Following lackluster car counts over the last two seasons, the Automobile Club de l’Ouest announced Sunday in Malaysia that it has taken over as the organizers of the Asian Le Mans Series, beginning next year.
The championship, which launched in 2013, had been run under a licensing agreement by Shanghai-based S2M Group, but struggled to attract double-digit grids this year, following a series-high 14 entries last year.
The Mark Thomas-led group will no longer be involved in the championship, with the ACO taking the entire organization and promotion in-house, in a similar move it made to revive the European Le Mans Series in 2013.
“We figured that unless we get involved directly with the proper resources, it will take too much time for us to make a breakthrough in terms of endurance [racing] in Asia,” ACO board member Frederic Henry-Biabaud told Sportscar365.
“When we’ve done this kind of thing, if you take the European Le Mans Series for example, that does prove to be working. We want to have the same way to be directly involved with the teams, partners, sponsors and tracks.
“It’s in a continent that’s much more difficult to understand, which is not as mature as the other continents. That’s why it’s taken more time. It’s still alive, but we need to regenerate quicker. This is why we’ve decided to do it, taking it over directly.”
The 2015 season will feature a compact three-race calendar in the second half of the year, likely to begin in September.
While the schedule has yet to be announced, Henry-Biabaud said one of the rounds will be run on a FIA World Endurance Championship weekend, much like the FIA WEC double-headers with the European Le Mans Series and TUDOR United SportsCar Championship at Silverstone and Circuit of The Americas, respectively.
The class structure will remain unchanged with the LMP2, CN and GT classes, as well as the launch of the LMP3 category, slated for the end of next year or beginning of 2016. Invites for the 24 Hours of Le Mans will also continue to be offered.
“If we rushed it, and started [the championship] in April, I’m not sure we wouldn’t face the same problem, which is to have a limited number of cars,” Henry-Biabaud admitted.
“We want to work very hard and very closely with the teams to prepare these end-of-year 2015 races, which will be a shorter season but with the same ingredients with the allocation of [invites] for Le Mans and so on.
“At the same time, we’d be prepared to start with a much bigger grid and a much mid-term type of vision.
“We could not take the risk to start too quickly and then find ourselves again like the first two years with 8 or 9 cars on the grid. That’s why we want to take some time. But we know reasonably well where we want to go and what we want to achieve, especially starting in 2016.”
Plans are in place for a five-round championship in 2016, with hopes of attracting European teams for the opening race in the spring to help bolster the grid for the first full-season.
The restructured championship will see the creation of a new Asian-based organization under ACO management, with the executive team to be announced next month.
In parallel, the ACO and its Asian partners will continue to support the creation of new circuits in China.
“Even though we are still very small on the ground, we want to develop a very specific type of series, compared with the other [Asian] series, which are very much GT and sprint oriented,” Henry-Biabaud added.
“At the same time, the potential of the continent is so big that we really want to grow faster on this continent.”
The 2014 Asian LMS season comes to a close today with the Three Hours of Sepang, which sees an eight-car grid.