IMSA’s Tim Mayer – On 2006
Aiming For Excellence
Doing It With Passion
looking like a very important year for IMSA and the American Le
Mans Series, our man Tom Kjos got IMSA
Chief Operating Officer Tim Mayer to sit
down and answer some questions for us. Mostly, he was more than
a little forthright – quite direct, actually – and in
only a few cases was understandably reticent to provide detail.
Tell us about yourself – age, education, and any other relevant
or interesting background. Born and raised where? Describe your
previous background in motor sport.
Mayer: Well, thank you for starting with age. I am about
to turn forty; just waiting for that mid-life crisis to begin. I
was born and raised in the UK. My parents are both American, but
my Father, Teddy Mayer, moved to England in the early 1960s when
he and Bruce McLaren founded a small racing company. When I was
growing up, McLaren hospitality was my Mother and Pattie McLaren,
in the back of the transporter, making tuna fish sandwiches.
Before, during and after college, right up until
this spring, I spent twenty years in the US Army, both in the active
component and the reserves. And it was as I was contemplating leaving
active duty that I met with Emerson Fittipaldi, who offered me a
job as his bag-holder / business-manager. The attraction to me was
that Emerson was involved in so many different businesses and at
the time I was certainly not sure that I wanted to be involved in
I worked for Emerson for two years, then ran my
own business. I became immersed in a huge variety of things, from
producing the International Broadcast of the Champ Car series, in
conjunction with ESPN, to building the race track in Rio de Janeiro.
I have had some simply incredible (how many people get to charter
their own 747?) experiences. Six years later, I had a resumé
that was very diverse and Andrew Craig at Champ Car hired me to
coordinate all of the different operational departments at the then
CART offered me an extraordinary opportunity to
work in the business of motor racing at the very highest level.
I saw it all; the good, the great, the bad and the truly ugly. The
turmoil of the last few years has sadly obscured some of the truly
incredible feats that were accomplished in that series, both by
the teams and drivers, and by the organization.
I have known Scott Atherton for nearly ten years.
When my contract at CART expired, he was literally the first person
who e-mailed me. After a couple of months of discussion, where we
discovered very parallel ideas about motorports, he and Don brought
me on as the Chief Operating Officer of IMSA.
is a distinct entity from ALMS. What are the unique responsibilities
Yes, IMSA is a quite distinct entity, with its own personality.
We are blessed with some great officials, many of whom have been
with IMSA through thick and thin. Of course, the American Le Mans
Series takes the majority of our effort. However, we do sanction
four other series and in 2006 we will have five. As we grow those
series, they are taking increasing resources – and also provide
us with opportunities to grow our resources.
It is probably best to think of IMSA as the operational
side of the business. We have very little to do with the sales,
marketing or television side of the business, although having said
that, we are all in the same building, and I for one like to wander
the halls and offer my opinions, solicited or not. I am sure that
I drive John Evenson (VP of Broadcasting and Communications) absolutely
crazy. Of course, everyone is a producer when they watch TV –
but armed with a little bit of background, I am sure that I am unbearable.
Not that that it will stop me.
IMSA’s biggest responsibility is to safety,
and it is the first line item on my job description. It is one that
I take very seriously. Thereafter, our biggest role is to focus
on the basic show that our fans, promoters and participants expect
from a great name like IMSA.
and ALMS, the “headliner” racing series amongst those
it sanctions, must share a racing and market philosophy. How would
you describe that philosophy?
I can describe it simply in two words. EXCELLENCE and PASSION. They
fit hand in hand, and as long as we stay true to both, I am certain
that we will be successful. Why? Because the passionate pursuit
of excellence has been the foundation of our country since the beginning,
and it has never been more true today.
Someone recently asked me if our sport wasn’t
a little bit like being in the software market against Microsoft.
My reply was that I had no interest in taking on Microsoft on operating
systems. I want to be the Adobe, the Google, or the Oracle of software.
There is no doubt in my mind that the middle ground of motorsports
is covered ten times over in the country. Great – to me that
creates a clear path, where excellence is the only plan that will
work. Hard work? Yes – but that’s where the passion
comes in. Luckily, very successful people tend to be passionate
people. The Dysons, the Maraj’s, the Fields, the Macalusos
of the world – and that’s just a smattering of the prototype
guys… These are people who are phenomenally successful people,
by any measure; who understand what excellence is. I feel very lucky
to be able to mix with these people on a daily basis. It is honestly
Penske Racing-managed Porsche Prototype debuted at Laguna Seca.
Let me read to you what an executive of another road racing series
said about that entry and its effect.
look at ALMS and the new Porsche LMP2 car . . . I think it’s
the biggest threat to their existence. We believe the introduction
of that new car, with the factory budget, is going to have a chilling
effect. …if they wind up with 19-car fields instead of 25-car
fields, because of it, that’s gonna make some people who came
and watched this time not want to come and watch next time…Let
me suggest that Porsche doesn’t care about the LMP2 class.
What happens any time you hang your hat on the manufacturers is
that somebody in a boardroom decides that racing will help them
sell cars. And once they’ve accomplished that goal, they’re
done with it. Whatever they leave behind, whether it’s no
privateers or a series in shambles, it’s not their concern.”
you have a different point of view?
Yea, that is a pretty well crafted piece of PR bullshit –
pardon my French – designed to scare competitors and sow the
seeds of doubt. I really respect Rodger Edmondson; he certainly
has a gift of the gab, although I wonder what manufacturers in his
series think when they see him throwing out barbs like that.
Sports Car racing
has always been about excellence; never about finding the lowest
common denominator. Twenty, thirty and forty years on, which achievements
are we proud of as a nation? Mini-vans or the Ford GT40? What are
the lasting brands built on? Quality, excellence, determination
– a connection to human emotions, something that people can
feel passionate about.
has - and the American Le Mans Series does - stand for technical
achievement, fierce competition, the world’s best privateers
and well promoted events with great racing. It is possible to regulate
cars into such a tight box that they inevitably are close to each
other on the race track. But I don’t think that people are
that easily confused that they believe that this is great competition.
I have known Roger Penske for a long time. He is
one of the greatest examples of someone who is passionate in his
pursuit of excellence. But he can be beaten. The mark of a true
champion is not whether he was beaten, but whether he got up one
more time. Roger never gives up. Do I think he is going to be hard
to beat? – I hope so. I also know that the kind of competitors
that we have and want in the American Le Mans Series will just see
that as a better incentive to participate.
As for Porsche,
well they are fierce competitors too. Racing programs, all of them,
not just great ones, have natural life cycles. Somehow, in spite
of Mr. Edmondson’s cynicism, Porsche and their teams are still
working to create the best sports car programs in the world –
decades after their first; and so is Audi, and Chevrolet, and Mazda,
and Maserati, and Aston Martin, and Ferrari, and Saleen, and Panoz,
and Lola, and Courage and on and on.
were a key player in structuring the 2006 schedule, and as part
of that, in negotiations to race at Long Beach in April. Obviously,
that did not work out. We have heard that IMSA made a proposal,
and there were discussions with the promoters after that. Can you
describe some of the issues that were involved there, from the perspective
of IMSA, ALMS, and partners and sponsors?
We are incredibly pleased with our 2006 schedule. It delivers teams,
sponsors and manufacturers the best road racing venues in the country,
in a sensible order that keeps cost down and quality up. It has
allowed us to deliver one of the best television schedules in the
industry. The promoters that we are involved with have all committed
to a long term investment in the sport and are true partners in
the growth of the sport.
When I look at new venues, I look at the demographics
of the market, both in terms of numbers and in terms of who is there.
And in those terms, of course, Long Beach is a no-brainer, and we
certainly talked long and hard with the promoter.
However, there are other factors that have to be
considered. Are we going to be a headline show – or just one
more thing after the celebrity race, but just before the bands start?
Is there sufficient room to accommodate the level of show that we
bring, or are our tire manufacturers going to be forced into garage
basements? Long Beach is, and has been for more than thirty years,
an open wheel venue. That isn’t going to change. We had considerable
reservations going into the negotiations. Obviously it is no secret
that the Panoz organization has many points of common interest with
the Champ Car organization. But Jim Michaelian, one of the savviest
promoters I know, has always been very forthright with us. We thought
that there ways that we could make the equation work for both of
us. But when sponsorship interests (both ours and theirs) weighed
in to say that unless there was a perfect fit – don’t
force it. First Jim, and then we, concluded that we needed to wait
for another day.
are two new venues on the schedule, Houston and Miller Motorsports
Park. Why those two in particular?
Location, location, location.
Houston has always been a dream market for our kind
of racing. When you look at the demographics, it is simply staggering.
The city is sophisticated, diverse and energetic – our kind
of people. Our TV ratings are as good in Houston as anywhere in
And the venue is one of the most sensible that I
have ever seen for this kind of race. The track is fairly wide,
and will be fast, with lots of areas for overtaking. The infrastructure
of Reliant Park means that it will be a first class experience for
fans and teams alike – from the easy access, parking, all
the way though to basics like power and light.
There will always be a healthy tension between two
top level race series. And again, we had our reservations about
teaming up with Champ Car on a race weekend. Mike Lanigan, who is
the President of Mi-Jack and the promoter of the race, is kind of
a rough and tumble kind of guy (I don’t think that he would
mind me describing him like that) and in one of our first meetings
he said to me, “So Sebring and that Atlanta race are your
big races right?” He is not yet a sportscar expert. “OK
– so here’s my goal – I want to make those your
second and third best races.” That’s a pretty good guy
to be teamed up with!
Miller Motorsports Park is without question one
of the finest road courses to be built in a decade – anywhere.
That in itself is hard to ignore. So then you look at Salt Lake
City – which is one of the fastest growing cities in the country,
with an upscale, well educated population, it is even harder to
Then you add Larry Miller, the owner. You will never
meet a more modest person, but he attracts energy wherever he goes.
One of the most successful people in the state of Utah, he is truly
a sportscar fan. A passion for excellence is the trademark of everything
he does. So he really seals the deal. It doesn’t hurt, of
course, that he is the biggest sports promoter in the state already,
with a terrific support operation at the Delta Center and the Utah
Jazz basketball team. Everything he does is major league and we
are proud that we are going to run the Grand Prix of Utah with him.
course ALMS is not the only series sanctioned by IMSA. What are
the others? Tell us a little bit about each – its purpose,
We currently have four. The Star Mazda Series; Formula BMW USA;
the IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge Presented by Michelin; and the Panoz
Pro Series is the pinnacle of the Panoz racing school program,
and allows people to start as complete novices and end up racing
on some of the biggest race weekends in the country. Several of
the people who graduate from the program go on to more powerful
sportscar racing, or they have the option to stay with the Pro Series
and enjoy the competition at that level.
Mazda Series is currently one of the hottest series in
the world. I think that it was a case of right product at the right
time. With grids averaging a little over 40 cars, and with budgets
that make sense for a car and engine package that is challenging
enough to provide great training, but at a reasonable cost. Of course,
I may be biased, as the car is built here in the Elan factory, which
is part of the Panoz Group.
BMW USA is part of a worldwide effort on BMW’s behalf
to develop not just the next generation of stars, but the one after
that. Focused on drivers who are just stepping up from karts, or
other junior series, it teaches them about excellence from the very
start. Most of the drivers are under 18, and like most teenagers,
they have all the passion in the world. But BMW has created an excellent
training program, on everything from driving technique to business
skills and media training, so that they can focus that passion and
Our newest series
is the IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge presented by Michelin.
It is a spec series based on the Porsche GT3 Cup car, which races
around the world in the various Carrera Cup and the Porsche Cup
series. Our series is slightly different in that it is focused on
the “gentlemen drivers” and excludes professional drivers,
or those who have driven at too high a level. It is fun, it is challenging
and I think that it is great value. With the support of Michelin
and Porsche it has grown rapidly, and after just one year, I think
that our average grid size will be 40 cars.
IMSA is first and foremost a sportscar sanctioning
body. So everything that we do has to support that strategic mission
in some way. Each of these series shares a common thread. They are
focused on excellence and training. They each point the way up to
the next level. And in that way, we think that we are ensuring that
there is another generation of driver and team owner being pushed
up the pyramid, each of whom is focused on excellence – and
therefore the American Le Mans Series.
will soon announce a new sanctioned series. Can you tell us about
Sure. The IMSA Lites Series is going to be a sports
prototype series featuring SC3 and SC4 race cars. If that seems
like a thinly disguised way of saying that they are the “steps
before” the P1 and P2 cars – well it is. There is a
real tradition of sports racers in this country. But they have had
very little opportunity to race at pro events. We are going to be
creating that opportunity in what we think will be a cost effective
The cars will have spec sealed engines, both in
the SC3 and SC4 divisions, and the chassis choices will be limited
to three (and possibly four at SC4) including the Elan offerings.
This will ensure close competition, with real control on the costs,
but will also eliminate the stagnation that you sometimes get from
a spec series. It is also a way of growing the series quickly from
the outset, as some of the chassis builders have very large customer
Again, from my perspective, the strategic goal is
to support the American Le Mans Series. We felt that it was important
to have a sports-racer style series, but one where there were a
couple of classes on the track at the same time, so that there is
the kind of constant passing that you get in the American Le Mans
Series. This is going to be a great training ground for the prototype
driver of the future, or just a place for current sports racers
to compete at the next level.
participant growth – by teams and by manufacturers –
has been elusive. We are told we’ll see larger grids in 2006.
As a “rule-maker,” how does IMSA contribute to that
Stability and competition. Every conversation that I have with teams
features these two thoughts.
Race cars are expensive – and because ours
are the best, they certainly are. But when people realize how long
they are going to be able to run some of these cars – I mean
really run them, not just how long the President of the sanctioning
body says the rules are going to last – they become much more
interesting. After all, I think that the Dysons have proven that
their cars could remain competitive with the world’s best,
even if it did take development. People are beginning to realize
that development is an inevitable part of racing, even if you try
to homogenize the cars from the tires on up.
On the competitive
side, people have been watching our efforts in GT1 with some interest.
It is possible to balance performance, keep costs contained and
keep some of the purest, best racing around all at the same time
– not easy, but possible. The kind of people who are attracted
to our sport want to race with the world’s best, that’s
what turns them on. We have made considerable investment in the
technologies needed to make data driven decisions to manage the
racing; to keep the competition pure, challenging and exciting for
the fans and the participants.
had some experience with events on television before you joined
IMSA – what was it?
My first role in television was as the executive producer for Brazilian
television of the IndyCar (as it was then – now Champ Car)
series and of the Indy 500. During my tenure there, the production
team built the audience from five to six hundred thousand per race,
to well over six million per race. It was a rather unique situation,
and Brazilian television is certainly not similar to the US market.
I also worked with ESPN International on the production of the world-wide
others have been talking about their television success –
and questioning that of ALMS and IMSA. Can you describe what you
(IMSA and ALMS) are doing in that area, and how well you are doing?
What’s the old saying? – the best way to lie is to use
statistics. Two points on a graph don’t make a trend –
particularly when one of the points lies on a completely different
graph. Our feeling recently has been that there has been an effort
to bait us into a debate. Well, no dice. We’ve had sponsors
and participants call us and “Can you believe that stuff?
If you guys get into a debate on that, you’re silly”…so
we aren’t going to do that.
Their (that other series’ TV) package is perfect
for club racing – they have the most expensive form of club
racing – and really they’re doing a very nice job with
Our television package is simply not even in the
same league as that of Brand X. We spend considerable time, effort
– and yes, money – to deliver the best value anywhere
to our participants.
In 2006 it will include five out of ten races on
CBS, network television. The timeslots are terrific, the schedule
allows them to be on against the least confusion and the fact that
we have five in a row allows for great promotion. Our partners at
SPEED allow us to do things on television that simply cannot be
done on regular network TV. We will have all day coverage of the
Twelve Hours of Sebring; all day coverage of the Petit Le Mans;
and SPEED will cover and promote our drive to the championship though
some of the best venues on the planet. We have more technology being
delivered, new camera angles, and some of the best commentators
If that weren’t enough, we are covered live
across Europe, on one of the fastest growing networks around, Motors
TV. At last count Greenlight TV, our partners for worldwide distribution,
made sure that the American Le Mans Series was available weekly
in nearly 160 countries.
Frankly, our only interest is in providing excellent
entertainment for our fans, and excellent value for our participants
at every level. All indications are that we deliver that and it’s
just going to get better.
Scott Atherton alluded to strong entrant growth in 2006, including
both new European and Japanese manufacturer entrants in GT2, it
has been quiet – unusually so – on the “announcement”
front. Will that change? Should we be expecting some of those announcements
soon? We’ve been told to expect a major announcement in Europe
in the first few days of December – should we?
I don’t want to be coy – but one of
our great strengths is our ability to keep the confidences of the
manufacturers who confide in us. I honestly have never been in,
or heard of, a situation like ours. People are extremely candid
with us. In return, they expect, and get our discretion.
renowned Society Editor, Murphy H. Bear, recently wrote a column
in which he described rather high expectations for the coming season.
Let me read a bit of it to you.
Bear don’t know nuthin’ about trends, but the Bear does
know that LMP1 and GT2 are hot, hot, hot, GT1 is not, not (at least
for now), and LMP2 is, well, LMP2...Ten to twelve big (LMP1) prototypes?
It could happen… so Porsches (in GT2) will still number five
or six, but be outgunned by the combined numbers of challengers.
Murphy can’t remember when that has ever happened…Murphy
is thinking he’ll see a “core group” of thirty-six
on the grid, and be into the forties more than once (during the
season). Of course, don’t forget, the Bear is pretty irresponsible,
and all this could be just scurrilous rumor…”
Do you generally
agree with that assessment – will there be strong growth in
2006, and will it be particularly notable in LMP1 and GT2? Where
do you see the likely growth in 2006?
Well the Bear is a wise creature – although for some reason
partial to Minnesota in the winter.
Seriously though, I think that we can expect growth.
While I don’t think that four car classes are acceptable,
I also don’t think that large grids are the way to measure
Again – our brand is about the exotic; the
leading edge elite sportscars that have been the stuff of legend
– not about the herd. The generation of Lolas and the Audi
R8s have represented a stable generation of cars that have constantly
developed. We are going though a transition to a new generation,
but those cars are going to be a great investment for those interested
in being part of this elite heritage. Just look at the performance
all season long of the Fields. Just look at the performance of John
Macaluso. Look at what Jeff Giangrande’s ACEMCO team has accomplished
against the world’s best.
To me, those battles ought to catch the Bear’s
fur on fire – and with just a few more of those down the road,
wow – can you spell e-x-c-i-t-e-m-e-n-t !! I can – it’s
spelled A-L-M-S !!