Founded in 1999 by entrepreneur Don Panoz, the American Le Mans Series is a series of sports car endurance racing events patterned after the world-famous 24 Hours of Le Mans.
American Le Mans Series events feature multi-class racing among the top sports car racing drivers and teams in the world. The starting lineup for every event includes both factory and privateer racing teams going for overall wins as well as wins in one of four classes of competition.
Every year, millions of spectators, broadcast viewers and listeners from around the globe focus on the Sarthe region of France to witness the 24-hour event, which dates back to 1923. The race tests manand machine in what is considered one of the world’s most prestigious automobile races.
In an effort to expand upon the rich history and tradition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO), organizers and rights holders for the trademarks and rules for the 24-hour race agreed to license their internationally famous brand name and rules to Panoz.
With these rights, Panoz founded the American Le Mans Series in 1999. The series is part of the Panoz Motor Sports Group, a holding company that includes some of Panoz’ motorsports properties.
The ALMS is holding 10 North American events in 2002, including seven in the United States, two in Canada and a new event in Mexico City.
The majority of the North American races are “sprint” races of two hours and 45 minutes in length. The longest event is the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours at Sebring (Fla.) International Raceway, the oldest sports car race in America, which is celebrating its 51st year in 2003. Audi presents Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta is a 1,000-mile event.
The inaugural Petit Le Mans, held October 10, 1998, was Panoz’ first use of the Le Mans name. The event, designed to be a miniature version of the 24 Hours, drew more than 40,000 spectators to Road Atlanta, a 2.54-mile road course that had flirted with bankruptcy until Panoz infused new life (and dollars) into it when he purchased it in 1997.
The good vibrations and bottom line of the first Petit Le Mans brought instant credibility to the American Le Mans Series, which launched the next year.
ALMS races are run under the ACO rules, with the events sanctioned and conducted by IMSA (International Motor Sports Association). Teams that regularly compete in ALMS events receive special consideration in the selection of the 48-car field for the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
ACO rules and IMSA implementation of the rules provide confidence and stability that competitors have been seeking in American sports car racing.
The ALMS’ multi-year contract with the ACO, which was renewed and expanded in 2002, provides competitors with the comfort of knowing that there is a long-term plan for the growth and stability of the sport.
Fans get a taste of the 24 Hours of Le Mans at all ALMS events, including downtown promotional events complete with race cars and the same rules and race format as the historic French event. The open paddock area allows fans the opportunity to see the race cars up close and have the chance to obtain driver autographs. The Hawaiian Tropic models, a popular fixture at Le Mans the past 20 years, are at every ALMS race.
The overall winning team in the 24 Hours of Le Mans the past four years has also been a team that regularly competed in ALMS events, as were most of the class-winning teams. The ALMS builds its yearly schedule of events around Le Mans, allowing teams to participate in the pre-practice event in early May and remain in Europe for the mid-June running of the race.