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Atherton Expecting Sebring WEC Return

IMSA boss pleased with cooperation with WEC, suggests additional activation for 2020…

Photo: Jamey Price/Toyota

IMSA President Scott Atherton says it would take something “unforeseen” to not have the FIA World Endurance Championship continue on Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring weekend bill next year, although has indicated the need for additional marketing activation from the globe-trotting series.

The WEC, which made its return to the historic airfield circuit for the first time since 2012, has signaled intentions of firming up plans for another joint weekend in 2020, although series boss Gerard Neveu said it was ultimately dependent on IMSA’s approval.

While a formal confirmation has yet to come, Atherton indicated he’d be more surprised if a WEC return to the 12 Hour weekend didn’t happen.

“It would take something unforeseen right now for us not to continue,” Atherton told reporters on Saturday afternoon during the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring.

“I don’t think anyone would take on such an endeavor if the expectation was one-and-done.

“There’s simply too much involved, both financially and the physical demands of preparing for such an event. The heavy lifting is done.

“I think for both of us, the demand would be to define a viable, sustainable business model. It’s a very, very expensive weekend to produce.”

The WEC’s 1000-mile race, which ran until midnight on Friday, featured a packed pre-race grid and drama-filled, rain-impacted final hour.

While deemed as a success by Neveu, Atherton expressed a few conditions needing to be met by the WEC in order for the event to continue.

“We would like to see more activation from the WEC paddock,” he said.

“If you look at the automobile displays, the sponsor activation, the corporate hospitality, I think it’s almost 100 percent IMSA and Sebring track-related. It’s not associated with the WEC.

“That would be an important element we’d both like to see improved.”

Atherton said ticket sales, which were up by nearly 70 percent prior to race week, had been a “pleasant surprise” although expected to some degree, given the gradual growth of the WeatherTech Championship.

“I would not say it’s a complete surprise because you would not have done this if you didn’t have the expectation of attracting more fans,” he said.

“The real question is, what would it have been had there not been a World Endurance Championship attached to this weekend?

“With some exception, our weekends have been growing year over year for quite some time now. The Rolex was the largest Rolex 24 at Daytona ever. That is on top of last years that achieved the same result.

“Year over year growth is not easy to do but we’re on that trend.

“There’s no question, and I’m not taking anything away from the WEC because I met a lot fans here this weekend that are here for the first time. What pushed them over the top was to come and see both.

“The challenge there is you don’t want it to simply be a bucket list.”

Inclusion of Challenge Series a “Criteria from the Start”

Atherton said the inclusion of the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge and IMSA Prototype Challenge series on the Sebring weekend bill was a “criteria from the start” in the shaping of this year’s event schedule.

He said they would see the same continuing into 2020.

“It was important we maintained the integrity of our historical schedule so that our core platforms don’t feel they’ve been discounted in any way, as a result of bringing the WEC in,” Atherton said.

“When you look at the paddock accommodation, you look at the track time accommodation and schedule, something has to give.

“There is one example of that. In other cases, the schedules have been more compressed. People raced on Thursday that may have raced on Friday in the past and that sort of thing.

“I think anybody that has been racing here this weekend has gone away with a positive impression and a desire to be a part of it again.”

John Dagys is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Sportscar365 as well as the recently launched e-racing365 Web site for electric racing. Dagys spent eight years as a motorsports correspondent for FOXSports.com/SPEED Channel, and contributes to other publications worldwide. Contact John

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