Howe Now: New feature on ALMS website A new feature starts today on americanlemans.com with the launch of "Howe Now." Series reporter Jamie Howe, a broadcast regular on SPEED and American Le Mans Radio, will blog her latest thoughts on a variety of aspects within the Series and sanctioning body IMSA. In fact, that's the topic of her first commentary on americanlemans.com.
It is no secret to anyone that the motorsports industry is feeling the same economic struggles as auto corporations today. Just by looking at all the various types of auto racing series in existence around the world, you can see the fate of most companies are either on the verge of non-existence or on the path toward permanence.
That being said, sanctioning bodies are feeling the same effects of what could be the most cumbersome timeline ever seen by auto racing.
But, there is one sanctioning body that is still telling good news in spite of the unforeseeable future.
The International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) continues to be positioned as a viable and successful governing body with a healthy list of participating series for 2009: IMSA Lites presented by Hankook, Formula BMW Americas, The Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear, Cooper Tires Atlantic Championship powered by Mazda, Patron GT3 Challenge by Yokohama and, of course, the American Le Mans Series.
Starting from the bottom-up there are teams, drivers and sponsors practicing cost-effective ways to race in the top North American markets. Many of its efforts are taking notice.
Take the Patron GT3 Challenge by Yokohama. In the past two weeks - and in the economy of doom and gloom - announcements of new title and presenting sponsors, along with a full TV package are being welcomed. That can only mean increased participation in a championship that already ranks as one of the largest single-make series in North America.
IMSA Lites by Hankook, first developed as a supporting series for the American Le Mans Series, is accomplishing what most smaller series struggle to do. In the past two seasons, IMSA Lites has conducted multi-class racing events as though they were a higher ranking series. Moving into 2009, its schedule will include accompanying the American Le Mans Series' 11 racing events as well as a race at the New Jersey Motorsports Park alongside other IMSA-sanctioned series.
The Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear is a third series that has grown in terms of competition and talent over the course of the past couple of years. The stability of Mazda, with its 18-year-old series, as well its ladder system has attracted such graduates as Scott Speed, Marco Andretti, Graham Rahal and Michael McDowell. The prize package also has maintained its value of more than $1 million. Pair that with a commitment from Mazda to elevate the winning driver and it is a formula for attracting drivers and teams from all over the world.
Speaking of Mazda, it also continues as the engine provider for the Cooper Tires presents the Atlantic Championship powered by Mazda. Atlantics has been churning out top-level talent for 35 years - see the above names and more - in both sports cars and open-wheel. The series last year returned to the IMSA family and represents one of the top rungs in Mazda's motorsports ladder. More on that to come in this space...
There also is Formula BMW Americas, an IMSA-sanctioned series since 2005. Drivers as young as 15 compete in supporting roles with such prestigious championships like Formula 1 and the American Le Mans Series. It's another example of a manufacturer breeding racing's stars of tomorrow in front of the biggest crowds road racing has to offer.
Surviving as well is the American Le Mans Series by adding new teams and manufacturers to its roster. Certainly, the saddening news of Audi's departure from the Series following the 57th Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring presented by Fresh from Florida was a blow. But there is elevating news coming from the top tier - LMP1 - with a huge commitment from Acura with its entry of two brand new cars being run by de Ferran Motorsports and Patron Highcroft Racing in conjunction with its continued efforts in LMP2 with Lowe's Fernandez Racing.
Corvette Racing also is taking on a new challenge by transitioning and going head-to-head with the most prestigious manufacturers in the world by entering the GT2 class and running against the newly admitted BMW with the rumors of others. With LMP2 and GT1 making up the remaining four classes, the Series maintains its commitment of showcasing and developing its "green" technology in the Green Challenge, a race-within-a-race. Endorsed by the DOE, EPA and SAE International, winning teams and manufacturers are rewarded on the racetrack as well as in the showroom and boardroom for its environmental stewardship, which is now more than ever a very important pledge of the Series.
With all of this good news circulating, someone should tell IMSA that their fortunes are something to be marveled.
Jamie Howe is part of SPEED's team of motorsports broadcasters and regularly covers the action from the pit lanes of the American Le Mans Series, Star Mazda and other prominent road-racing championships. Keep track of Jamie's blogs and commentaries at americanlemans.com and jamieontv.com. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of the American Le Mans Series.