In His Own Words: American Le Mans Series President and CEO Scott Atherton
It doesn’t seem like it but the start of the 2007 American Le Mans Series is right around the corner with the third annual Winter Test at Sebring on January 22-24. For Series President and CEO Scott Atherton, the offseason hasn’t left much time to review some of the remarkable accomplishments from 2006: record attendance at events, all-time marks in television and Internet viewership and unmatched manufacturer involvement
Here are Atherton’s thoughts as he looks back and looks ahead to a 2007 season that features 12 events, the introduction of the Acura factory program and stops in three key new markets:
“It has been several years since there has been what could honestly be considered a legitimate offseason! I cannot remember a time when we have been busier at this time of the year. Not only does it involve the traditional trade shows such as SEMA and PRI as well as various banquets that are typically part of the schedule, we are also deeply involved in a series of extremely important event promoter, manufacturer and corporate partner/sponsor meetings.”
SEMA and the Buzz of the American Le Mans Series
“It was fun and quite encouraging to walk the halls of SEMA in Las Vegas recently. Virtually everyone we encountered had the same feedback or comments: ‘Wow! You guys really have it going on!’ The combination of new events and markets such as Long Beach, St. Petersburg and Belle Isle in Detroit with the Penske organization, and new teams like Andretti Green Racing, Lowe’s Fernandez Racing, Rahal Letterman and Tafel Racing — not to mention those top level manufacturers and teams returning who have been a part of the Series since its inception — are setting the American Le Mans Series up for an incredibly competitive and interesting 2007 season.
“There was also lots of business to get done. Several weeks after SEMA, the same Andretti-Green XM Satellite Radio racecar was on display at the Los Angeles Auto Show and the Series had quite a presence with our cars and manufacturers. Now, the granddaddy of them all is coming up with the North American International Auto Show in Detroit that begins in early January. Again, the American Le Mans Series will be very well represented by the manufacturers who make the decision to put their American Le Mans Series cars on display front and center. It is a great point of pride for us as not many other racecars are incorporated into such high level displays.”
Detroit and the Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix
“Recognized the world over as ‘The Motor City’ and often referenced as the ‘Automotive Capital of the World,’ Detroit’s North American International Auto Show is recognized among the top three on a global scale in terms of significance and relevance. When you look at all the manufacturers who are involved in the American Le Mans Series, they all will have their president, CEO and board members in attendance. The fact that big-time auto racing is coming back to Detroit with the American Le Mans Series and the IRL is the talk of the town. The fact that racing is back in Detroit is a big story by itself, however when you insert a business leader the caliber of Roger Penske into the equation — especially with what he achieved with the Super Bowl last year — it all makes Detroit as a city the big winner. And I would put the American Le Mans Series a close second! To have a foothold and beachhead in Detroit — The Motor City — is thrilling to our Series and sport. It could not be a better fit.”
Are There Additional 2007 Entry Prospects?
“There is a reason this is called the ‘Silly Season’ and I believe it is more true this year than ever before. The short answer to the question above is ‘yes.’
“There are quite a few teams that have expressed genuine interest along with the capability and the means to compete with us. As is always the case, it is never our news to announce, but I can assure you that there are potential entrants and entries in virtually every class of the American Le Mans Series competition that have interest and appear to be putting all the necessary pieces together to come and compete with us — and not just on a one-off basis but for season-long campaigns. The good news is several of these examples involve top level independent teams. With the recent manufacturer-based news we have had, it is very gratifying to see renewed interest from the pro-privateer sector of our sport.”
The Series’ Growing List of Non-Endemic Sponsors
“The common thread that runs through all the examples (JEANRICHARD Swiss Watches, Hyatt Hotels, Lowe’s, DHL and many others) is that they are considered benchmarks in their fields and premium brands. As most people who follow our sport know, that is how we feel and view the American Le Mans Series. We are the premium brand of motorsport and it is well documented.
“When you look at the demographics and the profiles of those who follow our sport, it is easy to see why our premium manufacturers are racing. But I do not think it is limited to that. It is all of the attributes that the Series represents. Clearly, the Series is producing a return on their investment or else they would not be coming back.”
Sebring Winter Test Goals
“Our official open test in January offers a great opportunity to jump-start the 2007 season in many different ways. We have instructed our teams that this will be as much a media event as well as a mechanical shakedown for the teams. The goal is to have as many cars as possible in proper livery and drivers and crews in proper suits with the proper embroidery and patches. All of these things will enable the domestic and international media to get a positive first glimpse of our Series for 2007 and start their reporting for the year. This event will also give our teams the opportunity to accomplish their photographic work and really set the stage for the upcoming season.
“While many of our new teams and new manufacturers that have announced their participation, this literally will be their ‘coming out party.’ The buzz and excitement of this test is going to be comparable to going racing for the first time. We are encouraged by the commitments we have for participation to date. We think it will be the best American Le Mans Series Winter Test since we first established this important activity three years go and a significant media and team-related statement for our Series.”