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 AutoRacing1.com interview with ALMS President Scott Atherton
by Mark Cipolloni

February 19, 2005

ALMS President Scott Atherton
Mark Cipolloni/AutoRacing1.com

AutoRacing1:  We're here today in New York City with Scott Atherton, the president of the American LeMans Series.  Welcome.

Atherton: Thank you, it's very nice to be here.

AutoRacing1: There's been a lot of excitement in this series recently. Do you agree with that statement?

Atherton: Well, I think, yeah, is the short answer. But we like to think it's just been a steady crescendo, you know. Just about every major category of measure, whether it's TV ratings or fans on-site or sponsorship involvement, you know we are seeing double digit increases and have been. To be here in New York City this week and to have the kind of response we receive from what we would call mainstream media has just confirmed what we've always felt, that we've got a great product and the awareness continues to grow.

AutoRacing1: This year we know the Aston Martin is coming into ALMS, but is it true that the Maserati MC12 has been approved now?

Atherton: No, I wish I could tell you... As we sit here today, it's technically not approved or at least it hasn't been given the green light to join the series. But it is something that Iím working literally every day on. It's taken a tremendous amount of time and effort. And right now we're very close and if we are able to confirm that car, it's going to be quite a spectacle to see going out there up against the Saleens and the Corvettes, and as you mentioned, the Aston Martins.

AutoRacing1: The reports we heard was that if it does come in, it will not be eligible for points. Is that true?

Atherton: Well, unfortunately, for me to comment on that type of detail right now, I think would potentially jeopardize the agreements that we are working on; so there's a number of dynamics that are involved with how that car will be competing potentially within the American LeMans Series, and I guess Iíd just rather leave that one for the public announcement that will hopefully be coming in the not too distant future.

AutoRacing1: We're here in the financial capital of the world New York City. Could you tell us what kind of media attention that you've had this week while you were here?

Atherton: Yeah, actually the core reason for coming is twofold. One, we were the featured speakers this week at the Manhattan Sports Car Club and Chowder Society which I kind of have a hard time saying without cracking a smile, which I think that that would be a compliment. Great group, great organization. I've heard much about it for years and never have gotten the chance to be a part of it until this week.

The other main reason we are here is to unveil the JeanRichard special edition watch that is commemorating the 12 Hours of Sebring. So we had a couple of days in between those two events and as a result of that, weíve done our best here to get as much attention from the media that we could. Itís resulted in a feature story and a nice picture and an even better headline in the New York Times. Anytime you can put any form of the motorsports into the New York Times is a good day; and when itís the American LeMans series itís a great day.

I was interviewed by Bloomberg Financial Radio, and J.J. Lehto who is our current champion from the Champion Audi team, was interviewed by a number of media outlets. He did the WB Morning Show this morning. He did Sports Illustrated for Kids yesterday. Thereís probably others; I know thereís others that Iím not remembering. Itís been a good week all the way around.

AutoRacing1: From your perspective, we see the Grand Am series out there and although theyíve got a lot of cars in their series, they still seem to be struggling with TV ratings and attendance at the tracks. Does that series hurt your series? And from your perspective do you wish sports car racing was all one series?

Atherton: Hum, boy thatís a tough question to answer. Has it hurt us? I think what Grand Am represents is certainly an alternative for participants. I donít think that itís fair to say that itís an alternative when it comes to spectators and TV ratings. I think that people, our fans, vote with their feet, their wallets, and their TV remote. And as long as thatís the case, weíre going to be in good shape.

More than anything else, I see Grand Am as a point of confusion because we do share a lot of drivers in common; we share race tracks in common. The platforms probably couldnít be farther apart. You know, you have one thatís truly a world class platform thatís based on a world standard that's now shared between the FIA and the ACO and you have another platform thatís unique unto itself. We really donít have anything that is in common as far as what product is on the race track.

But for a casual observer, they look pretty similar. And without being able to stand up there and explain to them the subtle differences, which in some cases are not so subtle, it does become a point of confusion and that canít help. So I donít think that there has been any harm inflicted per say, but confusion isnít necessarily a good thing.

AutoRacing1: I guess we see that with Champ Car and the IRL as well (a split), itís quite unfortunate, really.

Atherton: Yeah, Iíve seen even recently some quotes from Grand Am leadership that they believe that the two series can co-exist, Iím assuming for the few reasons Iíve just named off.  And I wouldnít argue with that.  I think that the two can co-exist and probably the same can be said about the Champ Car and IRL. In a perfect world, itís probably not the ideal.

But I guess thatís why thereís freedom of choice in this country. You know, you do have a choice, and I like our positioning. I love where we are at in terms of our growth as a series. Thereís a lot more coming through our pipeline than weíve had in recent times and itís all good. Itís all very high quality and itís going to be spectacular for our fans.

AutoRacing1: New York City is a pretty exciting place. NASCAR is making a big effort to try to get a race here. Do you think that maybe someday ALMS could race in the city?

Atherton: Boy I sure hope so. And actually one of the many meetings that weíve held or were participating in this week was on that very subject. There seems to always be one or two initiatives in play to try and bring a proper race into this market. Whether on a temporary circuit or a purpose built circuit thereís a lot of interest in having us be a part of that for the obvious reasons that we bring a lot of manufacture involvement.

When you talk to the management of Audi or Porsche, and you question them about whatís the most important retail market for you, both of them or all of them really have the same answers - that itís this northeastern corridor, that thereís a lot of product thatís consumed here.

Therefore, thereís a lot of interest by those manufacturers in securing a race. We love racing at Lime Rock and I donít see anything changing there. But the opportunity to be anywhere in close proximity to New York City would truly be a home run for anyone.

AutoRacing1: Scott, thank you very much for your time. I know you have a busy night ahead of you. Good luck with this coming season.

Atherton: Thank you very much. I appreciate the opportunity.

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