ALMS President and CEO Atherton Addresses International Media Corps at Inaugural "Wheels Down Winter Test"
Braselton, Ga. - The American Le Mans series conducted its inaugural "Wheels Down Winter Test" at Sebring International Raceway as cars from all four classes, including three reigning championship teams began preparation for America's oldest and longest running auto race - the 53rd Annual Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring.
ALMS President and CEO Scott Atherton hosted media from around the world at a luncheon in which he proclaimed America's fastest growing race series to be in "an unprecedented growth mode".
The following is a Q&A with Atherton based upon remarks to the media during the week, which featured the unveiling of the much anticipated Aston Martin race team and drivers.
Q: By what criteria do you claim that the ALMS is in an unprecedented growth mode?
Scott Atherton: First is spectator counts. Our 2004 season was our best ever, starting with Sebring last year in which attendance eclipsed even that of its 50th year in 2002. We saw a 15-20% growth rate at almost all of our events . Second is our TV ratings. We saw a 25% growth rate in our network TV ratings last year - the best ratings we've ever had. This in addition to our new three-year agreements with our TV partners CBS and SPEED . Third is sponsorships. These are the lifeblood of any series and we are up more than 100% from a year ago. We not only have new sponsors such as Klein Tools, MBQuart and ProSpeed GS610, but we are seeing significant increases with our existing corporate sponsorship renewals.
Q: That's quite a jump in corporate sponsorship investment. To what do you attribute that increase?
Atherton: Because of the high-end demographics that our series attracts, we have been able to take our product beyond those companies endemic to motorsports. The ALMS is building a base with premium brands as evidenced with our recently announced partnerships in the home/car audio and hand tools categories. We're getting the message across that if you want a premium demo, then we can deliver that. There is not a better return on investment than the ALMS in that regard. When you lay our numbers next to those supposed-similar or perceived-comparable race series, there is no question that we offer the best ROI for our sponsors. Simply put, the ALMS is delivering results for our sponsors that is second to none.
Q: What about car counts?
Atherton: While we clearly acknowledge that this is a category everyone wants to talk about, it needs to be put in contest of everything else we have just mentioned. The health and status of any races series is determined by many factors and measurements and not just car counts as much as we wish it was different, the fact is with any truly world class series, there has been and always will be some degree of ebb and flow when it comes to car counts. We are a world-class motorsports series that is solely based on the common world platform that will soon be confirmed by the ACO and the FI@!Atherton: To that end, we are not for everyone. The pipeline of new cars, both prototypes and GTs is starting to refill. The new Lola LMP car is nearly complete; the new Aston Martin is on the track and there is more to come. If I could tell you everything I know, car counts would not be a compelling story.
Q: So you feel that situation is improving?
Atherton: I, along with IMSA officials, have made recent stops at every conceivable manufacturer in Europe, America and several Japanese who could compete in the ALMS. We are encouraged by that trip although there is much we can't talk about because of confidentialities put in place while we were there, but suffice it to say that involvement in world-class sports car racing is on a lot of manufacturer's agendas.
Q: What are some of the stories to look for then this coming season?
Atherton: Well, one note of significance is that we have in Dave Maraj's Champion Audi team, a team that will be a serious threat to win the overall championship at Le Mans this year. If that occurs, it would be the first American-based team to win a Le Mans since the Ford GT-40 in 1967 and the first American privateer team to ever win at Le Mans. The American Le Mans Series usually has 3 out of 4 class winners at Le Mans so to have Champion Audi bring the trophy back to America would be a big story indeed.