Vanessa Weikart is an important part of the ALMS as a private contractor; Vanessa's Hospitality provides services to a number of the top teams. Her clients have included Ferrari, Aston Martin, Maserati, and Porsche. To get "fed up," one has to have a credential to get in to Vanessa's, whether it's at Sebring or Le Mans.
EC: Did you have any advance feeling that the 2009 season was going to be a difficult one? When a team comes to you with a much tighter budget, how do you adjust and still give the team a first class hospitality experience?
VW: I am very surprised at the obvious "surprise effect" this whole economic situation seems to have on many people... How could they not see it coming?
Already last year during the 12 Hours of Sebring I sensed a change in the availability of funds as we watched teams who regularly ordered all their meals with us, start doing their own thing (i.e., pizza and burgers) for the first few days and then came on board for the full service later in the week when their time no longer allowed them to lose some crew member to cooking duties. There were also questions like, "What if we skip breakfast with you, what will that do to our bottom line?" My reply was, "I'll work with you as best as I can." It brought back memories of 1988 in the DTM. That was the first year I had to improvise and came up with the unheard-of plan to offer catering for more than one team or manufacturer in one joint hospitality tent as opposed to everyone having their own private space. (That year went well until the three teams sharing the tent all crashed in the first turn at Hockenheim but that's a whole other story.)
Unfortunately, my impressions of the luring downturn did not improve since the Sebring. In previous years, many teams used up their "lunch money" before I sent out their invoice, but they usually paid up in a timely fashion. This wasn't so for 2008.
Michael Knauthe operates a major freight forwarding operation near Atlanta. MSK and Kroll have been responsible for the shipping of most of the major team cars and parts from Europe to the USA. His reply was sent as a text message on his phone as he decided to go ahead with a sea cruise--hopefully to improve his mood.
EC: How does the pullout of the majors like Porsche and Audi affect your logistics for the rest of the series? With less to ship, do the higher costs get passed on to the smaller teams who don't ship as much? Are there fewer priority shipments?
MK: I'm sitting in the sun having a tropical drink and I have to think about work? Thanks, that sucks. With less to ship logistics will get more expensive for the teams. A special truck to a racetrack in the middle of nowhere costs the same whether the load is 10 or 1,000 kg. Also, the special personal service at every racetrack will suffer and be cut back as budgets tighten in this economy. I need to make money, but our service is first. It will affect everybody, including MSK.
Johannes van Overbeek has been with the Northern California-based Flying Lizard Motorsports team since its inception. One of his personal highlights was capturing the Porsche Cup title in 2007.
EC: You are a championship team with a very high standard, however the GT cars are always overshadowed by the prototypes. In past economic downturns, this has favored the lower classes simply on budget alone for more exposure. Do you feel that TV and the series should focus more on the private teams that are the backbone of the sport, especially during this financial crisis?