With a re-shuffle in its calendar, which will see the addition of a new round in Thailand, along with an influx of teams and a new class structure, the Asian Le Mans Series is on an upswing for 2014.
As the championship gears up for its second season, to kick off at Inje Speedium in mid-July, Sportscar365 caught up with the series’ Managing Director Mark Thomas to get his thoughts on the preparations and their goals for the year ahead.
What are your expectations for car count this year?
“Our goal has always clearly been to have a minimum of 16 cars on the grid for each race this season and that’s what we have right now. At the moment we have four P2s, six CNs and six GT cars that are confirmed.
“Things can happen between now and July and hopefully we can pick up a few more cars, as well as a few more local entries per race as well, outside of our core grid.
“But we’re bang on schedule to meet our goals. The registration will close at the end of the month and we’ll hopefully be able to make some announcements soon after that on the prospective season grid.”
How many of those are non-Asian entries?
“We’ve got some collaborations, either lease agreements with certain European teams working with Asian teams and there’s another one more direct team that’s looking to get involved. I think there’s definitely interest in European and even some North American teams that are looking at us as an option.
“Not all of those will come through. The vast majority of them are still at the conceptual stage. But I think a lot more people in those traditional markets are looking at how they can build their business and opportunities and seeing us as a future platform.
“The core of our teams, our drivers and what we’re putting forward is definitely focused on the Asian side. That fundamentally is the core goal of what the series is about. The ACO wanted to set up a series that helps stimulates sports car endurance racing in Asia. As such, we want to grow and build teams over here that could eventually feed onto WEC and join that ACO pyramid.
“The Asian focus is still very much at the heart of what we want to do.”
Have you been pleased with the increased Asian presence at Le Mans and in the FIA WEC?
“You can see that’s working. With KCMG and the Steve Wyatt AF Corse entry, you’re getting people who are coming into the Asian Le Mans Series, using it as a foundation and then stepping forward to greater things. That’s exactly what should happen.
“Some of the guys that are going to be in our series this year will again be at the 24-hour race through the automatic entry they win, but also looking to a full WEC option as well. People want to grow and I think some of our teams are ambitious in that direction.”
What about OAK Racing Team Asia, which will have the first all-Chinese driver lineup at Le Mans?
“I think the OAK story is really good because it’s obviously a European team that’s really getting to grips of how to build their business in Asia but also promote Asian motorsports. To have an all-Chinese driver lineup going to the 24-hour race is quite a story.
“I know them and a few of our partners around are ready to activate that strongly in the media back here in China, which means our series, their team, our partners will get far more awareness going forward. I think that’s very important I think OAK is at the forefront of doing that.”
Was there any consideration to have a joint Super GT race again this year?
“I think Super GT helped us very much last year in terms of the cooperation with their GT300 cars. To be honest, I wouldn’t be against such cooperation in the future because it helps build a grid and grow the name of Le Mans in different markets.
“But for this year, we will be going alone. Again in Japan next year, we will be looking for a standalone event at Fuji going forward. We want to be the lead event, where and when that can be possible. That’s our goal ultimately. Sometimes we have to make stepping stones towards that goal.”
Has there been an overall increased interest in the championship now that you have one year under your belts?
“There’s no doubt about it. I was just talking to our friends in Korea about it. Everything, from our marketing and communications to TV distribution platform and our social media fan base, but also internally in terms of our own systems operation and relationships with key stakeholders.
“If I look back one year ago, We’ve come so far. We’re in a much better place all around, in terms of teams coming on board. And I think we’ve got some great partners such as Michelin, TOTAL, TransAsia, who came on board last year and are growing with us.
“All in all, I think we are going in a good direction. But again, we need to grow steadily and be realistic. It’s going to be a long, strong future that we look for and not something that’s going to happen overnight. This is definitely a long-term project. I think we’re hitting our key goals this year and going in a direction we want to go in.”