Eric Gilbert is the founder of Motorsport.com and has been its art director since 1999. Motorsport.com was acquired in 2010 by Net Element International, Inc. (NASDAQ: NETE) and is now one of the top online destination on motor sports. As a member of the racing media community, Eric Gilbert has been covering and attending auto races since 2000 as a photojournalist, including endurance racing. Among others, he has covered the 24 Hours of Le Mans since 2002. Last year, he also covered the Super Gseries in Japan.
How did you get to know the Asian Le Mans Series? "The “Asian Le Mans Series” name was used for the first time at the Okayama event, back in 2009. Ever since that time, the idea of having an actual full endurance racing series in Asia, based on the ACO rules, has been in the air. As a matter of fact, the whole idea was so much in everyone’s mind and made so much sense that it didn’t come as a surprise when the ACO formally announced it at their annual press conference last year at Le Mans. It was just a question of time before a series with direct links to Le Mans, and based on the model of the European and American Le Mans series would be launched in Asia."
As a Professional Motorsports Journalist, What do you think about Asian LMS? Do you have any suggestions?
"Based on what I saw last year at Super GT races, whether in Japan and in Malaysia, as well as the ever-growing racing scene in China, there is definitely a place for a professional endurance series in Asia. I think there are a couple of challenges ahead, though:
• Asia is huge, so how ‘inclusive’ should this series be, in terms of geographical coverage? For instance, I would seriously consider adding a race in India.
• Car count: the number of entrants will of course be a major challenge – it is a challenge for mature series, so it is an even bigger one for a new series. And to make things worst, we’re back to the chicken-and-egg scenario: fans will come to the races if they see a lot of cars, and teams/sponsors tend to enter races when they see a lot of fans. At any rate, everything has to be done to have large starting grids. To that effect, allowing GT3 (and Super GT GT300) cars is a step in the right direction. Maybe I would have gone further and try to find a way to include GT500 cars, too (in some kind of balanced of performance prototype class).
• Tradition: building it but also benefiting from established one. Whether in America and in Europe, tradition is a major part of successful events in Endurance racing: Le Mans (of course), Nürburgring 24 Hours, Sebring, Petit Le Mans: all those events have built a strong tradition throughout the years and not surprisingly, have become not only major race events but also, ‘happenings’ that reach out to a more global audience. The Asian Le Mans Series should also try to connect with well-established events in Asia: Macau is the first one I’m thinking of.
• Go where the fans are and work with them in building the “Asian Le Mans Series” brand and tradition. Here, so many things could be said, but in general, I would definitely tend to focus on races that are close to major cities and even city races: again, Macau is a major success, but why not a race in Tokyo - walking in different areas of Tokyo last year, whether Shibuya or Shiodome, I couldn’t help notice how those city streets would be the perfect scene for an endurance race. I would also see how to leverage the social media community and online gaming sphere to tie in the fans and the drivers."
The main rule is that every car shall including at least one Asian driver, and also amateur and professional drivers will be combined together. What do you think about this? "In general, I tend to prefer series where the rules are at a minimum and not constraining. I can understand the reasons behind the specific Asian driver rule, but I honestly don’t see the real long term benefits of it. I think there is enough talent in South East Asia and Japan without having to support it with an actual rule. But then again, Super GT has a similar rule and it seems that it has been a positive factor, so maybe I’m wrong here. As for the pro-am format, many series share this approach, or something similar. I know it has been a factor contributing to the success of the Blancpain Series in Europe: finding the right balance between having young/professional race talents and high-level gentlemen drivers. I find the concept interesting, but I have no specific opinion here."
Asian Le Mans Series