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Grand-Am, American Le Mans Series to merge in '14

Sports car racing in North America is getting a makeover.

Grand-Am and American Le Mans announced a merger Wednesday that will join them as one series beginning in 2014. Grand-Am founder Jim France and ALMS founder Don Panoz said in a joint statement at Daytona International Speedway that the new series will start with the Rolex 24 at Daytona in 2014 and likely include 12 races.

France, son of NASCAR founder Bill France Sr., said the merger made him recall the day nearly 65 years ago when his father led the meeting that created stock-car racing. The elder France that day referenced the "distinct possibilities" for stock car racing — a phrase his son borrowed from Wednesday.

"All these years later in front of another gathering of leaders of motorsports, I want to echo my dad's words with some editing," he said. "I think sports car racing has a distinct possibility, and I definitely feel like we are going to improve present conditions."

Panoz said the merger will "strengthen professional sports car racing beyond what either of our organizations could have achieved separately." He added that in discussions with France, the two didn't disagree on anything.

"Our passion is to have sports car racing reach its pinnacle and be all that it could be," Panoz said. "And I think that with the setup that we have done and the agreement we've made, that will happen."

Many details are still being worked out, including a series name, the 2014 schedule and technical regulations. Both sanctioning bodies will operate separately in 2013.

The merger was met with positive reactions throughout the racing community.

Jamie Allison, director of Ford Racing, called it an "epic moment for sports car racing in America.

"The opportunity to take the best of ALMS and Grand-AM and create a strong, unified professional road racing series is what the fans have wanted, the teams have wanted, and the manufacturers have wanted for many years," Allison said.

The merger involves a total of eight North American sports car series. Grand-AM sanctions and operates the Rolex Sports Car Series, the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge and the TOTAL Performance Showcase, and sanctions the Ferrari Challenge. IMSA is the sanctioning body for the ALMS, the IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge by Yokohama Series, the Cooper Tires Prototype Lites Powered by Mazda Series and the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada by Michelin.

Zak Brown, CEO of marketing firm JMI, said the merger will create an upgraded schedule for sports car racing and a vastly improved starting grid.

"With exact classes still undefined, manufacturers can expect a continuation of prototype and GT classes, which provides more opportunities at various levels of the series," said Brown, adding that NASCAR's involvement will help the new series with stability and resources and a potentially stronger television package.