After five years of racing in North America, Extreme Speed Motorsports will graduate to the global stage in 2015, having announced Tuesday a two-car full-season program in the FIA World Endurance Championship.
According to team owner Scott Sharp, the decision to make the move to the FIA WEC on a full-time basis came shortly after this month’s Six Hours of Shanghai, where the Florida-based squad fielded its pair of HPD ARX-03b cars, in what turned out to be a successful overseas debut.
While Sharp and co-drivers Ryan Dalziel and Ricardo Gonzalez scored a runner-up finish in LMP2, the overall experience with the series helped solidify the team’s global plans, which includes a debut in next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.
“I think everyone on our team is pretty excited about the opportunity to go do this,” Sharp told Sportscar365. “To go race at Le Mans, to go race against the best P2 cars in the world and go after the 2015 championship… We want to go win that.”
One of the major factors to go the FIA WEC route for 2015 also came down to its partner, Teuqila Patrón, and its initiative to grow its global footprint.
“Shanghai really opened up all of our eyes,” Sharp said. “Ed [Brown, Tequila Patron President/CEO] brought all of the drivers to Patron’s international sales meeting in Las Vegas before we went to Shanghai.
“We saw that Patron has 95 percent brand recognition in the United States. That’s on par with Apple. You’re probably not going to get a lot higher than that.
“The WEC goes into markets where that brand recognition level is at 5 percent. So you can see where the motorsports program can play a significant impact in helping grow the brand.”
The Shanghai round also served as the kickoff of the brand in China, which included a launch event during the race weekend, attended by the ESM drivers and local distributors.
While having played a significant role in product activation in the U.S. market while at TUDOR United SportsCar Championship events, Sharp sees that same level of commitment for the FIA WEC weekends next year.
“I think we’re going to go full-tilt, as much as we’re legally able to do with the different countries and alcohol,” he said. “It’s got the potential for the greatest impact because it’s such an infant brand in a lot of those markets.
“So far, Gerard [Neveu, FIA WEC CEO] and the WEC have been real open and accommodating to help us reach those goals. I think there’s a lot of excitement all the way around.”
It’s going to be a busy time for the team, which is in the process of moving to a new shop in Florida, while also finalizing a European base.
Sharp said are evaluating options of having a shop in the U.K. or France to be used in the first half of the FIA WEC season.
They’re also in the process of finalizing the driver lineup. Sharp, Dalziel, Ed Brown and Johannes van Overbeek are already confirmed, although they’ll need two additional pilots for the season.
“That’s what we’re focusing on now, particularly in our car, we need to find the best Silver driver possible,” Sharp said. “We hope to be able to announce both additional drivers in the next two to three weeks.”
For the former IndyCar, Trans-Am and ALMS champion, Sharp is looking forward to the next chapter of his career, not only as a driver but as a team owner.
That includes taking his team to the 24 Hours of Le Mans for the first time, not to mention other mythical European circuits such as Spa-Francorchamps and Nurburgring, prospects many Americans can only dream of doing.
“In my career, there’s been nothing like standing on the grid before the Indianapolis 500,” he said. “I think the same feeling will be had when standing on the grid at Le Mans. I’m super excited for that.
“Having driven there once before, I’m also pretty excited. I’ve watched Spa since a little kid and I cannot wait to run that first half of that track.
“As a child growing up in the sport and watching Formula One for so many years, and as I got older watching some of the sports cars around the world, you never necessarily thought you’d get the chance to go race at some of these tracks.
“So many of our guys have come up and said, ‘Thank you for the opportunity to go do this.’ It’s going to be as much of a dream for them as it is for us drivers.”