The American Le Mans Series has seen its popularity on the rise in recent years, and the future looks even better.
When the ALMS started back in 1998, it was not a bunch of shabby teams that came together to race, but a concerted effort between manufacturers and the ACO to continue the IMSA series. Today, it is seeing record levels of not only attendance, but fans and media coverage as well.
Radio Le Mans, a service that dedicates itself to covering the Le Mans Series (formerly LMES), covers most major ALMS events as well. There are more teams than ever and more cars than previous years have seen. So what is in store for the ALMS in the future?
There is no doubt that the current state of the economy will have a negative impact on motorsport, but the ALMS will continue to perform as it has due to many cost cutting measures the regulators have already in place. With the Green Challenge that has been happening in 2008, it will be easier for teams to find sponsors despite what's happening outside of the motorsport world.
In a previous article, months before Acura announced its entry into the LM1 class, I had noted the problems with the LMP1 class after the entrance of the Penske Porsche LMP2 cars.
Typically, it was LMP1 cars had more power, were faster, and outflanked the LM2P cars. Of course this was historically. The Penske Porsches broke the barrier in 2007 when they dominated the ALMS.
Looking back on the 2008 year, it seems that the tides have returned to normal with the LMP1 cars showing that they are truly the kings of the hill. The Audi North America team has revised their gameplan and as a result put on a clinic during the season and showed up Peugeot at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Petit Le Mans.
Acura also obtained its first overall victory, which served as a perfect gateway to its entry into the LMP1 for the 2009 season. The announcement of Acura leaving LMP2 is certainly one that will make the Penske racing team re-evaluate their situation of participating in a class that no longer features a strong competitor within (although their first year was without Acura).
Dyson Racing, which ran Porsche RS Spyders in the LMP2 class in 2008, has officially ended its partnership with Porsche. BK Motorsports had been the official Mazda factory effort since 2005 (earning Mazda's first ALMS win at Mid-Ohio in 2005), but officially closed--terminating its ALMS program.
Although some teams are leaving, it is all about what is coming up and what to look forward to.
The first being that the LMP1 class is getting larger. This means that the competition at the top rung will be more exciting than ever. The Lola and Judd cars that are participating with hybrid powertrains and now getting to form after a testing period and with proper management and driving, ought to provide some challenges to the Audi and Acura LMP1 teams.
Let's not forget about the Peugeots! It is most likely that they will only participate in the 12 Hours of Sebring as well as the Petit Le Mans as they have done this year, but anyone who watched the Petit Le Mans can tell you that it was more than worth it till the end!
There were rumors that Peugeot may attempt at entering more than those races in 2009, but economic problems may be forcing the Peugeot Total team to forget the idea. Nonetheless, the LMP1 class will be a blast to watch.
With the Acura teams and Mazda team no longer participating, it will be the Penske Porsches dominating the LMP2 class as the Audi TDI Power team had been so good at in past years in the LMP1 class.
The future of Penske and the Porsches are not yet set in stone, but with invitations to the 24 Hours of Le Mans, they may consider participating in the factory-backed LMP1 class as opposed to the privateer-LMP2 class. The only problem being that no reports of a car in development have come out. Nonetheless, the Penske Porsches are a formidable force and have a chance at being just as competitive as the LMP1 cars.
Corvette Racing will only be participating in two-three races prior to the 24 Hours of Le Mans, where it will participate in the GT1 class. After Le Mans, Corvette Racing will introduce its all-new GT2 Corvette entry marking a new era of GT racing! Aston Martin does not seem to show much interest into entering its factory vehicles so like the LMP2 class, the GT1 class will be in limbo for 2009.
This is where the vast majority of the action will be! With BMW and Corvette entering the GT2 class, the Porsches, Ferraris, Vipers, Vantage V8s, and Ford GTs will now be in a large and diverse group of cars that will provide a great deal of excitement.
2010 will mark a new era for the GT class as regulations combine both GT1 and GT2 classes to make the GT-class. This class is more based off of GT2 standards and will provide a more equal platform for racing GT cars.
One objective of this is to provide more incentive for new brands to enter the sport, and it may very well do so. Rumors of Audi and possibly Ford (with the Mustang GT) are considering entering into the new GT class.
The ALMS has an extremely bright future. In a nation of NASCAR lovers, the ALMS has tough competition, but it provides a lot more than the typical NASCAR event: days of events, approachable friendly drivers, actual cars (GT), and a track-not-stadium atmosphere.
The LMP1 class is on the rise and may very well see more entrants in the future, but the GT class is where the future lies and with more manufacturers entering and considering entering, this series is one that will become great.
Increased television coverage is also helping a great deal (although I really wish that NBC would replace their commentators) and will be a key asset in improving the ALMS.
On to the 2009 season!