With successful sports car racing series in North America and Europe, Le Mans-style racing now heads to the Far East. The Automobile Club de l'Ouest (ACO) announced Monday the formation of the Asian Le Mans Series, which will begin in 2009. As a precursor, a 1000-km race will be held at Shanghai this November, with organizers providing extra incentive for teams to make the trip.
The Shanghai 1000 km, scheduled for November 1-2, will be the first ACO-sanctioned standalone race (other than the 24 Hours of Le Mans) in nearly five years. The Le Mans 1000 km, held on November 9, 2003, was a one-off race which kick started the Le Mans (Endurance) Series the following year. Thirty-seven cars entered that event, including two teams from America.
While not designating the Shanghai 1000 km as an official Le Mans Series (LMS) race, the ACO hopes to fill the field with both European and American-based teams. The incentive to compete comes in the form of automatic entries to the 2009 edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Winners of the race in all four categories (LM P1, LM P2, GT1 and GT2) will receive invitations to the twice-around-the-clock French classic.
The ACO is ramping up efforts to make the Shanghai 1000 km as much of a success as its last standalone event. In 2009, plans are in place for the Asian Le Mans Series to include at least two races, one in China and another in Japan.
"Furthermore, Chinese partners and sponsors are directly involved in this project, which has already obtained the backing of major international motorcar manufacturers. The size of the marketing budget and television coverage will make it one of the blue ribbon events of the 2008 motor racing season," said a statement from the ACO.
The ACO had previous interest in Asia with the Japan Le Mans Challenge. The Sports Car Endurance Race Operation (SERO) sanctioned series ran from 2006-2007, utilizing ACO style rules and the Le Mans branding. However, undersized grids and low popularity warranted SERO to hand reigns over to the ACO. The ACO in turn elected to cancel the championship and instead build a new Asian championship from the ground-up.