published: Friday, September 07, 2012
Merger 'wonderful' for Sebring track
By BARRY FOSTER
Special to the News-Sun
SEBRING -- After a whirlwind tour of meetings and press conferences in Daytona Beach, Tres Stephenson was back at his desk as the President of the Sebring International Raceway Thursday.
The longtime Raceway director is full of anticipation after a combined press conference by principals of the American Le Mans and Grand American series, announcing the merger of the two sanctioning bodies, which included the acquisition of the leases for Sebring International Raceway and the Chateau Elan Hotel & Spa as well as the Road Atlanta track in Braselton, Ga.
"This is going to be wonderful," said Stephenson. "We are going to have resources we have never had before."
Stephenson said that officials from the Grand American Road Racing Series have been at the track for several days and everybody has been re-hired.
"It's going to be just like it was, only with new ownership," he said.
In fact, it may be difficult for anyone to see any noticeable difference. The 2013 edition still will be the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring fueled by Fresh From Florida.
The American Le Mans Series will remain the sanctioning body for one more year while rules are determined to meld the ALMS with Grand-Am.
A press conference was held in Daytona Beach to make the formal announcement with Don Panoz and Scott Atherton of the ALMS at the table with Jim France and Ed Bennett of the Grand American Road Racing Series.
It was a deal that had been years in the making, but the initial agreement reportedly was made six months ago during a golf game with France and Panoz.
Later, some manufacturers and teams were contacted about the accord and all agree the combination into a single sanctioning body will be beneficial for the road racing world as a whole.
The first local inklings of the deal came at an Aug. 30 special meeting of the Sebring Airport authority to reassign the lease. Reportedly, both Panoz and France were at that session.
"They gave some very generalized plans," said Sebring Airport Authority Executive Director Mike Willingham.
The lease was transferred to Citrus Speedway LLC, a Florida limited liability corporation.
"That's just temporary until there's an official new name for the group," Stephenson said.
Panoz took the opportunity to note that the Automotive Club d'Ouest had been contacted about the plan and there were ongoing negotiations to make certain that ties to the 24 Hours of Le Mans would be maintained.
"This also will allow a single series to run at the absolute best tracks," said Stephenson. "It will start with Daytona in 2014 then Sebring will be next, just like it was in the IMSA days."
It appears the new group plans to run about a dozen races over the course of the season, although a schedule of exactly which tracks and when has yet to be developed."
Also in the mix is the sale of the Chateau Elan. Reinhard Haubner, general manager of that facility, also had great expectations of the change.
"I'm telling you, it's going to be fabulous." he said.
Like the Raceway, Haubner said he did not expect to see any changes to the operation in the immediate future.
The next item on the agenda, said Stephenson, will be the Sebring Historics scheduled for Oct. 25-28.
Those will be held in conjunction with the 100th anniversary celebration of the city of Sebring and was created by the track as an annual event to honor the historic cars that have competed on the legendary circuit
Vintage Speed LLC will serve as the event manager, a well-established group of racing professionals who are recognized throughout the vintage community.
"We are looking forward to kicking off the Sebring Historics and helping to build it into one of the major vintage racing events in the US," said President of Vintage Speed Dan Schmutte.
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