Following the recent cancellation of this year's Shanghai 1000km race, the Automobile Club de l'Ouest has forged ahead with plans of launching its Asian Le Mans Series. Organizers announced Thursday that the series will begin in 2009 with a two-race schedule, bundled with incentives aimed at attracting American and European teams.
ACO General Director Remy Brouard made the announcement as part of the organizer's official press conference today at Circuit de La Sarthe. The Fuji 1000km in Japan will be held on October 30-November 1, 2009, with the Shanghai 1000km set one week later. Additionally, each class champion will receive an automatic entry to the following year's 24 Hours of Le Mans, making the trip all the more worthwhile for teams overseas.
"It will be a supplementary chance for the American and European teams at the end of their championship to pre-qualify for the Le Mans 24 Hours for the following year," Brouard said. "The ACO has decided to organize this Asian Le Mans Series only over two weekends, but in 2010, we'd like to develop this championship in other countries."
Bouard said they have received inquiries from both organizers in India and Malaysia regarding holding a race in the future. There's a strong possibility of moving into these countries in the years to come.
ACO Japan president Yojiro Terada, and owner/driver of the Terramos Courage LC70 Mugen, is expected to be one of the Asian-based teams represented in the series, and Bouard said he's hopeful of more joining the fray. There has also been an increased presence of sports car racing in China, as Cong Fu Cheng will become the first Chinese driver to start at Le Mans this weekend.
While China will hold its first Le Mans-branded race next year, it won't be the first to hit the shores of Japan. The Japan Le Mans Challenge ran from 2006 and 2007, organized by SERO. The ACO took over control in 2007, but elected to abandon the lackluster championship in favor of launching the Asian Le Mans Series.