The Asian Le Mans Series kicks off its 2015/2016 season this weekend at Fuji Speedway with new series management, which is now under the full control of the Automobile Club de l’Ouest.
A total of 13 cars are set for Saturday’s two-hour race, supporting the FIA World Endurance Championship, including the worldwide race debut of two new LMP3 cars.
Sportscar365 caught up with new Asian LMS Operations Director Cyrille Taesch Wahlen to get his thoughts on the off-season transformation and his goals as he leads the championship into a new era.
How has the transition in series management gone and what’s your outlook on the Asian market?
“We started with the new structure in early March, just seven months ago. It is very exciting and very challenging because Asia is a completely different market from what we know in Europe, and this is something we must consider. We must adapt to the Asian market.
“We’re bringing the ACO rules, the Le Mans spirit and attitude in Asia, and trying to develop the culture for endurance racing in prototype. In the meantime, we need to remain very aware of what this region is all about.
“Things are changing a little bit because even if Japan is considered as the country with the greatest interest for Le Mans in Asia, nowadays there are more and more GT Asia-based teams that are considering Le Mans as a possibility within the next two or three or four years.
“So far, after seven months, I think we have achieved one of the main goals, which is giving the industry in Asia, the teams, the drivers, the partners, confidence again in this project.”
Despite what’s been a challenge to attract prototypes in Asia, do you expect the LMP2 and LMP3 classes to grow?
“We have more and more Asian-based teams that are considering LMP3 as an option. David Cheng has put together his own team. AAI from Taiwan; they went to Le Mans for the first time and bought two ADESS cars and are working on developing LMP3.
“The ACO just three days ago appointed the last LMP3 manufacturer, Dome. It’s perfect for us.
“I think [LMP3] might be the stepping stone for prototype and endurance racing in Asia. Things are moving, I can tell.
“In Asia, they race in touring car, formula cars or GT cars. When it comes to prototypes, it’s a bit different. They love GT cars because they drive wonderful GT road cars and they want to drive the same thing on the track. Endurance racing is picking up in Asia.
“I don’t see any problem in attracting people in endurance racing, in principle. It’s more that they’re not used to combining prototype and endurance racing. The costs of operating a LMP2 properly, which we know, is not cheap.
“Hence, we believe LMP3 may be the stepping stone for these teams and drivers to enter the ACO pyramid.”
The primary issue with the series in the past has been car count. What are your expectations and goals for this season?
“Slowly but surely we will see the grid increase one race to another. Having 13 cars here might be seen as not a real good result, but at the end of the day, I think it’s not bad at all; it’s a decent grid.
“Not only because the amount of cars is OK [considering] where we are coming from but also because everybody knew that these first rounds of the newly refurbished Asian Le Mans Series would take place during the WEC event, which is great for us in terms of exposure.
“But clashes with the ELMS and GT Asia has prevented us from having all the potential cars joining us from Round 1 onwards. They will join us from Round 2 onwards and it will keep picking up until the last race at the end of January.
‘There should be an additional two to four cars in Sepang and on that basis, in January, for both Buriram and Sepang 2, an additional two to four cars [as well]. That means if everything goes well, we might be able to top 20-plus [cars] by the end of January.
“The target is to finish the season with no less than four P2 cars, four P3s, two or three CN cars and maybe more than ten GT cars.”
Are there plans to expand the calendar next season or will it remain at four rounds?
“When it comes to putting together a winter series calendar in Asia, you have to take a lot of things into consideration.
“The fact that you can’t clash with GT Asia, so those teams can join. Then you have Macau, which is the greatest race in Asia. Then you have Christmas, New Years and Chinese New Year.
“When you look at that window, it’s very difficult to fit a five-race calendar.
“I think the most important thing for us next year is to go back to China, and to have four proper standalone events, and maybe with longer-distance races.
“We could maybe go from three to four-hour races instead of having a fifth round organized. The idea would be for 2015/2016 to have only standalone Asian Le Mans events.”