About this time last year (well, a little later, really), I posted an entry analyzing the Sebring entry list and why it worried me about the full ALMS season. There appeared to be a very low number of entries that we were reliably able to expect to run a full season, and we knew certain several desired entries would not be.
My fears had been justified, as the season went on with only just barely enough LMPs in each class to produce reasonable quality action. The best thing about the season was the fact that the Acura domination was by two teams battling for the championship rather than Audi's two-car effort on the same team that robbed us of action once one team got a good championship lead.
The Acuras occasionally had to deal with a small headache in the form of Intersport Racing—the defining privateer team of the ALMS managed to give us some brilliant, but sadly brief, excitement at Road America and Mosport, both of which were ended by splitter problems.
In the past they've given even Audi some headaches, and if they can manage this with their old open-top Lola, I'd love to see what they could do if they grabbed themselves one of the new, far superior Lola coupes.
Overall, though, the only class that gave us consistent excitement was GT2, and that was a big hit for the series. It showed, too: Several ALMS events fell behind Grand-Am in TV ratings. In ALMS, the prototypes are half the appeal, and if they have a lackluster season, the series has a lackluster season. The same could be said of the GTs, but we have little to worry about from them.
The ALMS knew they had a problem, hence the revamped class structure for the bulk of the 2010 season. Is it going to work? Let's take a look at the Sebring Winter Test entry list to find out.
The majority of the teams on the Winter Test entry list can be reliably expected to be contesting the full season. So, how are things looking?
Well, keeping the classes split at Sebring is going to be an issue. Looks like each LMP class will just barely have enough entries for reasonably good class battles.
But what about when the classes are merged for the subsequent seven races?
Well, let's not forget about Autocon, who have apparently decided to skip the winter test. Once they're factored in, we'll have five full-time LMP teams for certain. So the question is, how man LMPs do we need for achieve near-optimum class battle quality?
My belief has always been five. Add in the Aston Martin as a sixth entry at Long Beach and, according to recent rumors, Utah and Laguna Seca, and we get some good stuff.
We know Intersport can give some big boys headaches, we know the Porsche RS Spyder and Acura ARX-01 were capable of winning overall, and we know the Dyson Lola-Mazdas is capable of LMP2 class wins. Not only do we have the bare minimum of awesome battles, but they're all excellent teams. The LMP season will be far better than last year.
What about the new LMP Challenge class? We haven't heard much from it entry-wise in the offseason. But the entry list addresses that as well, with a cool five entries on the list, and a sixth expected at Sebring. According to IMSA, a total of seven LMPC chassis have been ordered, but one will sadly not be delivered by Sebring.
The Challenge classes are something I find rather intriguing. Le Mans style racing prides itself on not being spec, but that's alienated fans in the past. Some folks like spec racing for the close, anybody-can-win battles it often produces. The Challenge classes give us that spec racing to please the spec fans, while letting us have the non-spec series the rest of us love.
With 27 cars on the entry list for the Winter Test, and an expected full-season entry skipping it, I think the season's looking rather positive. A real step up from 2009, we can expect a grand total of 12 full-time prototypes, and up to 17 GT cars.
2009 looked dim, but 2010 is looking bright. It may not be like in the best days of the series, but I'll take it.
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