United Autosports team co-owner and managing director Richard Dean said the series’ relocation to a consolidated 2021 schedule in Abu Dhabi is a “sensible move” amid the current COVID-19-related travel restrictions.
Announced last week, the ACO-run championship will hold four races over a three-week period at Yas Marina Circuit in February instead of its initially planned season split between Sepang and Buriram.
The move, which series’ managing director Cyrille Taesch Wahlen said was made to “ensure the health and safety” of competitors and “protect the sport and our teams”, has been praised by team bosses.
United, a former series champion in LMP2, had not initially planned a 2021 Asian campaign but is now re-considering its options according to Dean.
“I definitely wouldn’t rule it out now that they’ve announced the calendar,” he told Sportscar365. “I think it’s a sensible move.
“You can imagine how that could all work once everything arrives into Abu Dhabi. You can imagine how that event can go on with all the current restrictions.
“In February it’s one of the nicest parts of the world to be, at a great circuit with great facilities. It’s probably the best pre-season testing that you could ever do.
“While we’ve been at Portimao for these last few days, our internal discussions have turned into whether that’s something we should pursue.”
Dean said the “direct route” of freight and relative ease of traveling to the United Arab Emirates at the moment makes it an easier undertaking for a European team instead of mounting a logistically challenging program in southeast Asia.
“It’s so much easier for everything,” he said. “Time zones as well.
“Buriram is one of our favorite events we’ve ever done but it’s not the easiest place to get to.
“When you’ve got travel restrictions and protocols going on, it just makes it harder. This just makes perfect sense at this particular time.”
Inter Europol Competition team manager Sascha Fassbender, meanwhile, estimates the consolidated schedule comes at a 25 percent cost reduction for a LMP3 entry.
“For me, Abu Dhabi is much easier to go to than China or Japan and all of the problems faced with customs like not receiving a container [in time],” Fassbender told Sportscar365.
“It also goes massively down in costs.”
He said the calendar does have its tradeoffs, particularly with a pair of four-hour races held on the same weekend, leaving virtually no margin for error.
“I spoke to a guy who wants to do it and he said, ‘What happens if I destroy the car in race number one and it cannot be rebuilt for race number two?'” Fassbender said.
“For sure [the customer] would not do races three and four because [he] wouldn’t have a chance to do anything in the championship.”‘
United, Inter Europol Working on Asian Programs
Both teams are now in the planning stages for potential 2021 programs, although neither have been finalized.
“We couldn’t make a decision on that until they settled on what it is,” Dean said of the schedule. “You can’t sell to sponsors and partners something that you don’t know what you’re selling.
“But now that’s settled we’ve suddenly had some inquiries about that.”
Dean said should United commit to a return to Asian LMS, it would likely come at the cost of its initially planned two-car LMP3 program in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, which has hit a snag due to IMSA’s driver rating requirements.
“It’s hard to imagine Daytona and Asia at the same time,” he said. “It’s not impossible, but hard to imagine today.”
Inter Europol, which won the 2018-19 LMP3 championship, has “everything ready to go” for a 2021 campaign in either LMP2 and/or LMP3, according to Fassbender, although is seeking funded drivers.
“In the past we had the No. 13 car in the Asian championship to win the championship to get the invitation for Le Mans,” he explained.
“With the WEC entry that’s not needed anymore. So I have a different approach to the Asian championship next year.
“If we do Asian Le Mans, it would be different. It would not be going there just to win an invite with one of the best lineups you can have in LMP3. It’s not the intention.”
Daniel Lloyd contributed to this report