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Maserati For Sebring & The Full ALMS
The clues have actually been lurking around for several weeks – but now it’s finally confirmed. AF Corse will enter one Maserati MC12 in the Mobil 1 12 Hours at Sebring (supported by Risi Competizione), with a second car to appear later in the season.

This is a major coup for Panoz CEO Scott Atherton and his team. In an ideal world the announcement would have been made at Sebring on February 1 (there was huge disappointment that it couldn’t be made on that day), but three weeks later, it is a ‘done deal’. No wonder he, Doug Robinson and Tim Mayer were all smiles early in January, at the Detroit Show.

“It is an incredibly sensitive period for the ALMS,” commented Atherton three weeks ago. “We’re working with Maserati, the leadership of the ACO and the FIA as well – we want a common world platform (for GT regulations).”

That platform has all but arrived, although the FIA’s Technical Working Group is still in the process of amalgamating the rules to the satisfaction of all concerned – those with 2004 FIA GT cars, 2004 ACO GTS cars and new, 2005 GT1 cars.

The Maserati has always been the odd one out, its position seeming to change by the month during 2004, finally being allowed to compete in the FIA GT Championship (three races), to allow the authorities to evaluate its performance. With that hurdle overcome, the AF Corse MC12s competed in the last race of the FIA GT season – and were then required to be shortened, although the ACO required a shortening at both ends, a suggestion that struck Maserati as too expensive.



The short nose version has since been tested at Paul Ricard, and will compete in the FIA GT Championship – but it hasn’t been enough for the ACO, which has effectively excluded it from Le Mans, for this year.

However, with a juggling of its Supplementary Regulations, IMSA has given the go-ahead to allow the Maserati to compete at Sebring.

“Competitors are hereby notified that it is IMSA’s intent to invite certain entries to compete at Sebring (and each ALMS event thereafter) that have cars homologated under the FIA GT1 regulations, with specific modifications required by IMSA in writing. These documents will form the basis of scrutineering.”

To appease its rivals in GT1, the Maserati(s) will race without the opportunity to score championship points, but each car will be classified in each race according to its finishing position and will be eligible for podium honors, if earned.

IMSA also reserves the right to regulate the overall performance of the Maserati, in a similar way to the FIA GT Championship’s ballast system. It won’t be quite the same though: rather than add success ballast, IMSA will regulate the cars “from time to time to ensure that they fall within the acceptable performance envelope for a car in the GT1 class”.

“It is important to note that we will be relating the performance of cars in this category to the other cars in the class and not to a “bogey time” at any particular track,” says the wording in the revised Sporting Regulations.

Adjustments which may be used in 2005 include:
a. Weight adjustments up to 150kg
b. Rear wing width adjustments.
c. Other rear wing adjustments such as a required Gurney flap.
d. Fuel tank capacity
e. Restrictor orifice adjustments

So there are plenty of potential 'tweaks' in place to prevent a repeat of the Porsche 911 GT1 situation of 1996 (when that car was permitted to race in the BPR series, and immediately made every other entry obsolete). Changes to car specification will not be made during an event – but rather after an event.

The negotiations have been complex – but they’ve been resolved at last. Maserati will now go up against Corvette, Saleen, Prodrive Ferrari and Aston Martin (with Vipers racing too) at Sebring next month, in what will be the most varied and competitive collection of cars from this class ever seen in the modern era.

“We are committed to our affiliation with the ACO,” said Scott Atherton three weeks ago, “but we also have to take into consideration that we are not one monumental event, but a series of ten events. The ALMS needs to be vital and growing.

“We have formal confidentiality agreements with a number of manufacturers,” he continued. “The pipeline is beginning to fill."

Scott Atherton now adds that "the inclusion of the Maserati in the ALMS will create great interest for our fans at the tracks and on TV. We expect our fans and event promoters will greatly benefit from the inclusion of this extremely exciting and competitive new ALMS race car entry."

IMSA's Chief Operating Officer, Tim Mayer explains how the performance of the MC12 will be monitored: "The Maserati does not comply to the ACO requirements and as such has not been homologated for competition under ACO regulations. IMSA will be the final regulator of the performance of the car in the interests of ALMS competition, such that the race car operates within the accepted performance envelope of cars within the GT1 category."

Maserati's Claudio Berro is "pleased to have the opportunity to display our car in front of audiences in North America. This is one of the most important sales markets for Maserati, so this development is very important for our sales and marketing efforts as well. We greatly appreciate the compromise that has been reached, and looked forward to competing on the merits of our car, our team and our drivers."

The drivers at Sebring are expected to be Mika Salo, Fabio Babini and Andrea Bertolini.

With more good news to come from the ALMS in the coming weeks, and a format in place that already attracts larger crowds at the events year on year, plus a TV audience that is also growing, perhaps the ‘knockers’ will cease knocking now.

"We recognise the easy target our current car count represents," said Scott Atherton, at the Sebring Test Days. "This is an entirely different form of motorsport and it is not for everyone."

The crowd at Sebring will see the first fruits of the growth of the ALMS.
 
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