While featuring a lower-than-expected grid for this weekend’s season-opener in Korea, Asian Le Mans Series managing director Mark Thomas is confident of additional entries joining the championship beginning with the next month’s second round at Fuji Speedway.
The series, which saw moderate growth through its inaugural four-round season last year, sees an eight-car entry for Sunday’s Three Hours of Inje, despite 15 cars having been entered for the full five-round championship last month.
However, Thomas said a number of factors played into the low turnout, including date clashes with other Asian races and the initial uncertainty of whether the event would go ahead due to previous track management issues.
“I think we’ve had unique issues with this race, specifically,” Thomas told Sportscar365. “The circuit had many managerial issues last year and even into the first part of this year. The GT Asia and Audi R8 LMS Cup event that was scheduled for May was canceled because of the ongoing conflict of management.
“That precipitated a lot of negative feeling about coming to Korea and it certainly didn’t help any of the series [here this weekend]. Our grid is down from the full grid that signed up this year, as is Ferrari Challenge and Formula Masters. It’s primarily due to that perception if the event was going to happen or not.”
Thomas reiterated that the race was never under threat of being canceled, with new track management having been put into place earlier this year. It was the first step to help rejuvenate the Korean motorsports scene after a rough 2013, which also saw Formula One drop the Korean GP.
While the experience this weekend at Inje Speedium has so far been largely positive for teams, Thomas is already looking at ways of building the grid for the remainder of the year and beyond.
“I think for us, we’re going to take stock, learn from a few things and adapt the series going forward to make improvements,” he said. “Especially on building up the grid for the rest of the season, to have a successful completion of this season but also looking forward to next year.”
One of the changes that’s being evaluated is the potential of moving the start of the 2015 season to earlier in the year, to coincide with more traditional motorsports calendars, instead of the current five-round schedule, which is backloaded on the second half of the year.
“We’ve had a long discussion about this,” Thomas said. “We have to start the season earlier in the year. It’s very clear that drivers and teams make their decisions at the end of the year.
“If you’re waiting to start a season so late, in July, people have already gone to other places. So we need to make a very clear move to start the race season in April 2015. That’s what we’re looking to.
“Secondly, perhaps we’d look at going to a more stable environment. We believe Korea is stable and will get better for next year, but to maybe pick a track like Sepang, where everyone is understanding, they know the circuit and it’s a great Grade 1 Formula One circuit.
“Plus, a lot of the teams in Asia store their cars in the winter and do their pre-season testing there. So it’s a natural place to start a season in Asia.”
As for the rest of this season, it appears there could be a significant boost in car count by the time the series rolls to Fuji next month, including some potential local entries.
Both of the Team Taisan Ferraris, which are competing in Super GT this weekend in Sugo, are expected to take part later in the season, along with the possibility of two Tatuus CN cars, which were held up in customs.
Additionally, Craft-Bamboo Racing is likely to field a second Ligier JS 53 Evo beginning at Fuji, while the Malaysian-based team also has a Morgan-Nissan LMP2 car that could be put into action later this year as well.
“We know we’re going to get some growth in the next race,” Thomas said.”We have a few teams we know that didn’t make this race, for various reasons, some logistical, some financial. We know we have a few cars coming for Fuji. That will hopefully gather momentum.”
While having gotten off to a challenging start, Thomas’ S2M Group and the ACO remain fully committed to building the championship, as part of its long-term strategy that has already seen encouraging signs in only its second season.
“When we set out on this journey, myself and the ACO, I don’t think we thought it was going to be a bed of roses,” Thomas said. “We knew there were going to be challenges along the way.
“If you’re committed to do something, you do it. Sometimes, that means you have to battle through hard times. I think that’s definitely to show that we’re 100 percent committed.”