Will the third time be the charm for the FIA World Endurance Championship in the Lone Star State?
Series boss Gerard Neveu hopes so, after what’s been another significant buildup to the Six Hours of Circuit of The Americas, the lone U.S. round on the globe-trotting WEC schedule.
Now in its third year, the COTA event reaches a critical stage, as efforts are being made to combat the previous low attendance numbers, lack of local promotion and changes in track management, which has all arguably contributed to the event’s slow growth.
“We’re working very hard with the people from COTA to improve the race from last year,” Neveu told Sportscar365. “I’m giving 100 percent chance for Texas to be the right place.
“We’re trying to push. We sincerely hope the partnership with COTA will be helpful to provide more fans.”
Neveu said they’ve expanded promotion for this year’s Lone Star Le Mans weekend, having taking some measures into their own hands, including promotions in the Austin Statesman, TV advertising and a pre-race event in downtown Austin.
Additionally, fans can expect enhanced activities at the track, with the WEC autograph session set to occur on the start/finish straight between the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship and WEC races, along with a performance from Cirque du Soleil.
“It takes time to establish an event like this when the event is new,” Neveu said. “We saw in Germany that it was a huge event. But this was not the first time [a sports car] event was there; it was the return.
“In Spa, it took [some time]. When we started three years ago, it was a disaster. Now it’s starting to be a very efficient event because the people are starting to go.
“Any place we have up to 50,000 [spectators], which are most of the races now, this is the place where we’ve stayed since the beginning of the WEC.”
Last month’s inaugural Six Hours of Nürburgring drew an impressive 62,000 fans, compared to COTA’s published two-day attendance of 50,000 spectators last year, a number that was arguably a bit optimistic.
With attendance numbers up across the board so far this year, Neveu expects continued growth this weekend.
“We saw how many fans there were at [the Nurburgring],” he said. “We’ve had successful events in Silverstone, Spa and Nurburgring. We will have the same in Japan, Shanghai and Bahrain is something different.
“For me, it’s amazing that if you are not able to do the same as here, it is something very strange.”
One of the factors that’s contributed to attendance struggles at COTA has been the event’s date, which falls in the middle of popular college football season.
Next year will be no different, with IMSA having already announced the date of Sept. 15-17 for its round at COTA, with the WEC expected to again share the bill.
“Unfortunately at the moment, we can’t choose the date for the race at COTA,” Neveu said. “We’re always facing [a clash] with the football season, which is not a very good point for us because football in Texas is very important.
“But if our program is good, there is no reason we can’t attract the American fan.”
Outside of the COTA event, the WEC has taken a significant leap forward in its visibility in the U.S., with the arrival of full-season American teams and drivers, as well as season-long live TV coverage on FOX Sports 1 and 2 coverage for the first time.
“WEC has more and more exposure in America,” Neveu said. “We have some key [players] in the paddock such as Patrick Dempsey and Ed Brown and Scott Sharp with Tequila Patron ESM, who are looking for a long-term strategy with us.
“We also have Corvette still running with us [in GTE-Am] and we already know that next year we’ll have the big honor to welcome Ford with the GT program. That’s a very good step as well.
“Plus we have a very good relationship with FOX Sports, which provides us with perfect coverage in America now.
“All the conditions are on the table to increase the visibility and value very quickly of the WEC in America. There are many common interests we can share. I hope the fans will continue to join the WEC, as they have in the last two or three years.”
As for possible future expansion, with rumors circulating of a second U.S. round, potentially at Indianapolis Motor Speedway or Road America, Neveu has stressed their commitment to building COTA into a success first.
“Lone Star Le Mans is the only option we have in America,” he said. “If you start to discuss with another place, you don’t give 100 percent chance to the place you are visiting.
“When you want to have a second round, it means the first round is a very successful one. This is still not the case [with COTA]. We have to work again to have more and more audience in the grandstands.”