It’s been a challenging season for the Asian Le Mans Series, which has struggled to reach double-digit grid numbers and was recently forced to cancel its round in Thailand.
While the second-year championship has arguably yet to deliver on its full potential, series promoter Mark Thomas has remained confident of a turnaround for 2015, which calls for a restructure of its calendar, new off-season incentives and an active effort to attract new content.
“Fundamentally, we need to improve the numbers on the grid,” Thomas told Sportscar365. “That’s where most of the focus from our party is going… working with drivers, teams and partners to understand what we’re doing right and what we can do a little better.”
In order to take two steps forward, Thomas and his team from S2M Group, as well as its partners at the ACO, had to take one step back with the decision to call-off the event at the Buriram International Circuit, originally scheduled for Nov. 21-23.
The race’s close proximity to the Macau Grand Prix, where the three-car AAI Motorsport squad and Clearwater Racing team are due to take part in, could have potentially resulted in a grid of less than five cars for penultimate round of the season.
“We looked into Thailand and we can’t fool ourselves into thinking that things are going to be turning bright for that race,” Thomas said. “We thought this year was a step too far and we didn’t want to go Thailand for the first time and not hit it with a semi-decent grid.
“Our focus, for this season, is putting as creditable of a grid as we can together for Sepang. A lot of the teams either reside there, or store their cars over the winter months, so the opportunity to get more cars on that grid was much greater than Thailand. We just want to finish off the season as best we can.”
While cautiously optimistic of an increased turnout for this year’s season finale in Malaysia, Thomas is most looking forward to the prospects of what 2015 could bring, particularly with a realignment of its calendar.
The 2015 schedule, which is due to be released next week, will again feature five rounds, but with Sepang opening the season in late April, instead of this year’s mid-July start in Korea.
There’s also been an active initiative to avoid date clashes with other Asian-based sports car series, which has been a particular issue at no fewer than three of this year’s events.
“The major thing is a rejig of our schedule to try and avoid conflicts directly with [similar] series,” Thomas said. “We’ll start the season earlier so we can get teams and drivers and enthuse them to join our series at an earlier date.”
By ending the 2014 championship and starting the 2015 season at the Malaysian F1 circuit, it’s opened the opportunity for a three-race winter series, which will also include a pre-season test scheduled for late January.
“What we’ve done is create a mini Sepang series where the last race of this season and the first race of next season are both at Sepang. Then by throwing the official test program with a non-championship race in January, it creates an opportunity for us to engage with more teams,” Thomas said.
“We’re going to come up with an incentive and prize for that little three-race series which will be announced very shortly. This will give us the opportunity to engage teams early and understand their wants and needs. That will hopefully go a long way to build a relationship with those teams.”
With the goal of the grid returning to double-digit numbers, which the series had seen in its first season, Thomas is taking a new outlook on how to achieve that target in the rapidly evolving Asian market.
It includes trying to attract the increasing number of gentlemen drivers in the region, as well as emerging manufacturers.
“If you want a creditable motorsport series, you need a creditable amount of cars,” he said. “For me, that golden number to get beyond has always been 16. So that remains our goal for next year, that we have to conjure up a grid that hits that number.
“We said that this year and didn’t make it so we’ve had to step back and understand why we didn’t make it and what we need to do. I think we need to engage with teams and manufacturers and gentlemen drivers.
“We want to start building creditability for the future, so we have to make that creditable step forward for next year. ”
Thomas sees potential for growth in each of the current classes, especially in the new-for-2014 CN category. However, the arrival of LMP3 has also given him optimism, particularly after recently visiting Ginetta’s factory in the U.K.
A total of five Ginetta-Juno LMP3 cars have already been ordered, with one confirmed for a customer in Asia.
While 2015 could see noticeable improvements in the grid, Thomas has stressed that he remains in this project for the long-term.
“In the end, I’m convinced, with the right effort and right platform, endurance racing with prototypes and GTs can be very successful in Asia,” he said. “But it will certainly take a bit of time.”