A Chapter Ends, A New Chapter Begins

October 12, 2013

A Chapter Ends, A New Chapter Begins

October 12, 2013

















The scene at Road Atlanta was a bit different at the first Petit Le Mans in 1998.

No one knew quite what to expect. There were many unknowns about the track, the race weekend and especially about the future of sportscar racing in North America.

A child’s fantasy world of heavy construction equipment sat parked on the hillside while the paddock below was filled with the 29-car field, featuring the 1998 24 Hours of Le Mans winning Porsche GT1-98.

Pole winner Allan McNish offhandedly answered a media question about lighting around the circuit, noting that as the car’s headlights were pointing up into the trees as it approached the crest of a turn, the car needed to be centered for the landing zone. No one caught the inference that the car was actually flying as it crested the hill.

In the race, McNish’s teammate Yannick Dalmas blew over the Porsche GT1 in a spectacular, tail standing crash.

The construction equipment and track improvements were encouraging; symbolic signs of impending change. So was the big crowd, here in the South in the middle of the college football and NFL seasons. With sportscar racing in America in considerable disarray, the 1998 Petit Le Mans success convinced track owner Dr. Don Panoz to create a new series to be called the American Le Mans Series.

In the 15 years that have followed, the ALMS has retained longtime manufacturers and attracted new ones. It pleased and drew new fans and venues and helped assure the future of professional sportscar racing in North America.

As McNish recently noted, “The first year at Petit Le Mans, they drew 30,000 people. That was a great crowd and now it’s more like 120,000 for the weekend. The fans love the open paddock, the open grid, the spirit and the access and its’ top level cars and drivers.”

“What’s changed from a racing point of view is the move from a traditional sportscar focus on survival and keeping the car together to more of a single-seater mentality where we are all now flat out from the first lap of testing through the entire race,” said McNish.

Now with a sale to the NASCAR properties and a merger of the ALMS and former rival GRAND-AM Series into the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship in 2014, the 2013 Petit Le Mans closes the chapter on ALMS.

Many of the teams and faces will remain and be joined by new names, faces and competitors as the sportscar world in North America unites for #thefuture.

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