Scott Atherton: Never more confident in the outlook for the 2010 American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón.
American Le Mans Series President and CEO Scott Atherton wishes he had more fingers. As he begins to count all the positive and progressive things that have happened during the offseason, he runs out of digits quickly. The toes may be next. As the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón rolls into its 12th season March 20 with the 58th running of the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring presented by Fresh from Florida in a few weeks, Atherton’s enthusiasm is evident.
“I know that according to the pundits, this season is not supposed to give much indication that things are turning around yet,” Atherton said during Media Day at the Series’ annual Winter Test at Sebring International Raceway, “but sometimes the pundits are wrong – at least when it comes to the American Le Mans Series.”
Atherton began his address to the media at the annual Sebring Winter Test with an emphasis on the record number cars, 28, attending the test. Later in the evening, he helped introduce Tequila Patrón as the presenting sponsor of the world’s leading sports car racing championship.
“This bodes well for the 12 Hours,” said Atherton, who predicted a field of 35-plus cars for the season opener. Last year’s field was 26.
The addition of the Le Mans Prototype Challenge class is one of many new features in the 2010 championship.
NEW CLASS STRUCTURE
One factor in the Series’ rising popularity and car counts was its ability to incorporate the desires of fans and competitors in combining the prototype and GT classes while at the same time creating two “Challenge” classes in each group to develop the talented pool of new, up-and-coming drivers and teams. The GT Challenge class was actually instituted mid-season last year at Miller Motorsports Park in Utah. Cars competing in that class, which is currently comprised of Porsche 911 GT3 Cup cars but will eventually involve other marquees and manufacturers, will run the full race schedule in 2010. The LMP Challenge class will be comprised of at least a half dozen ORECA-Courage FLM09 prototypes. These cars debuted last year as support events for the Le Mans Series in Europe and the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
CONTENT IS KING
Among the new full-season entries for 2010 is the two-car Ferrari F430 GT team of Scott Sharp’s Extreme Speed Motorsports. Sharp has persuaded long-time Flying Lizard Motorsports driver Johannes van Overbeek to be his seatmate, while Ed Brown and Guy Cosmo fill car number two.
Veteran Paul Gentilozzi launches Jaugar’s first full-time sports car effort in more than 15 years with a Jaguar XKRS for his JaguarRSR team. He and Marc Goossens will drive the full season with appearances by the likes of Scott Pruett, Tomy Drissi and Ryan Dalziel throughout the year.
Team Falken Tire with its Porsche 911 GT3 RSR is one of several new full-seasons additions to the 2010 grid.
Black Swan Racing returns under the direction of environmental developer Tim Pappas, who will campaign a Porsche 911 GT3 RSR with former Porsche Supercup champion and past Le Mans 24 Hours LMP2 winner Jeroen Bleekemolen of Monaco. The Black Swan entry is one of four Porsches expected to grace the Sebring GT2 grid. Also among them is Team Falken Tire’s entry, which will compete for the full season with Wolf Henzler and Bryan Sellers driving.
In LMP, Lord Drayson returns for a full-season effort with teammate Jonny Cocker in a new Lola-Judd coupe. The Drayson-Cocker partnership competed in the full 2008 season and entered its new closed-cockpit prototype in the final two rounds of 2009. Five-time Le Mans champion and former Audi factory pilot Emanuele Pirro will join them for the endurance races at Sebring, Monterey and Petit Le Mans as well as the 24 Hours of Le Mans to which the team has been invited. Drayson is Great Britain’s Minister of Science and Innovation and a worldwide voice on environmental and sustainable energy issues.
Atherton also pointed out that several international heavyweights will appear periodically on the American Le Mans Series grid this year, beginning with Sebring.
Peugeot, winner last year at both the 24 Hours of Le Mans and Petit Le Mans, announced Monday a two-car factory effort for the season opener. Meanwhile Aston Martin Racing, with last year’s LMP2 champion Adrian Fernandez, will race early in the season at both Sebring and Long Beach as it prepares to tackle the formidable Peugeots and Audis at Le Mans in June. Both, as well as other international teams, could return for Road Atlanta’s Petit Le Mans, one of the three events in the ACO’s inaugural Intercontinental Cup comprised of one marquee endurance race in Europe, North America and Asia.
The enthusiasm for 2010 does not rest only in new teams, classes and drivers, however.
Defending LMP1 champion Patrón Highcroft Racing will be among the favorites in the newly combined LMP class. David Brabham returns for Highcroft with new teammates Simon Pagenaud, who drove with Gil de Ferran last year, and Marino Franchitti. Dyson Racing, equipped with its Mazda-powered Lola coupe along with the Porsche RS Spyder of Team Cytosport – making its first full-season run – will also battle among the prototypes. Stellar independents Intersport Racing with Jon and Clint Field and Autocon Motorsports – bound for Le Mans in June – will also give chase.
Meanwhile, the GT class is expected to see a season-long battle for the ages with three Porsche teams headed by defending champion Flying Lizard Motorsports, a two-car effort from BMW Rahal Letterman Racing Team, the formidable Risi Ferrari team, Robertson Racing and Corvette Racing –the most successful team in American Le Mans Series history – vying for podiums all season long in addition to the aforementioned Extreme Speed Ferraris and JaguarRSR.
“This is the strongest GT class we have ever had,” said Atherton.
GROWTH IN CORPORATE PARTNERS
Among the most rewarding developments for Atherton and the Series has been the influx of new corporate partners. The Series announced Tequila Patrón of the Patrón Spirits Company as its presenting sponsor at a lavish reception Monday night, while earlier in the day declaring Yancey’s Fancy Cheese as its official cheese. Both partners plan aggressive in-market activation around all events in 2010. Atherton said several others would likely be announced within the next several weeks.
“There is nothing that sustains and builds a motorsports series better than great content and great corporate partners,” said Atherton. “We have taken a significant step forward in both those areas and I am confident that 2010 is going to be a very good year for the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patro?n.”
GLOBAL LEADER GREEN RACING
Another area that has made the American Le Mans Series distinct is its position as the Global Leader in Green Racing. The Series introduced its first alternative fuel in 2006 – coincidentally at Sebring – with the diesel-powered Audi R10 TDI and has added a new alternative energy or powertrains every year since. In 2008, the U.S. Department of Energy and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency along with SAE International declared the American Le Mans Series the only motorsports series to meet its green racing protocols. The government agencies then created an end-of-season Green Challenge™ award to go to manufacturers whose efforts exhibited the most fuel efficiency, least environment impact and best overall performance for the year among prototypes and GT cars.
Last year, Michelin created an ancillary award, the MICHELIN® GREEN X® Challenge given to teams each race with a season-ending award to the top prototype and GT team. Acura and Porsche won the DOE-EPA Green Challenge™ manufacturer award while Lowe’s Fernandez Racing and Flying Lizard Motorsports took home the respective MICHELIN® GREEN X® Challenge awards.
“Auto manufacturers and our government leaders confirm that racing series which provide opportunities to showcase and develop new consumer technologies – with an emphasis on the environment – are the future,” said Atherton. “We have never been more confident in our position and look forward to expanding our green racing initiatives to better serve the teams and manufacturers competing with us. We are ideally positioned to take advantage of and benefit from the current and future focus of manufacturers’ innovations in sustainable energies.”
GROWING TELEVSION PRODUCT AND FAN BASE
The 2010 season is not only about increased car counts, new partners and solidifying its role as the Global Leader in Green Racing. The Series averaged nearly 80,000 fans per race event last year while taking its television product to more than 600 million homes worldwide. This season, it plans to include live streaming of all SPEED qualifying and introduced an innovative programming concept for its two CBS telecasts of races at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and Mid-Ohio.
Intersport, a seven-time Emmy award-winning production company best known recently for the film “Truth in 24” that it co-produced with NFL Films, will produce two 90-minute shows for each of the CBS races, focusing on the stories behind and within the race as well as the battles that eventually produce the race champions.
“You will see the American Le Mans Series as you have not seen it before,” predicted Atherton. “And it will be good … very good.”
The American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón will open its 12th season with America’s greatest sports car race, the 58th Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring presented by Fresh from Florida from March 17-20. The green flag will fall at 10:35 a.m. on Saturday, March 20 with live coverage on SPEED. Visit the American Le Mans Series’ schedule page for ticket and accommodation information.
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