Monday, March 22, 2010

Enhancing the Asian Le Mans Series

John Marine | 3/22/2010 03:09:00 AM | | | |
Asia has a variety of tough circuits and a variety of racing series. That's why when the Asian Le Mans Series was founded, this was hope that sportscar racing in Asia can thrive. I thought this was a great opportunity for this series to showcase some of the finest tracks in Asia and among Pacific Islands. At present, the AsLMS is only a one or two race deal where winners can advance to the following year's 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Asian Le Mans Series
^ from: - the Asian Le Mans Series logo

--- My Concerns of the Asian Le Mans Series ---
I think Asia has a great variety of great racing courses. The inclusion of newer venues like the Korean International Circuit, the forthcoming future F1 Grand Prix of India course, and the unreal Yas Marina Circuit gives hope that Asia can have its fair share of Asian representation in a true international series. I want this series to thrive because I love sportscar racing and think Asia has a great variety of tracks. While I'm normally impartial to Japan, there are many other courses that are quite challenging. It all depends on how to make the series better and bring it to some level of respectability.

I'm also concerned about not enough support. Sportscar racing is an expensive deal, though not as much as the exorbitant budgets and expenses of Formula 1. Some of the prototypes from the former Japan Le Mans Challenge were mostly formula cars with some extra bodywork to them to turn them into prototypes. I think there was a Mugen-sponsored team that had their own Courage LC75. And when I heard of how one race ended up, a depressing 12 entries raced in the JLMC for a race. It can be tough trying to invite other teams from other series to compete in the Asian Le Mans Series. This is unless there are teams willing to test some of Asia's better race tracks. The best sportscar-type racing in Asia is in Japan's Super GT series. So if there was a way to get more involvement, it would help to expand the series. I would most be happy if an average of at least 20 to 25 cars fill the grid for each race.

--- Tracks to Consider ---
I've mentioned that Asia has a great variety of tracks. To prove the point, I'll mention a variety of courses that I think would make a true championship of Asian sportscar racing. This may even include a non-Asian venue. This section of the blog is perhaps the real heart of what I've wanted to discuss. So have a good read!

Track Basics.
The basics for me is that you have to have a good variety of courses in Japan and mainland Asia. How do you accomplish this? That will depend on the Asian Le Mans Series' management. Only two races have been either raced on or would-have-been raced on for the series- Shanghai International Circuit and Okayama International Circuit (which I've always known as TI Circuit Aida).

In addition, I'd like to see a combination of venues comprising four key sectors:
* Japan/Korea Republic/China
* Southeast Asia
* South Asia
* Middle East (excluding Egypt)

These are really the four sectors that I know have motor racing tracks. The venues don't all have to be FIA-quality racing courses. You'll see in my next section that there are many courses that would be great for racing for this series.

--- Building a Worthy Championship Schedule (Part 1 of 2): What Kind of Championship? ---
I'm thinking too much about the American Le Mans Series format, where you have a series of sprint races and races longer than two hours and 45 minutes. Or maybe the Asian Le Mans Series wants to be like the Le Mans Series in Europe, where the championship is almost exclusively endurance racing. My inclination is that the Asian Le Mans Series is more like the Asian counterpart of the Le Mans Series rather than the American Le Mans Series' sprint and endurance races.

The next part features a model if it were more like the American Le Mans Series. So read on!

--- Building a Worthy Championship Schedule (Part 2 of 2): Picking Venues ---
Now let's talk about what tracks would make for great Asian Le Mans Series venues. I'm going to go by the four sectors I've mentioned. I'll also chat about if there are certain races that can be attempted for each track to make the series complete. And if I don't mention any specific race ideas, assume the race will last for 2 hours and 45 minutes, like American Le Mans Series sprint races.

--- East Asia (Japan, Korea Republic, and China) ---

This section concerns racing venues that would be great for the series to at least consider adding to a schedule for a true sportscar racing championship for the Asian Le Mans Series. To me, this is the most important sector for one reason- Japan. If you don't utilize Japan, you're not going to have a whole lot of race venues to race at. A proper championship will have to include a mix of Japanese venues along with mainland Asian venues. Because Okayama has been raced on before for the Asian Le Mans Series, I won't include it. So here are some ideas:

Suzuka Circuit.

Possible Races: 12 hours, 1000 km, or a 2hr 45min race
Suzuka is better known in the endurance scene for the Suzuka 8 Hour race for motorcycles. Suzuka Circuit is the most rewarding and challenging race course in Japan. It may arguably be the best race track in the Asia-Pacific. I'm telling you... Suzuka is can't-miss. If you want intense racing on a great race track, you'd be foolish to pass up on Suzuka. This can be an afternoon race that lasts into the early evening, or it can be a race later in the afternoon and winds its way into evening or even night. A second race of 2:45:00 can be added to give this track some more racing love.

Fuji International Speedway.

Possible race: Fuji 1000 km
To accomodate Formula 1, the classic configuration of this storied race track was altered severely, sapping the former Fuji configuration of its high-speed character. The super-long front stretch and most of the first half of the course remain intact. Think about if this track hosted a field of some 30+ cars for an intense 1000-kilometer race here. My vision is maybe 30 (or MAYBE 40+) entrants encompassing a field of prototype and GT cars competiting around this intense race course for 1,000 kilometers.


Possible race: 2hr 45 min race
Autopolis was a prospective candidate to host the Formula 1 Japanese Grand Prix. Those dreams back in 1992 or 1993 were dashed for this track on the Japanese island of Kyushu. This track is very well appointed to host an F1 Grand Prix, but it was just never used as an F1 venue. In the 2003 season of Japan's Super GT championship, this track was raced on by the (then) JGTC as the penultimate round of the 2003 championship before the finale at Suzuka. I belive it was Michael Krumm who described Autopolis as a Japanese Nürburgring. This would be a lovely venue for which to host a round of the Asian Le Mans Series.

Twin Ring Motegi (Road Course).

Possible Races: 2 hr 45 min race, or maybe a 3-hour race
Twin Ring Motegi is one of few road courses in the world that has an oval configuration, but doesn't physically use the oval portion. Motegi is anything but easy. Most of the course has subtle elevation changes with some slow corners. This course has been raced on by a variety of series both in Japan and by international series. Motegi has been used before for endurance racing competition in the Japan Le Mans Challenge, so why not feature this course for a championship?


Possible Races: 6 hour race, 1000 km race, or 2hr 45 min race
The beautiful Miyagi Prefecture of Japan features the Sugo international racing circuit. I personally confuse Sugo with Okayama as far as configuration is concerned. That's because both tracks are somewhat similar in configuration, though Okayama is longer (I think). This is a plenty challenging course that isn't severely difficult. High speeds and a nice overall rhythm make this course a great one.

Korean International Circuit.

Possible Races: 2hr 45 min race, or maybe a 6-hour race.
The brand-new Korean International Circuit would be a great track to consider for mainland Asia racing. I usually regard F1 highly. So for this reason, I am not sure if you'd schedule this on the same weekend as the Korean Grand Prix or if you hold it some time before or after that race. I still want to see how this course plays out when the F1 Grand Prix of Korea begins proper.

Everland Speedway.

Possible Races: 2hr 45 min race
At 1.320 miles in length, Everland is only an extra tenth longer than Tsukuba. Everland Speedway is a part of the massive Everland Resort theme park. It is South Korea's first-ever motor racing track. While it is in no way an international racing facility, this can still be a great short course to contest a sprint race.

Shanghai International Circuit.

Possible Races: 6 hours, 1000 km, or 2hr 45 min
Shanghai has been raced on as an AsLMS venue. This is a course designed to wear you out as you wind your way around the course. The backstretch of the Grand Prix course will give you the case of the leadfoot. However, be ready to take on that super-slow chicane confidently at the end!

Zhuhai International Circuit.

Possible Races: 3-hours or 2hr 45 min.
While not as glamourous or expensive-looking as its Shanghai counterpart, the Zhuhai International Circuit features an intense challenge for all who take on this challenge. This is a tricky Chinese course with some technical corners.

Beijing Goldenport Circuit.

Possible races: 2hr 45 min
The very popular Goldenport course is not too far from the Chinese capital of Beijing. It is a pretty simple road course in design. There aren't a lot of extremely difficult corners here.

That concludes this section. I didn't include Tsukuba because I don't think Tsukuba, while a great track, isn't interesting enough to host a round of the Asian Le Mans Series, especially with 30+ entries.

--- Southeast Asia ---

There aren't too many true international courses in Southeast Asia, but there are a good deal of great racing courses in Southeast Asia.

Sepang International Circuit.

Possible Races: 1000 km, or a 2hr 45 min race
This track serves as the home of the Malaysian Grand Prix. It's been raced on by cars and motorcycles of various kinds. Sepang was going to be the venue for an American Le Mans Series all-star race in the 2000 season, but that was cancelled. The biggest obstacles for this course are the weather conditions. Temperatures can be very warm and rain can be horrendous. Anyone who remembers the 2009 F1 Malaysian Grand Prix know full well as to how miserable weather can get there. But still, it's a great racing track.

Johor Circuit.

Possible race: 2hr 45 min
A former stop on the World Superbike circuit in 1992 and 1993, Malaysia's Johor Circuit boasts a very competitive road course that would be great for sportscar racing.

(whatever becomes of the proposed permanent race course in Changi, Singapore.)

If the deal is still on, the city-state of Singapore can play host to a nice race at the proposed permanent race course in Singapore. It isn't likely the Marina Bay street course would be a good host to the Asian Le Mans Series as it is with F1, but it would also be interesting to see this course featured.

Bira International Circuit.

Possible Race: 2hr 45 min
This course in Thailand has a nice configuration and is pretty competitive. It would be great hearing the roar of these sportscars around a wicked course like the Bira International Circuit.

Thailand Circuit.

Possible race: 2hr 45 min
This is another non-international circuit with a very nice design. It is officially known as the Nakhornchaisri Motor Sports Complex, boasting a 1.553 mile configuration.

Batangas Racing Circuit.

Possible Races: 1000 km or 2hr 45 min race
The Batangas Racing Circuit features a 1.7 mile road course and a 2.2 mile extended road course. Both configurations are quite intense and would be great for some sportscar racing. The course in the Philippines is a real gem of a course even if it isn't an FIA-quality course.

Subic International Raceway.

Possible races: ???
Near Subic Bay in the Philippines, the Subic International Raceway is a permanent race course at almost 1.9 miles in length. It has a pretty cool configuration if you look it up online.

Sentul International Circuit.

Possible Races: 6 hours, 2hr 45 min
The Sentul Circuit in Indonesia boasts a lovely configuration and was prospective of a non-Japanese F1 race event. It held a nice race in 2006 for the A1 Grand Prix. Absolutely nothing wrong with this course. It's a lovely course which would provide some great racing. Maybe the loveliest Southeast Asian course that isn't Sepang.

That concludes Southeast Asia. I've personally almost forgot Sentul.

--- South Asia (mostly India) ---

This only includes India and two tracks I know of in India.


Possible Race: 2hr. 45 min
The Madras Motor Sports Club is what this course is known as. It boasts a full course that is 2.299 miles in length with an intense configuration. Madras Motor Sports Club is the name of this course... unless Irungattukottai is easier for you to remember. This track can be found in Chennai, India.

Coimbatore (officially known as Kari Memorial Speedway, or Kari Motor Speedway).

Possible race: 2hr 45 min (?)
Opened in 2003, the Kari Memorial Speedway in Coimbatore, India boasts a competitive 1.4 mile course. This course was built in loving memory of Sundaram Karivardhan, or affectionately known as "Kari." I'm not sure about huge fields of cars on a 1.4 mile track, but it is a pretty interesting course.

Jaypee Group Circuit.

Possible Races: 2hr 45 min, and ???
This new racing facility in Greater Noida, Uttar Pradesh, India will play hose to the Formula 1 Grand Prix of India in 2011. The 3.147-mile course will be part of a massive sporting and residental complex in the area.

(Jaypee Group Circuit has been officially named as Buddh International Circuit. That's why I changed the name.)

That's all for this section.

--- Middle East (excluding Egypt) ---

The final piece of the puzzle would be some Middle Eastern venues.

Istanbul Park.

Possible Races: 1000 km, 6 hours, or 2hr 45min
Istanbul Park is home to the F1 Grand Prix of Turkey. The course has a nice rhythm overall. I actually like this track. It has seen racing to a variety of series ranging from F1 to DTM to even a round of the Le Mans Series among many others. If car counts are low, it could be possible to have the LMS and Asian Le Mans Series to take to the track for great racing.

Bahrain International Cirucit.

Possible Races: 2hr 45 min or 1000 km
The Bahrain International Circuit is one of the most intense courses in the world. This one is a very cool course. Today's Bahrain course is DRAMATICALLY different as it's been lengthened considerably with more corners. It's still a tough course.

Losail International Circuit.

Possible Races: 2hr 45 min
Qatar's Losail International Circuit is an intense course in its own right. It has become a head-turner when MotoGP raced this course under lots of MUSCO lighting towers. It is a very long course with some tricky corners. It would be great to see how sportscar teams from the Asian Le Mans Series would fare around this course.

Dubai Autodrome.

Possible Races: 12 hours, 1000 km, or 2hr 45 min
The Dubai Autodrome is part of the Dubai Motor City complex. It has played host to a variety of different racing series, including its own 24-hour endurance. Certain views of the Dubai Autodrome offer a beautiful look at downtown Dubai in the distance. This course in the United Arab Emirates is a lovely facility.

Yas Marina Circuit.

Possible Races: 12 hours, 1000 km, or 2hr 45 min
The Yas Marina Circuit is a very contemporary masterpiece. It has the scenery and such of a street course with all the lights and the boats on the harbor. It is a fantastic-looking course whether in daylight or at night. A lot of the painted runoff areas are reminiscent of Circuit Paul Ricard in France. This would be great for sportscar racing, even if not by the Asian Le Mans Series. For all the scenery and facilities, this United Arab Emirates course blows away the Dubai Autodrome. Both are still great courses.

--- Non-Asian Venues? ---

I don't think the Asian Le Mans Series would want to try any international markets outside of Asia. But if they did, here is a brief list of venues that would be interesting to see these cars race at:

* Eastern Creek (Australia)
* Calder Park (Australia)
* Phillip Island (Australia)
* Taupo Motorsport Park (New Zealand)
* Laguna Seca (California, USA)
* Portland International Raceway (Oregon, USA)
* Kyalami (South Africa)
* Monza (Italy)
* Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez (Mexico)

--- What Would Be a Dream ___ for the Asian Le Mans Series? ---

...a Dream Field...?

I want to imagine anywhere between 20 to 30 cars taking the field. This can consist of Asian teams, but also European and American teams. Anything to keep the count going up and to build interest to expand the series.

...a Dream Schedule...?

This all depends on what the Asian Le Mans Series is after. Is it a series that wants only endurance races or a combination of sprint and endurance races? You would need to signify key races if you have a combination of signature races. An endurance-specific season means that there will be fewer races than the sprint/endurance model. The schedules I've set up allow for racing in Asia including Pacific islands. I don't have dates set up because I didn't want to be TOO specific in picking these events. Here are a few models based on both the endurance and sprint/endurance combinations:

...Endurance Schedule.

* Suzuka (12hr, 1000 km)
* Fuji (1000 km)
* Shanghai or Zhuhai
* Sepang
* Yas Marina Circuit or Dubai Autodrome

...Sprint/Endurance Schedule.

(the designation of (E) signifies an endurance)
* Suzuka (E)
* Korean International Circuit
* Fuji (E)
* Shanghai International Circuit (or Zhuhai or Goldenport)
* Sentul
* Sepang (E)
* Batangas Extended Circuit (or Subic Bay)
* Irungattukottai (or a non-Asian venue)
* Dubai Autodrome (or Yas Marina Circuit, or Bahrain Int'l, or Losail)
* Okayama (E?)

Those models are only conceptual. I just think there has to be a good balance of Japanese and non-Japanese Asian venues. Maybe even try some international rounds to add some diversity.

All in all, I want the Asian Le Mans Series to be as strong as the American Le Mans Series and Europe's Le Mans Series. Have you any suggestions or comments to my blog entry? PLEASE comment and question! Give my blog some involvement, please!

Here was a very old video I did on this topic:

Thank you for reading!

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