72nd Le Mans 24 Hours
Robinson – Executive Director, IMSA (at Le Mans)
June 7: Scrutineering at Le Mans, and a quiet period during
the lunchtime break gave the Ed. a chance to pin down IMSA’s
Executive Director, for an update on several things ALMS / IMSA-related.
ranged far and wide, but came to a focus with the word ‘promotion’.
IMSA is very strong in many areas, none more so than in promotion
of events, but Doug Robinson isn’t resting on any kind of
laurels, far from it.
“We have a full-time
promotions staff, and last year they did a better job of promoting
our events than ever before. But we haven’t sat back: we now
have Scott Duncan (Vice President of Sales and Marketing for the
ALMS), John Evenson (Vice President of Communications for the ALMS)
and Tim Mayer (Chief Operating Officer of IMSA) with us, and Tim
in particular has released me from administrative duties, to allow
me to focus more fully on sporting and technical rules.
“We are trying
to get our operation as close to perfect as we can, to step up our
game so that we can attract larger crowds, for example. We’re
not satisfied with 20 or 25,000 spectators, we want 50,000 or more
at every event, not just the endurance races. We’re working
hard at it, year after year.”
dsc readers are aware, the ALMS is interestingly poised in two important
respects: the overall car count and number of manufacturers currently
involved. Doug Robinson is “concerned” about the former,
and actively working to raise the number of the latter.
out manufacturers who are interested enough to design and develop
cars for customers, for works-assisted teams or as works cars.”
This is the key area
for the ALMS in the coming months.
But Doug Robinson can
rightly feel some satisfaction with the current car count, in what
is a difficult, transition period for ACO-regulated events.
“We have approximately
30 top-line cars that will appear in all of our races this year.”
The ALMS also has “almost
entirely new or newly new cars in our GT and GTS classes,”
he points out. “For example, we have the Lamborghinis coming
very soon, and ACEMCO has two Saleens, the only two on the planet
with all of the latest improvements.”
But he would like to
average 40 cars at each race, and the interesting scenarios that
are going to be played out soon will concern future additions to
“We are working
very hard to get the manufacturers back into our series,”
says the Executive Director, “but we have room for the best
privateers too. Our mission though is to attract the manufacturers
who want to race at the spectator events, who want to be seen on
“That may mean
that some privateer teams get bumped out, but we are trying to maintain
the highest level of professional drivers, plus the semi-pro / gentlemen
drivers: we have room for both.
“With 40 the target
for most races, we can still attract 50-60 at Sebring and Petit
Le Mans, and the growth of these events will see our spectator following
continue to build.”
There’s a potential
issue looming regarding manufacturers coming into the ALMS in the
GTS class, and finding, as they do now, that they’re being
beaten by privateers in LMP1. “Our customers may not understand
It hasn’t been
a problem so far though, has it? GM haven’t publicly given
even a hint that racing for the GTS win – and being beaten
by, say, a Dyson Lola or Champion Audi – puts them off in
the slightest. GM is after all bringing along the C6-R for 2005.
Perhaps GM really would prefer to race for the overall win though?
But the possibility of
more privateer prototypes, for example, doesn’t seem to be
the direction that the ALMS would like to be heading.
“In each class,
we want the best,” confirms Robinson. “The prospect
of more existing (privateer) cars is a good thing, but we do need
entrants who are able to keep investing in new equipment. Americans
do like to see new ‘stuff’: to attract 50,000 people
to the race track, we do need new cars. If someone is going to win
in a five year old chassis, that probably isn’t ideal for
the series, but we will allow homologated chassis the chance to
race. We’re not going to turn people away.”
It’s finding the
balance between old and new that is the challenge for the balance
of this year and into next; the very clear ‘official rumour’
that Mazda is exploring the best way to become involved in the ALMS
is very encouraging, and the next few months might see Porsche’s
and Audi’s prototype plans firming up. Presumably Mazda executives
have noticed how Audi’s market share of road cars has grown
in North America, as the R8 has dominated on the ALMS race tracks
– and at Le Mans.
Two other matters were
brought up in conversation with Doug Robinson, and he was more than
happy to go on the record regarding both the ALMS schedule, and
the long-standing issue of standardising GT / GTS regulations.
On the ALMS schedule:
“I believe it’s probable that we’ll have at least
one race between Sebring and the start of Le Mans activities next
year. In an ideal world we’d like to see the Le Mans Test
Day nearer the race. Traditionally our competitors like starting
their season at Sebring, and we’re investigating the possibility
for next year of a couple of races in April.”
On the consolidation
of one set of rules for GT and GTS cars: “I believe there
is a 95% chance that the ACO and FIA will converge on a nearly identical
rules package for GT and GTS cars. With Lamborghini and then Aston
Martin preparing to race with us, a standardised set of rules will
help these manufacturers to prepare their cars for any series.”
As we prepare to post
this item a week after meeting Doug Robinson (the Le Mans 24 Hours
did tend to get in the way of more rapid posting) we find that the
meeting between the FIA, the ACO and the manufacturers has taken
place today, June 15. “I’ll be in that meeting,”
said IMSA’s Chief Executive Officer last Tuesday.
We look forward
to discovering the conclusions of those in attendance. Norbert Singer
representing Porsche (talking to Allan McNish below, with Doug Robinson
and Marty Kaufman looking on)?