A Couple Of Race Series Called Le Mans
*If one were to gauge media coverage of motorsport beyond Formula One and NASCAR, it would appear to be nonexistent. There are internet forums, fringe coverage and dozens of filler spots on Speed TV over here and on Motors TV over there. However, it's the powers that be (follow the money) that dictate where the interest should reside. NASCAR is still the 800-pound gorilla as far as major hype, and the FIA unfortunately has used the world governing body to keep F1 atop the scandal sheets.

Top-level sports prototype and GT racing has survived largely on its own by solid core fan enthusiasm and a clever strategy of incorporating the "Le Mans" brand as a standard means of identification. Much the same as "Indy Cars" running circuits far from Indianapolis, racecars considered Le Mans types compete at major circuits and tracks throughout the world. Using a modified set of rules that the ACO issues for the classic 24 Hours of Le Mans, two separate series have been able to not only survive, but have grown in stature and in manufacturer interest. Both F1 and NASCAR are really all about drivers championships; you can't pedal an F1 car down the street, and good old boys drive cars with shapes based on fleet sales for rental cars. Le Mans is and will always be first and foremost about brand identity. The drivers are important, but it's their mounts that will allow them to put their names in the history books.

The American Le Mans Series has just celebrated its 10th anniversary. The roots of the ALMS are those of the original IMSA series that was the playground for production turbo cars such as the Porsche 935 and big-block Greenwood Corvettes, and then the prototype era of the Porsche 962, Nissan, Toyota and Jaguar. The ALMS has been a proving ground for a number of innovations and manufacturer developments, none more important that the Audi R10 diesel sports prototype. The 2008 season was one of the most competitive yet, with close racing in all of the four classes that make up the series. The LMP2 and GT2 groups were the big crowd pleasers. Acura and the Penske Porsches went to the mat for each round in LMP2; in GT2 it was the classic Porsche-versus-Ferrari battle. Porsche won both classes but had to stand on the throttle in terms of season development to capture the titles.

Although Audi was the dominant force in LMP1 and Corvette made up GT1, those classes were no less thrilling. The addition of the Peugeot 908 diesel prototype for Sebring and Petit Le Mans (10 hours or 1,000 miles) at Road Atlanta underscored the importance that the series has garnered. The fan-friendly and mandatory driver autograph sessions held before each race have helped build a solid base among the public. The ALMS may never eclipse NASCAR in popularity, but it has showed a tenacity to keep the product alive, even in a down market.

The Le Mans Series is based in Paris. After a brief run as the LMES in 2001, organizers got their act together for a full season in 2004. Centered around the classic formula from the past of offering up 1,000km endurance races, the LMS has ventured out to include Brazil and a round in Istanbul. The LMS truly hit its stride this past season with races at the most legendary circuits. Spa, Monza and Silverstone were among the battlegrounds that pitted German versus French technology in the form of diesel development, Peugeot and Audi going after the production-car market share by showcasing that diesels can be hip and fast.

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