Anticipation is building for the rebirth of the Asian Le Mans Series, with the 2015/2016 season-opening round at Fuji Speedway, in support of the FIA World Endurance Championship, now less than two months away. (En Français)
A total of 13 cars are provisionally entered for the Japanese round, which kicks off a consolidated four-round winter championship that will include a pair of races in Sepang and a visit to the new Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand in January.
After struggling for entries over the past two seasons under previous management, the Automobile Club de l’Ouest has taken over full control of the championship, with Cyrille Taesch-Wahlen (pictured above, second from left) heading up efforts.
The Frenchman has been tasked with rebuilding the series, which was faced with single-digit total car counts last year, which is no doubt an ambitious effort, given the previous struggles in the region.
“We’re glad to see that with eight weeks before Fuji, the grid is gradually emerging,” Taesch-Wahlen told Endurance-Info. “We know where we’ve come from and what lies ahead.
“The beginning is encouraging by having 13 cars for Fuji, where there will be a real variety in each category with new teams, great names and those faithful who will continue to support us.”
While the likes of Eurasia, KCMG, Clearwater, Absoulte, Team AAI and Spirit of Race are expected from the start of the season, Taesch-Wahlen is working on securing additional entries as well for the Japanese round, including a possible effort from locals Team Taisan.
However, he admits a date clash with the European Le Mans Series season finale in Estoril, which falls one week after the FIA WEC/Asian LMS weekend at Fuji, has impacted the total entry numbers for the season opener.
“We must remember that Fuji is very important for us as it’s in Japan,” Taesch-Wahlen said.”We can’t deny that it complicates the situation because some championships are not yet complete and some European teams will will be on the grid from Sepang.
“Teams such as Algarve Pro Racing and EuroInternational [are in this situation]. An increase to 15 cars is something realistic. The platform will keep growing when teams bring more cars.”
Despite this, Taesch-Wahlen believes the influx of European entries for the three remaining rounds will give the series a much-needed boost, both from a numbers and quality standpoint.
“More and more European teams are thinking about running in the Asian Le Mans Series,” he said.
“We haven’t stopped working since March. There was the redesign in the calendar, [ensuring] stable regulations for the next four years, improved visibility and enhanced relationships with the teams.
“The championship is not only becoming a destination for Asian teams but also European teams.
“In addition, there’s invitations to the 2016 Le Mans 24 Hours and teams are already discussing [plans] for the 2016/2017 season.”
While having previously struggled for car count in the prototype ranks, there appears to be a resurgence for the coming season, particularly in the junior class.
Despite there being no CN cars confirmed to date, no fewer than four LMP3 cars are expected for the season, including the competition debuts of the new ADESS-03 and Ligier JS P3.
“We have the opportunity to be the first championship to accommodate three different [LMP3] chassis,” Taesch-Wahlen said. “There is real enthusiasm for this category.”
The ACO’s commitment for long-term success in Asia is evident, particularly with key staff hires for the restructured championship.
It includes FIA WEC race director Eduardo Freitas, who will serving as race director for the Asian LMS season as well.
“The fact that the ACO is operating [the series] is a huge plus,” Taesch-Wahlen said. “We have been approached by different circuits and have been in discussions quite a lot.
“We have to see how to take the winter segment and build a relationship of trust between the different actors. People understand the Asian Le Mans Series is a true platform to move up.
“More and more Asian teams tell me they want to go to Le Mans in the next three years, which confirms all the efforts made by the ACO.
“Japan has a large Le Mans culture and there are positive things happening in other [Asian] countries as well. We must educate the public to the Le Mans-badged races and I’m sure it will come over time.”
Taesch-Wahlen said he hopes to expand the calendar to a five-round championship in 2016/2017, with the target of returning to China, which serves as another key market to many of its partners.