Despite having struggled for entries in its first season, Asian Le Mans Series boss Mark Thomas is optimistic of what the future could bring for the newest ACO-blessed sports car championship.
Last weekend’s season-ending Three Hours of Sepang featured a respectable 14-car grid, doubling the numbers from the first round in Korea just four months ago.
SPEED: Q&A with Mark Thomas
The Malaysian race included a six-car GTC field, which will merge with GTE to form a unified GT class beginning next year. The LMP2 class, meanwhile, saw a boost to three entries, with up to five of the cost-capped prototypes projected for 2014.
“I think we’ve done a good job getting ourselves established this year,” Thomas told Sportscar365. “We’ve built up a little bit of good credibility. Whether it’d be our current teams or the partners, they’re in… and they’re coming back next year. And we have a whole other group of teams that will join us.
“I’m not going to say we’re going to have 24 cars on the grid next year, but I honestly believe from the numbers that we have already come together, we’ll have a core grid of at least 16 cars, and then depending on each race, we’ll have a few individual race entries that will boost it up.”
With the majority of the grid set to return for next year, Thomas anticipates one or two additional European teams to follow in the footsteps of OAK Racing and AF Corse, while also seeing an influx of Asian-based squads that have been looking to expand their efforts.
Besides the addition of a fifth round, one of the other significant changes for 2014 comes with the adoption of the CN class for entry-level prototypes. The class will feature carbon-tubbed cars currently competing in various European championships, such as the French VdeV series, with a turn-key price tag of less than $200,000.
Thomas said the cars will be eligible for the next two years, but potentially being integrated into new LMP3 class, which will debut in 2015.
“We have a lot of people in Asia who feel LMP2 is a big first step into prototypes and they need an entry level prototype to get to grips of what it’s all about in terms of racing,” he said. “I think budget-wise, if you look at the young drivers coming through, the CN category offers a very, very well-priced platform for those young Asian drivers.
“If you look in the series like the Asia Cup or Formula Masters, there’s a whole bunch of young Asian drivers that have reasonable budgets but they need to make that step through something a little bit under LMP2. We believe CN is perfect for that.”
The series will continue its relationship with Super GT, which will see JAF GT300-spec cars be eligible for the new combined GT class, while also sharing the bill with the popular Japanese championship at Fuji Speedway in August, but likely as a standalone race.
“I’m cautiously more optimistic than I ever have been and I think it was a very important year to get it off the ground and actually get it going,” Thomas said. “We survived and we’re still here. We’re going to fight another day next year and hopefully for many years to come!”