72nd Le Mans 24 Hours

Doug Robinson – Executive Director, IMSA (at Le Mans)

dailysportscar.comTuesday, 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.

The conversation 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.”

dailysportscar.comAs 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.

“We’re seeking 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 the field.

“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 network TV.

“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 that.”

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)?

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