The Automobile Club de l’Ouest and Asian Le Mans Endurance Management will join forces with SRO Motorsports Group in the co-organization of the Asian Le Mans Series beginning in 2023.
Announced on Friday in Bahrain, site of this weekend’s FIA World Endurance Championship season finale, the Stephane Ratel-led organization will work “closely” to ensure the “successful continuation” of the series, which is targeted to feature two rounds in the Middle East and two in Southeast Asia for the 2022-23 season.
Both the Asian Le Mans Series and Fanatec GT World Challenge Asia powered by AWS will continue to operate standalone events although an automatic invite to the 24 Hours of Le Mans will be awarded to the winner of a combined series classification in the GT3 class.
Additionally, the ACO will grant another Le Mans auto invite to the winner of the Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS championship, in what is expected to be for the Pro-Am or Gold Cup class.
The Asian Le Mans Series will still be eligible to LMP2 and LMP3 entries in addition to GT3 machinery.
Both series will continue unchanged next year, with Asian Le Mans set for a four-round season between races at the Dubai Autodrome and Yas Marina Circuit in February and GTWC Asia slated for a campaign that could kick off as early as May at Sepang International Circuit.
The 2023 schedules for both championships have yet to be announced but Ratel said they will not overlap with each other.
“This joint collaboration is the best way to ensure the success and the development of the Asian Le Mans Series, the expertise of the three companies will be beneficial for the competitors,” said ACO President Pierre Fillon.
“Alongside the ACO, Stephane played an important role in the creation of the European Le Mans Series and we share a lot of the same values when it comes to the vision of our sport.”
Ratel, who invited Fillon and ALMEM/LMEM CEO Frederic Lequien to the recent GTWC Europe event in Barcelona, said they have been discussing an Asian collaboration for some time.
“It’s true that the news of the ACO adopting the GT3 category was very important for us,” Ratel said. “I’ve repeatedly said it. We never considered we were in competition but we were in a positive emulation.
“It was very important from the start that people think that, ‘Oh since the ACO will adopt GT3 or something close to GT3 that we would be in competition.’ This partnership shows that [we’re not in competition].
“All the credit to Benjamin Franassovici and Paul Yao based in Hong Kong and the SRO Asia team that we’ve developed in just a few years starting from nothing, quite a powerful pan-Asian series.
“The ACO felt that if we were joining forces, we could do something together.
“At the same time the ACO has developed these [four] races in the Middle East, which has been a success bringing quite a lot of European teams and drivers to compete in the Middle East.
“Our success in Asia was really an Asian championship, only with Asian teams and mostly with Asian drivers.
“The combination should work if we get some of the European competitors that are now coming to the Middle East to push East and some of the Asians to push West, we believe we can build something very strong.”
Lequien added: “This joint collaboration will bring on the table some very good specialists to organize the Asian Le Mans Series. Stephane has some, we have some… but also some staff in the Le Mans Endurance Management.
“Together we truly believe we can build something which will be strong for years. This approach at the moment is reasonable and we will try to grow as fast as we can.”
Plans in Place for Combined GT3 Asian Championship
Ratel said the idea for the GT3 category in Asia is to emulate what’s been done with GTWC Europe, which features five Sprint Cup events and five Endurance Cup races.
“Going forward the plan would be to have the same thing in Asia because we believe the Asian market — which has been stopped for two years — they were the fastest selling [before the pandemic],” he said.
“At the beginning of last year in Sepang we had 32 entries, 28 GT3 cars and more were in the pipeline to come. We can see the market was very strong. We have a big hope and expectation for Asia when things will get back to normal.
“The idea will be to have the six races, maybe one day five, under the GTWC Asia name and another four to five in the endurance format under the Asian Le Mans name.
“The points of both series will combine and the winner will get the Le Mans entry.”