Founded in 1906, the Automobile Club de I’Ouest (ACO) is one of the oldest cars clubs in the world and the biggest jewel in their crown is the LE MANS 24 HOURS. It is the world’s oldest sports car endurance race and has been held annually since 1923 near the town of Le Mans, France. From there, the Le Mans Series (Europe) and the American Le Mans Series (U.S.) was created.
When I was at Sepang International Circuit for the Malaysia Merdeka Endurance Race two weekends ago, I received a message in Facebook from Remy Brouard, ACO Director of International Development, who asked to meet. Together with Mark Thomas of S2M Group, they gave me a better understanding of the upcoming Asian Le Mans Series (ALMS) to be launched for the 2013 season.
ALMS will be owned by ACO, but run and promoted by S2M Group. Close to finalising the calendar for 2013, there will be an official announcement of the ALMS provisional calendar on 17 September (next Monday). At the moment, it is confirmed that there will be three races in China (April, May and July), one race in Korea (tentatively on 4 August but is to be confirmed), one race in Japan at Fuji Speedway on 22 September and one race in Indonesia at Sentul on 8 December.
Each of these six races will be three hours in duration and registration will open on 1 October. There are four categories: LMP2, LMPC (prototype class) GTE, as well as the promotional GTC category (consisting of the FIA GT3s, GT300s and single-make Cup cars). All four categories will embrace the Pro-Am driver categorisation system, but there must be at least one Asian driver (by passport) in the driver line-up.
The winner of the LMP2, LMPC and GTE categories will win an invitation to race at the legendary LE MANS 24 HOURS in 2014 (though the winning LMPC team will need to step up to LMP2). For the GTE or LMP2 cars, there is also the opportunity to participate at the World Endurance Championship (WEC) races in Asia (namely in Fuji and Shanghai) as potential ‘wild card’ entries to earn the chance to participate in LE MANS 24 HOURS.
In August, GTA Co. Ltd, creator and promoter of the Super GT Series announced that the Super GT300 cars will be accepted for the ALMS, in the GTC category. Teams and drivers can run the GT300s in both championships as the calendars for 2013 have been designed to avoid clashes.
Here’s what Remy, Mark and I chatted about:
Q: How did the idea for the Asian Le Mans Series (ALMS) come about?
A: ACO started looking to expand its global footprint 12 years ago and then the American Le Mans Series was started in 1999. Eight years ago, the European Le Mans regional series was started. After that, the next market is without a doubt, Asia. The first Japanese team who went to Le Mans was in 1972 or 1973 and over the last few years, there have been one-off Le Mans races in Asia. Five years ago, the decision was made to have a proper Asian Le Mans Series instead of just one race a year.
Q: What is the main objective of the Series?
A: We want to create and sustain this as Asia’s premier endurance motorsports event, embodying the spirit and passion of Le Mans. This pan-Asian Series will have an initial focus on China and we will use this to bring to the Asian consumers a new and exciting racing product with the traditional festive atmosphere of the Le Mans brand.
Q: The plan is to have three-hour races; will you increase the duration of the races as you go along?
A: We have to walk before we run. We will progress the series along with the drivers, as they also need time to develop. We hope to increase the races to four hours in 2014 and slowly go up to six hours or more if opportunity beckons.
We have to take this step by step and need to be realistic. We can’t come straight in with a 24-hour race for example – it will frighten people and the budget for a 24-hour race is too much for the development stage of the region. We hope it will happen one day in the future but it is a long way to go as the motorsports level here is not experienced enough.
Q: We are here at Sepang now but I noticed that Malaysia is not on your calendar for the inaugural year.
A: For sure, Malaysia is a good place to develop this series and Sepang is one of the core places of motorsports in Asia. We definitely look forward to having Sepang on the ALMS calendar soon.
Q: What is the goal for your opening season?
A: In the first year, our goal is to have a grid consisting of 18 to 24 cars. At present we have over 70 expressions of interest from manufacturers and teams interested in entering the Series. This is exceeding our expectations and all is looking good for a strong grid in the 2013. We have been working very hard discussing with manufacturers and teams. We know we will have strong support from finite works teams but we will be happy if we can get about 20 cars.