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Unified sports car series announced

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Unified sports car series announced
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Unified sports car series announced

SEBRING, Fla. -- The merger announcement and official class structures for sports car racing's impending 2014 unification have been announced. And now, America's premier sports car series officially gets a new logo and thanks to a lucky fan contest winner, a new name: United SportsCar Racing.

The joint announcement Thursday by GRAND-AM Road Racing and the American Le Mans Series was fittingly made only yards away from the historic hairpin turn on the grounds of one of the sport's most legendary venues, Sebring International Raceway as cars were preparing for Saturday's 61st Anniversary running of the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring.

"We wanted to come up with a descriptive phrase and sportscar as the anchor of it all," explained GRAND-AM CEO Ed Bennett. "It needed to be a name that people understand what it was when you said it. No one wanted to come up with a name that takes people 20 years to identify with.

"Sportscar is the anchor of it all then united has lots of meaning as well. United in the sense we're uniting two series. United as in drivers and teams and manufacturers from around the world because sportscar racing truly is an international sport.

"We were shooting for a best of both worlds approach."

A crowd consisting of drivers along with team, manufacturer and corporate representatives joined a healthy contingent of international media at Sebring's Chateau Elan Hotel and Conference Center for "The Reveal" -- the term and Twitter hashtag (#TheReveal) given to Thursday's highly anticipated formal announcement which was televised live on SPEED and live-streamed on multiple outlets.

Bennett, ALMS President and CEO Scott Atherton, along with longtime GRAND-AM executive and founder Jim France and ALMS Founder Don Panoz along with International Speedway Corporation CEO Lesa France Kennedy were among the group of motorsports executives on hand.

"Between Jim and Don, what they've done with GRAND-AM and ALMS to bring together both their perspectives under one umbrella is a powerful thing," Bennett said.

For his part, France said he couldn't be more pleased with the ease of transition to a unified front between the one-time competing series and that the name summed it up.

"I think the name is fantastic because it says it all," France said. "I'm extremely excited for sportscar racing. We have a tremendous opportunity here with global interest from companies all around the world. It's a global melting pot of motor sports and I don't think there is another racing series like that in the United States."

Sitting on the front row with France and other the dignitaries was 25-year old Louis Satterlee, of Cocoa, Fla., who submitted the winning name.

The former Florida Karting Championship Series Rookie of the Year said he had to keep the news to himself for two months after finding out his nomination won.

""I couldn't even tell my parents,'' said Satterlee, who has been coming to the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the Sebring 12-hour races with his father since he was three-years old.

"Of course, I never thought I'd win. United SportsCar Racing was just short, sweet and to the point.''

Beyond the series title, new class names were also introduced Thursday. The class structure had been announced last month in conjunction with GRAND-AM's season-opening Rolex 24 at Daytona.

The marquee class consisting of the GRAND-AM's Daytona Prototypes plus the ALMS's P2 class and DeltaWing cars will be termed "Prototype."

The "Prototype Challenge" will retain its current ALMS class structure.

The production-based classes will include "GT Le Mans (GTLM)" which consists of the current ALMS GT class.

And the "GT Daytona (GTD)" which combines the current GRAND-AM GT class and the current ALMS GTC class.

Finally the "GX" class translates directly from the current GRAND-AM GX class structure.

And the famed International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) -- which also got an updated new logo -- will be retained as the sanctioning body for United SportsCar Racing as well as the organization's support series such as the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge, Ferrari Challenge, IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge by Yokohama, Cooper Tires Prototype LitesPowered by Mazda and the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada by Michelin.

Both Bennett and Atherton stressed that the organization remains committed to the Automobile Club de l'Quest (ACO) which sanctions the 24 Hours of LeMans.

"It's important to us to continue the relationship with the ACO and we hope to formalize that in the near future," Bennett said.

Thursday's announcement culminates a four-month project that involved a New York-based SME Branding agency that specializes in branding and has worked with multiple major league sports organizations from the NFL to the New York Yankees.

Nearly 8,000 submissions were received from fans in a "Name the Future" contest to decide and develop the name.

"It surpassed our expectations by a lot," said Brian Beierwaltes, director of brand and consumer marketing for GRAND-AM and the new United SportsCar series.

"It was great to have the fans so enthusiastic and the best part was they didn't just submit names but explained why. So it was insightful."

Judging by the interest this week, unveiling the nomenclature undoubtedly represents the next of several significant steps for the new organization, a merger between GRAND-AM and ALMS that will debut its unified product in 2014.

"We brought out the class structure at the Rolex and to do this at Sebring, an event that has so much heritage, such an international involvement and audience, we thought made all the sense in the world," Bennett said.

"It is a great time for us. We have a clear plan and milestone and timeline and we are right on track.

"One of the differences in this redevelopment plan is we got input not just domestically but from all around the world. So whether it's drivers, teams manufacturers, the ACO, the WEC (World Endurance Championship); we've really gotten a lot of fantastic feedback and I think a good cadence of announcements throughout the year.

"It's exciting to bring one of those out and share with everybody."

Still to confirm and negotiate are series title sponsorship, television rights, manufacturer partnerships and the inaugural United SportsCar Racing 2014 schedule, the latter which Bennett says the group would like to finalize and release by or before the ALMS Oct. 19 Petit Le Mans season finale. 

Expect it to include the most iconic venues and important business locales of the current combined 17 circuits the two series use now, with both Daytona and Sebring included.

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