United SportsCar Racing Media Conference
Topics: United SportsCar Racing
March 14, 2013
BOB VARSHA: We have a number of very special guests I'd like to introduce at this time, beginning with the men who have made this all possible and they're seated before me here on the front row. Would you please welcome the founder of the Grand American Road Racing Association, Mr.Jim France. Seated next to him, appropriately enough, the founder of the American LeMans Series, Dr.Don Panoz. Across the aisle would you please welcome the vice‑chair and executive vice‑president of NASCAR, Ms. Lesa France Kennedy, and with her NASCAR vice president Karen Leetzow will be joining us later on. We'd also like to welcome NASCAR CFO Todd Wilson. Together with Scott Atherton of the ALMS and Ed Bennett of GRAND‑AM, they will form the board of directors for the newly unified series going forward.
Now, today is simply the latest in a long series of big announcements dealing with North American sports car racing. Of course last fall it became clear that GRAND‑AM and the American LeMans Series were going to merge. Then in January the class structure beginning in 2014 was revealed and embellished upon during the American Le Mans Series winter test here at Sebring in early February.
Now we will move on to the brand image of the series going forward, and I should mention that while ALMS and GRAND‑AM are going about their separate racing schedules this year as many of you know, the organization behind the scenes have come a long way down the road toward amalgamating their operations, which is fundamental going forward. It is simply a case of two great organizations, the ALMS and GRAND‑AM, becoming one.
BOB VARSHA: I don't know about you, but I could watch that video all day long. There are so many great memories involved in this combined organization and so many memories yet to be made. It's a really exciting prospect and I hope you all agree with me out there.
Now, in addition to today's exciting reveal and brand naming of the new organization, there are some other announcements that will help to give shape to the future of sports car racing here in North America, and joining me on stage now are three of the men deeply involved in that process. Please welcome president and CEO of the American LeMans Series, Mr.Scott Atherton; next to him, president and CEO of GRAND‑AM, Mr.Ed Bennett; and from SME Branding, the agency that spearheaded the new series branding process, senior partner Mr.Ed O'Hara.
Now, each of these gentlemen have some comments to share with us today so why don't we begin with Scott Atherton.
SCOTT ATHERTON: Thank you very much, Bob. The branding of our new unified entities here has always been seen as an important function. I personally think there is nothing more important, and for us we knew at the start that we had one chance to get this right. So to begin that process, we had to find the appropriate expert help to guide us through. SME Branding is certainly an example of just that, a world class agency, and this is what they do. You think about some of the clients that they have, NFL, NHL, New York Yankees, the Kentucky Derby, you get the idea. These guys are at the top of their game in the industry of naming and branding.
Today we are extremely pleased to be able to add our name to that elite list of clients.
Now, we initiated this process by listening to everyone, and I mean everyone. Many of you in this room no doubt contacted us with your opinion. We talked to team owners, corporate partners, drivers, and of course the fans. This whole process has been about the fans. The Name the Future contest generated more than 7,500 entries. We comprehensively evaluated many, many names, many names and logos and branding elements, but in the end it came down to one, one brand, one image.
Now, as part of this process, we also started to examine the entire brand ecosystem, not only of the series; that's a given. But in this case we also looked at what we are doing and have been doing with our sanctioning body, and throughout that process, we found ourselves addressing what would we do, what should we do with what I think most of us would refer to as a dear old friend, a brand, a logo, an iconic symbol that was saved from extinction by Don Panoz, and of course I'm talking about the International MotorSports Association, what most people call IMSA.
After a lot of feedback and careful consideration, a very important decision was made, and it was a unanimous decision. It came from every angle from every part of our industry, and that decision was to solely position the IMSA organization as the one and only sanctioning body going forward.
Now, we made that decision not only because of IMSA's 40‑year history but because of the legacy that this brand has, the tremendous equity that it has throughout our industry. This resonates with promoters, with teams, with sponsors, and for sure it resonates with race fans around the world.
But like many historical icons, it morphs over time. It doesn't stay exactly the way it began. And we took this opportunity not to simply reintroduce but to also refresh, and it is my distinct honor today on behalf of the many people that were involved in this process to introduce you to the new IMSA logo.
ED BENNETT: First class and modern, IMSA was founded in 1969 by John Bishop and Bill France, Sr., NASCAR founder, with a goal of building a world‑class sanctioning body, which is exactly what happened. The original vision of Bishop and Big Bill was realized. In fact, the original IMSA company filing has been proudly displayed in Daytona in our corporate headquarters for years. They knew then what we have grown to understand now. Sports car racing has a high level of international involvement and interest, as it should. With the merger of GRAND‑AM and ALMS, the IMSA organization and brand has, in fact, returned home, gone full circle, to complete another lap of rich history.
No one is more proud of that than GRAND‑AM founder Jim France, Bill France, Sr.'s son. For me, his passion, insight and support of sports car racing is truly amazing. This is a back‑to‑the‑future moment in time, and a historic moment for us all.
Shifting gears, we're today also pleased to announce the various racing class names for 2014, following up on our class structure announcement in January.
As we have said all along, we were shooting for a best‑of‑both‑worlds approach. We feel like we achieved that with the new class structure, which embraces the makes, shapes, technologies and the form of DNA which is in sports car racing, and now we feel like we've achieved that with the class names which we're pleased to share now.
In 2014 our prototype racing will be divided into two classes: Prototype and Prototype Challenge. The new Prototype class will feature ALMS P2 cars, GRAND‑AM Daytona Prototype, and the revolutionary Delta Wing, which competes in the ALMS.
The Prototype Challenge, a spec prototype class, is transfer from the current ALMS structure. Both of the outstanding production based GT classes racing in ALMS and GRAND‑AM will return intact, the difference being with two iconic names attached to them. The ALMS GT class appropriately will be known as GT LeMans. GRAND‑AM's GT class and ALMS GTC will be known as GT Daytona.
Also the current plan is to include GRAND‑AM's GX class, a new class that allows for alternative technologies.
This approach to structuring and naming the classes really demonstrates the cooperative nature of the merger and team work we're enjoying together and our bright future.
Racing in the most important and strongest automobile market in the world: North America.
And now we're close to the reveal, so I'll let Bob drive this stint.
BOB VARSHA: Thank you very much, Ed and Scott, and now for a closer snapshot at the process that resulted in the brand images and logos you're about to see, we turn to the senior partner at SME branding, Mr.Ed O'Hara.
ED O'HARA: We're honored and proud to be part of this historic moment in motorsports history, the coming together of two great racing organizations under one brand. Even with all the gold standard clients SME has partnered with over the years, our association with the newly merged GRAND‑AM ALMS organization is a highlight for SME and for me personally. Never have we had the complete commitment at every level of every organization involved to get this right. That was a difference for us and gave us great confidence that this collaboration would yield incredible results.
So the goal is to define and brand a new era of motorsports in a fresh, relevant, motivating way that excites, inspires and leads. How do we accomplish this? As Scott said earlier, we decided to speak to every stakeholder group involved GRAND‑AM and ALMS experience, including the two gentlemen on my right. But most importantly we incorporated the insights gained from over 7,500 fans via the Name the Future contest. Through this listen phase, we heard many recurring themes that formed the creation of a new name, positioning and logo. Words like unity, excellence, performance, sophistication and competitive came shining through and became the foundation that inspired our strategy and design teams.
These insights also led to the creation of a brand creed, which is an emotional and poetic expression of the new brand personality which you'll see in action in a moment.
The new brand is built on modernity, aspiration, authenticity and uniqueness so that we may stand apart in a crowded marketplace. It's ownable, clean, simple, iconic, like the great brands of our culture and one that will come to symbolize our collective passions for our sport by communicating its pure essence at every turn. This brand defines a new vision and is built for the future.
BOB VARSHA: There you have it, ladies and gentlemen, the logo that will appear on motorsports news websites around the world within minutes, and it will grace billboards, race cars, and it portends a season of racing, a unified season of sports car racing that I can tell you on behalf of all of us at SPEED we are terribly excited about.
You see what it looks like on the monitors, now let's see what it looks like on a race car. Please join me in welcoming the two members of the board of directors guiding the new United SportsCar Racing organization, CEO of the International Speedway Corporation, Lesa France Kennedy and NASCAR vice president Karen Leetzow, for what is certain to become an iconic photo for United SportsCar Racing. Ladies?
Now that we've heard about the process that led to the series name, we can tell you that that process included suggestions from sports car fans throughout North America, and we're pleased to be joined today by the fan who submitted the name that ultimately was selected, United SportsCar Racing.
He's a racer himself, in fact, the 2011 Florida Karting Champion Rookie of the Year. He and his father have been going to the Rolex 24 at Daytona and here to the 12 Hours of Sebring since he was three years old, which means he was going to be here this weekend no matter what. Today he's here, however, as a very special guest. Would you please welcome the Name the Future contest winner from Cocoa, Florida, Louis Satterlee. Congratulations, Louis. Well done.
Now I've been rejoined on stage as you can see by Ed Bennett, Scott Atherton and Ed O'Hara. Perhaps we can get some thoughts from each of you gentlemen regarding today's reveal and the future of the United SportsCar Racing brand. Ed, we'll start with you. This is the latest in the series of news making and even groundbreaking announcements for the new series, so obviously the process is moving along. Are we on track?
ED BENNETT: That's right, Bob. We have a clear path, timeline and milestones, and we're following it closely. Both have resulted from input from drivers, teams, tracks, manufacturers, tire partners, fuel partners, and also the ACL, basically global input.
With the merger announced last September, the class structure in January, the Lamborghini news this morning, and now the United SportsCar brand and the IMSA update, considerable progress and momentum is going for us. Many steps remain, including the 2014 schedule planning, and that's another exciting topic for us. We all know Daytona and Sebring will be a part of that schedule and be showcased, but that's only part of the story.
BOB VARSHA: Thank you, Ed. You brought up the schedule. That was going to be my next question. I'm sure all of you gentlemen have been getting the same questions I have about the schedule for 2014. A lot of races at a lot of racetracks. Scott, where are we on 2014 right now?
SCOTT ATHERTON: Well, it's a challenge to be honest. We currently, between the two series right now, it's 22 different events at 17 different racetracks. The process of boiling that down to a 2014 schedule is formidable, but what a great problem to have.
In very short terms, it will be a schedule made up of the most iconic, historic venues in the most important business markets for our stakeholders. Think about it for a minute: You open the season with the 24 Hours of Daytona, you follow it with the 12 Hours of Sebring. From there it's on to Indianapolis, it's on to any number of street circuits, it's Watkins Glen, it's Circuit of the Americas, what an incredible addition that's been for road racing. And then we close it all out at Petit Le Mans. It's next up on our list of things to do, and with today behind us, starting Monday morning at 7:30 a.m., job one.
BOB VARSHA: Ed, this must be a very proud day for SME Branding going through the entire process and now seeing the logo and the name revealed.
ED O'HARA: It's incredible, and it looks more beautiful in real life. United SportsCar Racing, it's great to say it publicly for the first time, and yeah, we're proud indeed, and I just want to thank United SportsCar Racing for having the faith in our partnership. I think it's a great result. I want to thank our team back in New York.
Also a little anecdote, we were asked during the vetting process of the agencies if we could show an example of a merged motorsports property, and we never did one, so we showed some other things, and they believed us anyway. But now we can say that we did it, and we're really proud of it.
BOB VARSHA: Now, we've selected from the many Twitter questions sent for our three guests on stage. Ed Bennett, I'll start with you: Will Sebring be a part of the North American Endurance Championship come 2014? There's that schedule thing again.
ED BENNETT: It's a good question. Given what the North American Endurance Championship is, it's supposed to be the lengthiest event on the schedule. I think it stands a pretty good chance.
BOB VARSHA: Scott Atherton, is there going to be a field limit for the number of cars in each of the classes, and if so, what might that number be?
SCOTT ATHERTON: Great question, and if you took both our combined fields right now and if you argued that everybody is going to be back and then some, we would surely have a problem. It really comes down to the individual venue. You have a large facility like this, we can take a lot more cars here than we can at some of the other stops on the calendar. To say today that we're going to have a class limit or an overall limit I think is a bit premature, but once again, great problems to have. You can manage that a lot easier than the other.
BOB VARSHA: Both Scott or Ed Bennett, you can answer this question, and it may have been submitted by our promoter at Watkins Glen. Will the unified series race at The Glen?
SCOTT ATHERTON: It's certainly one of the historic, iconic venues that has such a storied history with sports car racing at the highest level. I can tell you when we used to make the dream schedule in the American LeMans Series offices, Watkins Glen was always on that list, and the opportunity to take this new United SportsCar Racing product to Watkins Glen I think would be gratifying for all of us.
ED BENNETT: It just goes back to between the Rolex Series and the American LeMans Series today, 22 different events at 17 different tracks and just the challenge of trying to identify how to hopefully satisfy a lot of great track partners over the year with product. And we've got so many different series, not just the United SportsCar, the top premier series, but between development series, single make series, we've got a lot of, I think, good series that can be populated to hopefully help support the promoters.
BOB VARSHA: Scott, double‑header weekends with different sanctioning bodies have become popular. Any chance the unified sports car series will race with say IndyCar?
SCOTT ATHERTON: I think there's a good historical example of that. I can tell you the criteria that we've always used is when the only alternative to penetrate a market that is important for us by the criteria that we've talked about is to link up with someone else, then that becomes a viable opportunity. I think we're positioning this series as a standalone feature series, but I think there's always a history between both organizations that we play well with others, and we love open wheel racing, IndyCar ‑ I'm a big fan‑ and to see us on the streets of Long Beach or Baltimore or Detroit, that would be a nice place to be.
BOB VARSHA: I know a question that fans of the ALMS have been asking for a long time, where does the ACO and the 24 hours of LeMans enter into the picture?
SCOTT ATHERTON: We are hopeful to be able to make some announcements in the not‑distant future about the formalization and continuation of that relationship. By virtue of today's announcement of the class structure and the fact that we're referring to things like finishing up our season with a finale at Petit LeMans in the GTLM category, I think it should send a pretty solid signal that we're in a good position there. Stay tuned, watch this space, and we'll have some more news on that in the near future.
BOB VARSHA: Ed, during this process over the last six months of bringing the two organizations together, have there been any surprises or has everything gone as planned along the way?
ED BENNETT: Honestly I think the best surprise is just how great the two groups have worked together. I think once we got into serious discussions, we knew the type of things that would be on the list that would need to be accomplished, but the best thing to me has been the people and working together, we've really, I think, come together a lot faster than we probably anticipated, so that's been very rewarding and a very positive, good surprise.
SCOTT ATHERTON: You know, I could just say ditto on all that. You name the department, you name the division, Ed and I have literally been stitched together for the last seven months. You could say the same thing about Scott Elkins and Richard Buck and you could just go down the line. The good news is I think as we look out into the future, this is such an opportunity, and we've got such a high level of talent in both camps, the challenge is finding places for everyone, and the good news is I think we've got that sorted. It's going to be quite a combination as we go forward.
BOB VARSHA: Thank you so all of our guests here on stage. A new era in North American sports car racing has now begun.
HERB BRANHAM: What we're going to have now is a question‑and‑answer period for the media who are both here in this room and on the teleconference, so we'll be going back and forth.
Before we go to the media, though, we have to ask our Name the Future contest winner Louis Satterlee a very quick question. What's it feel like, Louis, to be here after several months after your submission and then finding out you won the contest and here you are today with a great seat?
LOUIS SATTERLEE: Yeah, definitely a great seat, to be first row, first one to see the car for God's sakes. To win this contest for me, coming here for 22 years, this is very much so my religion. I had a chance to visit LeMans, which I consider the holy land, so in order for me to be a part of history, something I've grown up with my whole life, being around it in Florida, being just very close to the races and everything, words just cannot describe what this actually means to me to be quite honest. I mean, in shock, I'm shaking in shock to be honest. It's still unreal. The day I found out I had a real bad day and everything. It was still unreal.
HERB BRANHAM: Thank you. We can't tell you how glad we are to have you with us today.
We're going to take questions from the media.
Q. What do you see as manufacturer presence with the series? How do you see their participation?
SCOTT ATHERTON: I'll start and hand the baton to Ed Bennett. We've been very, very fortunate on the American LeMans Series side to be blessed with, I think, an unprecedented level of manufacturer involvement, and I see that continuing, and I actually see it expanding. Our GT category is truly a benchmark example of manufacturers competing with product that they sell. There's a level of relevance that's demonstrated by racing cars that not just have the appearance of a production vehicle but actually have their DNA directly from that and the transfer of technology from racetrack to road car.
This platform going forward is going to be the benchmark, and if you're a student of the industry, you're going to see some interesting names and faces here this weekend that are not currently involved but have been jolted by what has occurred here with this merger, and I've said the phrase before and I'll say it again, we're going to go from strength to stronger. Ed?
ED BENNETT: I would just add that we have things segmented so we know what the endurance series is. That's the combination of ALMS and GRAND‑AM, then we have a development series level, then we have a single make series category. So I think for manufacturers there's more opportunities than ever, and it's clear what the opportunities might be and depending on the objectives of their brand, I think there's lots of great places for them to be in the space for this.
I think we feel as though having manufacturers be a part of this series helps to elevate the experience for fans, for drivers, for teams, a great place to test technology and develop technology. So our doors and our welcome mat are on the front door.
Q. For Ed Bennett and Scott, speaking of two fantastic marketing images, we have Patrón and we have Rolex as title sponsors of either of the current series. What do you see for the unification? Where are we at with that?
ED BENNETT: I think as with this whole process, we're trying to be supportive and fair to the current partners that we have and have a lot of respect for the partners that we've had to date. So as a part of the process of developing series sponsors to attach to the United SportsCar brand to help support activation and awareness, we're going to talk to our current partners, Rolex and Tequila Patrón first, and that's the appropriate thing. I think the good news is they both have interest in continuing to be partners, so we're very excited about having these next‑level discussions with them.
Q. We now see what the class structure is going to be for 2014. Where are we with the homologation process for P2 and Daytona Prototype, for either of you?
SCOTT ATHERTON: I think we need the Scott Elkins‑Richard Buck team to give you an opinion on that. I know it's a work in progress. It's been a tremendous amount of work done already, much of it behind the scenes. There's been both simulation, computer‑generated analysis, and then the practical application of that. I would say, and I'm just going to step out on a limb here, that within the next 90 days, which is really in line with kind of the next step for us in terms of scheduling and television announcements and the like, you'll see the same type of detail come forth on the technical side of the house, as well.
ED BENNETT: As Scott said, we've done some on‑track testing, most of it has been computer simulation. The cars conceivably have somewhat similar lap times in certain situations. The way they get there is very different, and the question is how can you adjust from an aero standpoint, a power standpoint to get them to where they race really well together. So that's the goal. But it's a work in progress, and I'm glad we have the technical team we do.
Q. I know that the ACO has embraced the merger between the two groups. I wanted to find out how much of an input ACO is going to have on the homologation of the cars.
SCOTT ATHERTON: If you look at the class makeup, there's two examples of, one, an entire category, the GTLM, which is based completely on our ACO rules and regulations, it's the American LeMans Series GT category coming forward intact. So those cars will continue to be homologated, and the rules basis for that category will continue to be driven by a combination of ACL, the FIA and LeMans.
The other example would be the LMP2 car, or the P2 car as we call it, that is competing in the Prototype class. Our vision is to keep those P2 cars very closely connected to the ACO rules and regulations, but we will also have the autonomy and the flexibility to make adjustments to that car, as Ed just mentioned, so that we've got a category of cars that are compatible not just in lap time but in their raceability, the race craft between those two examples. We have that flexibility from the ACO.
What we don't want to do is take those cars so far away from that basis that they're not eligible to easily be converted back to that form so that they could go, for instance, run at the LeMans 24.
More on this to come.
HERB BRANHAM: That's going to conclude the formal Q&A. Our gentlemen will be up here for some one‑on‑one opportunities. Thank you, everyone.
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