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American Le Mans Series Gears Up for 1999

30 November 1998

For 1999 the sportscar racing picture appears to be getting a little
clearer. The United States Road Racing Championship (USRRC) schedule, other
than the 24 Hours of Daytona, has not been released. The other side of the
sportscar story, Professional Sportscar Racing (PSR), has released their
schedule for the inaugural American Le Mans Series which will conduct the
races under the rules and regulations as provided by the Automobile Club de
l'Quest (ACO), organizer of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The ALM series will conduct 8 races in 1999. The series starts in Sebring,
FL on March 20 followed by a race at Road Atlanta on April 18. On June 27
the series turns north to Mosport, Canada. The next two races bring back
memories of the former International Motorsports Association (IMSA). Back to
back week-ends at Sears Point, CA (July 25) and then head north to Portland,
OR on August 1st brings back some traditional dates at both venues.
Following the West Coast swing the series has a TBA on the schedule for
September 11th or 19th. Two obvious missing holes from the "traditional"
schedule would be the dates at Lime Rock and Monterey which are not listed
on the schedule.

The last two races follow on October 16th for the second Petit Le Mans at
Road Atlanta and then concludes the year in the streets of San Diego. The
date for the San Diego race is yet to be determined. Perhaps the biggest
news of the schedule is that for the first time in many years a major
network (NBC) will have live coverage of three (Sears Point, Portland and
the TBA) races. The other five races will also be covered live but will be
broadcast on two cable networks ESPN or CNBC. 

Two new series will be added as support races for the 1999 ALM season.
First, the Women's Global GT Series which will be headed by Lyn St.James as
the executive director. The first prototype race car has already been tested
on the track at Road Atlanta. The idea behind the series is to meet the
ever-growing popularity of sportscar racing among females.  The second
support series will be a Superstars of Auto Racing Series which will feature
past champions from all motorsports. The drivers will compete in identically
prepared racecars. The early names being presented for the series are people
such as Tom Sneva, Johnny Rutherford, Gordon Johncock and F-1 Champion Sir
Jack Brabham.

So while the strife within the sportscar arena is still not settled, it is
interesting to observe that one series is putting together a marketing
package that potential sponsors can understand and embrace with the
all-important sponsorship dollars. Throw in live TV on a major network and
you have the beginnings of what could be the end of the other series. The
one area that both seemed to have found common ground is that GT1, for all
intents and purposes, is dead both here in North America and in Europe as
well. No doubt that will only elevate the GT2 class as former GT1 teams drop
down to GT2. Time will tell.

Testing for the 24 Hours of Daytona is only a few weeks away. It will be
interesting to watch who shows up. Stay Tuned!

David Treffer -- The Auto Channel