Mid-Ohio to split Indy and ALMS weekends UPDATE Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course will be on the 2011 Izod IndyCar Series schedule, according to TrueSports President Michelle Truman Gajoch, owner and operator of the permanent road course. There was much speculation this summer regarding the future of open-wheel racing in Lexington as the series was adding new venues at New Hampshire and Baltimore to its schedule and Mid-Ohio was allegedly at the end of its contract year. Trueman Gajoch said they are still in talks regarding a specific weekend, but speculates it could be the first weekend in August again next year.
As for the American Le Mans Series, CEO Scott Atherton expects it to be a part of Mid-Ohio's 2011 calendar, too.
"We are very close to confirming our future," ALMS CEO Scott Atherton said earlier this week before its Mid-Ohio Sports Car Challenge race set for this afternoon. Trueman Gajoch admits the two are in talks about extending their deal beyond 2010 and is hopeful a pact can be struck, but said no agreement has been reached yet.
Atherton said ALMS wouldn't mind being a part of more doubleheaders with IndyCar like the last four years, but no decision on that front has been made.
"There's no conflict between us. We're not stepping on each others toes," Atherton said. "When we come together, it literally becomes the ultimate road racing weekend. We all benefit from the synergies of that."
Atherton said putting the two series together adds to the experience for fans and helps cut costs for the promoter and the sanctioning bodies. Since both races will be nationally televised, they share the production costs, while the promoter has to get ready for one weekend and not two.
"From a business perspective, there's a lot of reasons why staying together makes sense," Atherton said. "I know from our perspective we enjoy racing with IndyCar, wouldn't want to do it every weekend, but at Long Beach and Mid-Ohio and when we used to be with them in Detroit when that was a race, it's a great ticket. I think we've all benefited from it." Mansfield News Journal08/01/10 It's time for Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course to split up the Izod IndyCar Series and the American Le Mans Series.
After four years together, both earned their own weekends.
"We had a sponsor (Honda of America) who was a long term partner that really wanted to do this and wanted to do it at two or three facilities. They had investments in both those series and obviously it made sense for us to do it," track President Michelle Trueman Gajoch said. "It also came at a time when neither one of them from my perspective could have held their own at the risk they represented purely from a business standpoint."
When the mega event was first announced in 2006, IndyCar was still reeling from its decade-long battle with Champ Car. At the same time the ALMS was selling its money-is-no-object image of sports car racing while producing winning-is-no-object shows.
Mid-Ohio wasn't sure how IndyCar would play to the crowd that was once loyal to CART. And the ALMS wasn't exactly box office gold when it came back to Lexington in 2004 as a stand-alone event after a year hiatus from the track.
But times have changed.
With open-wheel reunification completed, new leadership in Indianapolis taking over, a new title sponsor on board this season and an updated engine and chassis package looming, the sport appears healthier and pointed in the right direction.
While still short of the glory years of CART in the early 1990s, open-wheel racing is not the risk it once appeared, especially with the backing of Honda and the promotion the race gets in its Ohio plants.
And let's not forget the sway Honda has in the IndyCar Series as its lone engine maker.
It's doubtful the manufacturer wants to see a good thing (and a good PR moment as well as a good perk for its thousands of employees) go away, even if the event is in a lame duck year with the contract. Honda does too much business in this state and has too many ties to Mid-Ohio to see its title race moved to Baltimore or New Hampshire.
So logic suggests IndyCar will be back.
And so will ALMS.
No one should forget the solid ALMS President Scott Atherton did for his buddy Trueman Gajoch back in 2003 when it was obvious CART was holding its last race at Mid-Ohio. The two staged a big press conference announcing the return of major league sports car racing to Lexington in 2004 after ALMS spent a year off the Mid-Ohio grid.
ALMS got some needed attention, while Mid-Ohio saved face and showed it would move on without open-wheel racing.
The series did okay as a stand-alone from 2004 to '06, but it struggled putting together compelling and competitive races. The emphasis was always on the high-priced technology of the cars, but it's paddock was a small, moveable feast as manufacturers, teams and drivers came and went year-to-year and even race-to-race.
Connecting to fans beyond the hardcore car enthusiasts proved difficult.
Clearly, ALMS gained the most from pairing with IndyCar. The series got a rub it never would have gotten in this part of the country without playing to the crowds brought in by the higher-profile and more mainstream partner in the weekend. Media outlets who wouldn't come to a sports car-only weekend were forced to report something on ALMS.
It helps that the series continues to evolve, having restructured its classes. It will have 33 cars on the grid this weekend, the most ever for one of its Mid-Ohio races. That bodes well for a series still trying to find its niche during a global recession.
And remember this, the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Challenge will be shown on CBS (albeit on tape delay a week later), while the Honda Indy 200 of Mid-Ohio presented by Westfield Insurance will be televised by Versus deep down the dial.
As sports car racing goes, ALMS has still has cache.
Trueman Gajoch may be ready to uncouple it in hopes of getting another big weekend onto the schedule. She alluded to it earlier this season and it became much easier after Honda through its Acura badge dropped its factory support of ALMS.
"If we do it by itself, the weekend would look very different because they have their other (support) series that we just can't fit (right now)," she said. "That might be appealing. There are other facilities doing that, and they are getting a good response to it." Mansfield News Journal