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ALMS opens up races to GT3 cars
In an effort to promote the brightest and best of a new generation of sports car drivers, the American Le Mans Series announced today that it will open its grid for five races in 2009 to the crème de la crème of GT3 and Challenge level drivers. 

The first race of the “Challenge Class” for which GT3 Challenge Cup drivers will be eligible to compete will be the Larry H. Miller Dealerships Grand Prix at Miller Motorsports Park outside Salt Lake City.  Those eligible will include professional drivers and those from the ranks that don’t earn their living racing but who qualify because of their race-level experience. There will be no “Challenge Class” at Petit Le Mans or the season finale at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

“When the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) launched the GT3 Cup Series a few years ago, one of the primary goals was to develop future American Le Mans Series talent, and with this announcement today we take a big step forward in fulfillment of that goal,” said Series’ President and CEO Scott Atherton.  “We believe this is a bold and innovative way to encourage the next generation of entrants for the classes that are eligible for Le Mans as well as for the teams involved in our development series. The addition of these teams and drivers will add new intrigue for the fans as well as the television audience as great new storylines emerge.  It’s a win-win for all involved.”

IMSA will oversee selection of drivers in the “Challenge Class”, ensuring the appropriate level of driver experience.  To be eligible, drivers and teams must have had notable success for at least a year within GT3 level of racing. In order to maintain the affordability of the class, the cars exclusively will be the Porsche 997 Cup car utilized in the Patr¢n GT3 Challenge by Yokohama. The Porsche 997 Cup car is one of the most widely raced cars in the world. The technical regulations will be virtually identical to those used in that series, although the sporting regulations will be generally those used in the American Le Mans Series. The class will run on a spec Yokohama tire identical with the tire that has been successfully launched with the Patr¢n GT3 Challenge by Yokohama.

“By keeping the technical regulations consistent with our Challenge series, we will be able to keep the cost extremely reasonable, consistent with our desire to introduce a new generation of entrants for the Series,” said Tim Mayer, Chief Operating Officer of IMSA and the American Le Mans Series. “We have also seen in Europe that the mixture of professional drivers, along with drivers who drive at a professional level but make their living in other ways, is both popular and extremely effective.”

In the United States, the Patr¢n GT3 Challenge by Yokohama has been the fastest growing series among IMSA’s other sanctioned race series.  Begun in 2005, it averaged nearly 30 entries per race a year ago and is perceived as a major rung in the sports car ladder.

"The American Le Mans Series’ Challenge Class creates a platform for qualified drivers to transition from Sprint racing to Endurance racing in a cost-effective manner,” says Paul Ritchie, President and CEO of Porsche Motorsport North America.  “It will allow the teams to build experience and resources before moving up within the classes of the Series. Porsche Motorsport North America is obviously excited to see more Porsches in the entry lists and will be there to fully support the teams with Parts and Electronic services as we do in all other series."

“The Challenge Class is a good idea not only for the American Le Mans Series and IMSA, but for Yokohama and the drivers as well,” says Mark Chung, Yokohama’s Director of Strategic Marketing.  “It means increased exposure, and it will be an excellent opportunity for our new eco-friendly race tire.”

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