cars will compete as a single LMP class in 2010 with exception of the endurance classics - the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring and Petit Le Mans Powered by MAZDA6.
The class restructures are not unprecedented. After the 2003 season, the ACO and American Le Mans Series modified the LMP classes. At that time the two prototype classes were recognized as LMP900 and LMP675 in a reference to the minimum weights in both classes. Both classes competed equally for the overall win at Le Mans. In 2004 those minimums changed along with class designations to LMP1 and LMP2. The last time the GT class was modified was in 2005 when Grand Touring classes went from GT and GTS to GT1 and GT2. The ACO-spec GT1 class has essentially come to an end as manufacturers have elected to compete in the ultra-competitive and technology-relevant GT2 category, which will be known simply as "GT" in the American Le Mans Series beginning in 2010.
"The new format for 2010 will create more opportunities for more teams and manufacturers to participate in the American Le Mans Series, while at the same time providing fans with the chance to see new cars, teams and drivers in both prototype and GT competition," said Atherton.
"There is no question that developments in the economy - and especially the auto industry - have changed the business environment now and for the foreseeable future. For any organization to remain 'status quo' is a likely death sentence. The global economic situation has created a new paradigm that is requiring all businesses to take innovative approaches to how they must operate going forward. We believe we have implemented changes that will enable the Series and our participants to thrive," continued Atherton.
"The Challenge class that was created in GT competition this year has been a great success so far," added Paul Ritchie, President of Porsche Motorsport North America. "We wholeheartedly endorse the American Le Mans Series expanding on the concept and creating a legitimate, top-level development opportunity for teams and drivers in multi-class competition. We know from experience that with the guidance of IMSA we will have a very strong, cost effective and competitive platform for the big step up to endurance racing."
In the end, noted Atherton, the new class structure is designed to retain the core attributes of what has made the American Le Mans Series the most successful professional sports car racing series around the world - world class Le Mans prototypes and GT cars - while also adding new high-value opportunities that expand the accessibility of this platform to new participants.
All classes of cars will continue to race on alternative fuels or powertrains such as low sulfur clean diesel, E85 cellulosic ethanol, E10 and E10/gas-electric hybrid. Recognized as the Global Leader in Green Racing, the American Le Mans Series continues to work with the U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, SAE International and the Series' automobile manufacturers to develop innovative fuel efficient cars that excel in overall performance, fuel efficiency and environmental impact. The American Le Mans Series is the only racing series that meets all the green racing protocols set by the EPA and DOE.
"As I have said previously," Atherton concluded, "I think the American Le Mans Series is ideally positioned to benefit from the current and future focus of all auto manufacturers. Recent announcements by major auto manufacturers and our government leaders confirm that racing series which provides opportunities to showcase and develop relevant new technologies - with an emphasis on the environment - are the future. We have never been more confident in our positioning and look forward to expanding our green racing initiatives to better serve the teams and manufacturers competing with us."