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Lessons Learned In A Month of Action, Part 2: Asian Le Mans Series

Success but Asia is on a knife edge

Next up in a four part look back at the significant events so far in 2017 is the Asian Le Mans Series, second stop on the DSC Editor’s New Year long-haul jet-lag fest was Sepang for the season finale of the 2016/17 ACO-promoted Series, a simply massive step forward from earlier years.  Strong positive signs though are being masked a little by the current market environment in the region.

Here are the points arising as I see them

Major Growth

There’s no getting away from the fact that the major change seen in the 2016/17 season was growth in pure numbers in the Asian Le Mans Series and whilst some of the predicted mid season growth didn’t occur – in part because os the precarious situation in Asian GT racing at present, the reality was that sheer numbers (and the depth of quality contained within) were simply not an issue, a major step forward for the Series.

Variety too in all three major classes was good, even in the four car LMP2 class.

In LMP3 the Series saw the most varied grid anywhere, and close competition too with the Ginetta vs Ligier storyline going to the wire.

In GT there was great variety too though the Ferraris dominated perhaps a little too much, the new 488 GT3 seems stronger than the BoP process! (see below).

More to Come, Sprint Cup A Key Component

With teams talking of expanded programmes, some significant new teams emerging and more Asian teams than ever looking towards the global endurance scene, the signs are that, if carefully nurtured, that growth can be sustained, this despite a seriously tricky economic environment at present.

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A key ingredient looks set to be the summer 2017 repeat of the Asian Le Mans Sprint Cup, a now four race meeting opportunity (all at Sepang) for existing teams to attract new customers, for new teams to measure their progress, for drivers to put a toe in the water of a new discipline and for the Series generally to show what they offer without the relatively expensive commitment of a full season entry being made.

It worked, and worked well, in 2016 – a high proportion of those that took in the Sprint Series reappearing for the full winter Series. Signs at the Sepang final round of the 2016/17 Asian Le Mans Series were that it looks set to repeat that performance once again this year.

Balance of Performance?

In the GT class, had it not been for an excellent win from the Phoenix Racing Asia run Audi Team Korea squad at Sepang the season would have been a Ferrari-wash. In part that is because the new 488 GT3 is massively strong with huge next generation aero and big turbo power.

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In part though there need to be questions around the strength of the BoP process.  The writer here offers no answers, and claims very little insight, but puts in the observation that without a more level playing field, and with other market threats readily apparent (see below) the variety could evaporate very rapidly indeed.

Asia On A Knife Edge

Also a looming threat is the current battle between the established GT Asia and incoming Blancpain GT Asia packages.

It is very clear that teams are being asked to make a choice, GT Asia has now a firm alliance with the Asian LMS and that looks set to see some teams bound for the SRO-promoted new series potentially leaving the ACO-promoted enduro package.

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That’s a real shame, in a market that is rapidly maturing it’s sad that such a combative atmosphere exists, but it does!

The continuing animosity between the ACO and SRO camps is frankly readily apparent, a situation which both sides hold some responsibility for.

As a neutral observer the sensible options are clear, but alliancing, active measures to avoid calendar clashes in the interests of teams that wish to contest both Series, or even informal talks to find mutual middle ground, are some way in the distant future at present, and even then seem destined only to become reality if and when one Series reaches breaking point.

The answers from every player are predictable. It’s an open and potentially valuable market and they want to be there.  If that though comes at the expense of the corporate health of established teams in the region then those involved in the current debacle will correctly be viewed by some as wielding influence in an atmosphere of unenlightened self interest, and some of that flung mud will likely stick.

If these observations are incorrect then the answer is simple. Let’s see adjustments to calendars to negate clashes, and a marketplace that operates in the interests of the teams and not the promoters.  If that doesn’t happen then those involved in making those decision should not be surprised that the almost inevitable consequences come with a long-lasting blame game attached.

Ready to (Re) Launch

So what next for the Asian Le Mans Series?  Arguably the biggest leap has now been made, the establishment of a real core of teams interested in building a regional presence, or looking towards more global possibilities.

LMP3 in particular is building a network in Asia that could expand reasonably rapidly, with current teams already looking at expansion, new teams beginning to emerge and a ladder system showing the very first green shoots too.

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Asian LMS has a happy paddock and a well respected management team but there are clear ways in which the product could be more focused, and more easily accessible to a wider audience both in the emerging industry and in the wider public domain.

It’s very clear that those matters are under very active consideration, and that when they come they won’t be at the expense of the good work already achieved.

The Asian Le Mans Series is a success story in a scene that currently needs such positivity badly, here’s hoping that carries it forward and the European based politics of endurance and GT racing don’t stunt well planned growth.