WEC, ALMS In Talks For Possible Sebring Return (but no Petit LeMans)
The 60th Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring saw one of the largest and most competitive fields in North American sports car history, thanks to the traditional season-opener for the American Le Mans Series also doubling as the first round of the new FIA World Endurance Championship.
Fans could be treated to more of the same for next year, as discussions for the 2013 race has begun, according to FIA WEC CEO Gerard Neveu and ALMS President Scott Atherton, who both spoke with SPEED.com about the latest developments, and challenges, that a combined race brings to both championships.
“We are still working with IMSA and the people from the ALMS about next year,” Neveu said in an exclusive interview during last weekend’s Six Hours of Spa. “We have some meetings in May and June, just before Le Mans, to discuss what we can do together next year. Sebring maybe, but we have different options, so we have to discuss that.”
With a record crowd and a bumper grid of 63 cars, Sebring turned out to be a much better experience than what ALMS officials had anticipated it to be, according to Atherton, who expressed initial concern over the blending together of the protocol and procedures of the FIA WEC and ALMS for the single event.
But the race, for the most part, ran to plan, in what was considered a success by both parties, despite having made compromises on “soft issues” such as paddock and pit lane setup, the format of victory lane and prize-giving ceremonies and other small, but important points.
"I think the question about logistics and cooperation, if we had the opportunity to do it again next year as we did it this year, there'd be no hesitation to say yes,” Atherton told SPEED.com. “The economic model is the one that still needs further review and analysis.
“It will also depend on the WEC's expectations are for next year versus what their expectations were this year. There was a lot of compromise this year that enabled this race to happen. I don't know the same business model would apply going forward as was in place this year."
Atherton said both championships saw “significant increases” in expenses for the event, particularly on the FIA WEC’s side, which featured a predominately European grid that had to be flown in for its season-opener. An additional TV truck and a separate international broadcast feed and uplink also had to be established.
Teams from both championships faced limited parking space inside the circuit and battled increased on-site vendor costs due to the high demand. Other compromises, such as the officiating in Race Control and Timing and Scoring, had to be worked out and are likely to be points of discussion for the potential 2013 joint race.
"I do think that there were many things were accepted this year because the whole opportunity bubbled up late in the day, so to speak,” Atherton said. “If we were to have this event, we didn't have the luxury of time to argue over a lot of details. We just had to come up with a solution and agree to it.
"I think especially the FIA, I would be surprised if they don't become more assertive to say, 'OK, we accepted this last year because we didn't have any options. Going forward, you're going to have to be more in compliance here, here and here.' That will have to be a discussion and a decision that we make as those issues arise."
Both Atherton and Neveu agree that one of the biggest hurdles could come with size of the grid, as a maximum of 64 entries were allowed to start this year’s race. With both series seeing increased car counts post-Sebring, and Neveu expecting to see additional full-season FIA WEC cars for next year, fitting everyone onto the 3.7-mile circuit would likely come as a challenge, unless further compromises are made.
“It's very difficult because, to be honest, I hope next year's WEC will have between 30 and 35 cars on the permanent grid,” Neveu said. “So that means if there are 35 cars [for Sebring], I don't know how you can find more space than this year. It looks difficult. This is one of the thing we have to discuss.” More at speed.com
[Editor's Note: Notice of no talk to make the Petit LeMans a WEC event - Road Atlanta pits cannot accommodate as many cars as Sebring. Sebring has not had much money spent on it in years. It is in serious need of upgraded facilities. Even the pits stalls are made of cinder block, the cheapest material they could find. The pits should be moved to the long back straight (behind the pits) - it's much longer and could be made to accommodate many more cars.]