MARSHALL PRUETT: Combining two series and consolidating 22 races obviously posed a challenge in putting together the USCC schedule. Two criticisms have risen to the top since the announcement – the omission of Lime Rock and the absence of Mid-Ohio from the calendar, but do you feel this is the best that calendar that could have been assembled for Year One?
SCOTT ATHERTON: We think so. And to your point, it was an excruciating process because there's personal relationships, there's long-standing business relationships. And all of those are intertwined. It's very, very difficult decisions every step of the way. I will say there was a comprehensive process that took place here. It wasn't just: Who's going to pay the biggest sanction fee; or: What part of the country are we represented in? We pulled all of our stakeholders – not all – but many key decision-maker stakeholders, whether it be the OEMs that back the teams, many of the independent teams, on the track; sponsors; team owners. We all had them rank first-to-last, in terms of their prioritization.
And some of that you can see where these personal agendas are obvious, whether or not they have an official car or statuses or venue. But in the end, we believe we have come up with the best possible combination of venues and markets, and keeping a very careful eye on the impact to our teams and the sensitivity to the cost associated with this new schedule. If you measure on an hours-of-racing and you compare the 10-race American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patron scheduled this year, the amount of racing that represents what next year's TUDOR United Sports Car Championship schedule represents, it's over 50% increase in hours of racing.
Racecars are not unlike airplanes. It's by the hour in terms of the budget. If you're a Grand-Am team today, I believe the increase is somewhere in the 25 to 30% range. So the ideal schedule from many people's perspectives would be one that includes all of these tracks. Nobody left out. But that becomes economically untenable; not only for the series as a whole but for the individual teams to participate. I, individually, and we as a collective group, could not be more pleased about the schedule. We have with an asterisk at the end of that sentence that, for sure, each of us have one that we wish we were able to put on the calendar that, unfortunately, isn't there.
MP: Going back to Lime Rock and Mid-Ohio for a moment, both tracks are excellent for spectators and the drivers either like or love them; for Lime Rock, they probably enjoy qualifying more than the racing, but as a whole, the facilities for the teams that race there is primitive, at best. I know Lime Rock offered to upgrade its facilities if it was awarded a USCC date, but in general, did the age of the infrastructure for both venues play into the decision that left them off the calendar?
SA: We didn't make decisions based on how well the media center is, or other aspects, candidly. That was not a criteria. In some cases, it became a decision made based on: Are we already really represented within that geographic space? I would have to say Mid-Ohio, we feel confident that we've got that Midwestern area covered. There's also a consideration of wanting to position the championship as its own standalone, primary feature show.
And you know our criteria: When does it make sense for us to partner with others? Answer: When it's the only way to access an important business market. And that's a fancy way of saying the reason that we're in Long Beach with IndyCar is because if you want to impact Southern California with a road racing platform, you've got one choice. You could say the same thing about Detroit.
We are a series that is blessed with, depending on how you calculate it, eight to 10 active OEM partners and a lot of suppliers and tier-one partners that they have. So obviously, Detroit is an important market. We're there again with IndyCar. We've enjoyed our experience in Baltimore; we were all saddened by that news. But if you look at all the other dates on the calendar, we are positioning ourselves as a premier championship in North America.
So, it doesn't mean we couldn't have gone back to Mid-Ohio or Lime Rock with our own standalone event weekend and did not partner with any – speaking of the Mid-Ohio example. But again, it's back to: Let's put a calendar together that we can all process for 2014, knowing that there's always room to grow. I wouldn't arrive at any final conclusions based on our debut season that this is the way it's always going to be and we'll never get back to any of these other spots. That's not accurate. We've also had many inquiries for venues that neither series had a current relationship with. We've made a decision right from the start that we're not going to entertain any new venues at a time when we are, unfortunately, not able to accommodate all the dates. That will change in the future.
MP: These two tracks and possibly a few others could then see other USCC properties appearing on their calendars?
SA: I hope so. And the other element is even though currently a TUDOR United Sports Car event is not viable, there is a lot of IMSA content that could also be packaged together to make for a very interesting, very entertaining weekend in sports car racing. And those are discussions and plans that are still very much a work in progress. Lots of discussion, lots of dialogue going on there between, not only the two tracks that we're referencing today, but others that have weighed in, and: How do we get at least started? Can we confirm some of the other IMSA properties this year with an eye toward expanding upgrading as the years go by?
It's not unlike the NASCAR model that we've all kind of admired for years. As an event promoter, a venue operator, you get started with one of the lesser-known developmental series whether it's a K & N or what used to be – I don't know what it is now – the Winston West. And then you get a Camping World Truck race and if everything goes well with that you get a Nationwide race. And then if you are really, really good and get really lucky and the moon and the sun and the stars lineup there's the Sprint Cup weekend. I don't think we're making too many of more of those. But within the sports car model we have the same opportunities.