The first season of the Asian Le Mans Series wrapped up last weekend at Sepang, which saw OAK Racing Team Total claim the overall victory and the LMP2 championship.
While faced with low car counts in the opening rounds, the season finale in Malaysia delivered a respectable 14-car field, with more entries expected for next year, which will also see a an expansion to five rounds.
FOX Sports SPEED caught up with Asian LMS Managing Director Mark Thomas to get his thoughts on the year and what’s in the works for 2014 and beyond.
John Dagys: Has 2013 met your expectations and what kind of car count are you expecting for next year?
Mark Thomas: “I think we’ve done a good job getting ourselves established this year. We’ve built up a little bit of good credibility. Whether it’d be our current teams or the partners, they’re in… and they’re coming back next year. And we have a whole other group of teams that will join us.
“I’m not going to say we’re going to have 24 cars on the grid next year, but I honestly believe from the numbers that we have already come together, we’ll have a core grid of at least 16 cars, and then depending on each race, we’ll have a few individual race entries that will boost it up.
“I’m cautiously more optimistic than I ever have been and I think it was a very important year to get it off the ground and actually get it going. We survived and we’re still here. We’re going to fight another day next year and hopefully for many years to come!”
JD: Do you see interest predominately from Asian or European-based teams?
MT: “Most of the interest is coming from other Asian teams. We probably at the moment got about half of the really good teams in Asia already on board. There’s another half of those who were sitting on the fence at the beginning of the year [questioning if the series] was going to happen and didn’t make the jump this year.
“I believe those other quality teams in Asia, we’ll get most of them for next year. Then we my get one or two [additional] European teams but the vast majority will be Asian-based.”
JD: What are your expectations for the new CN class for 2014?
MT: “We have a lot of people in Asia who feel LMP2 is a big first step into prototypes and they need an entry level prototype to get to grips of what it’s all about in terms of racing. I think budget-wise, if you look at the young drivers coming through, the CN category offers a very, very well-priced platform for those young Asian drivers.
“If you look in the series like the Asia Cup or Formula Masters, there’s a whole bunch of young Asian drivers that have reasonable budgets but they need to make that step through something a little bit under LMP2. We believe CN is perfect for that.”
JD: Will the CN cars eventually be integrated into the LMP3 platform, which is scheduled to be launched in 2015?
MT: “The ultimate goal is to run a LMP3 category. I think the ACO is pretty clear on that. The CN [platform] is a transitional situation, where we’ll guarantee that those cars can run in our series for two years. Ultimately, I think the goal is that category becomes LMP3.”
JD: This year’s round in Fuji saw a combined Asian LMS race with GT300 cars from Super GT. Will that continue in 2014?
MT: “We will be racing with them again on the same weekend in Fuji next year. Our collaboration with the Japanese partners at GTA is going really well.
“We’re debating whether we race together or have two separate races. A lot of it depends on exactly how many cars we’re going to have. We hopefully will have too many cars to make a combined race possible. And that would be a very good place for us to be in. I think we’re probably looking at two separate races next year.”
JD: Do you see Super GT and the GT Asia series as competition, or do you think there’s room for all three series in this market?
MT: “The way I believe is that we’re all in the same boat trying to promote an embryonic motorsports industry out here. Competition is something we shouldn’t talk about. It’s just about getting the whole machine of motorsports working.
“I believe different people would choose different types of series based on… Do they like sprint racing? Do they like endurance? What’s their budget? Everyone is different. If you can support each other, ultimately, I think all of those series can be successful. It’s not a case of competition, it’s a case of growing the whole cake instead of cutting smaller slices.”