JvO: Personally, as a driver, I remember our very first ALMS race at Sebring in 2004. With Craig Watkins' help, we sorted out the 68cm tires better than anyone else, went straight to the front after the first stint and drove away from the rest of the competition. That's when I had the first inkling that we had the raw ingredients to be successful. We didn't win that race and made a lot of mistakes, but I saw that we had the potential.
ec: Was it always a given that the team would enter the 24 Hours of Le Mans as part of the race program?
SN: Not a given, but yes, it was always our hope that we would achieve enough to be accepted at Le Mans.
JvO: We definitely wanted to participate in that race but quickly found out how complex and how large a commitment it is, both financially and logistically. We had a lot of luck our first year, and since then have had some highs and some real lows. Each time, though, we've come away with a deeper understanding of the team, of our strengths and weaknesses, and how much it takes to just finish that race.
ec: Many American teams can't justify a season's budget just to run one race in France. How do you balance the needs from what really is running in two series? What would a U.S. sponsor gain from Le Mans?
EI: You're right that running at Le Mans or any other single European race is effectively running in a separate series. The first task is understanding your objectives in each series and how they interact with one another. Is your priority to win races, and/or the championship, in America? Or to win the race in Europe? How do you resolve your conflicting objectives that compete for the same resources? Once you understand your objectives, the division of resources, be it time, energy, manpower, focus, or money, becomes more straightforward. In the end, if your primary objective is to win a championship, that must be the first goal, and anything that doesn't assist you in reaching that goal must be secondary in terms of how you allocate resources. For us, our first priority is the ALMS championship. We approach Le Mans very seriously, however, and our goal is to win every year, but we don't let that interfere with our work in the ALMS. Hopefully, though, the two goals can benefit one another.
For sponsors, Le Mans involvement can have a significant return. There's a large North American following of the race through SpeedTV and Radio Le Mans-it's a lot of targeted exposure. With a limited number of American teams participating, that can add up to a lot of coverage in ten hours on SpeedTV. Of course, if the U.S. sponsor has European business interests or hopes of developing any, that is of obvious benefit.
JvO: As Eric said, we have been able to compete in both the ALMS and Le Mans without diverging from our primary objective, the ALMS GT2 championship. However, to do that has taken a huge amount of planning and preparation.
For our ALMS sponsors-ShoreTel, eSilicon, and Redlinecoffee.com-the association with the team should give them some additional exposure both in Europe and to the American audience.
ec: Some of your competition in the ALMS also runs in Grand Am with the modified GT3 Cup car. Did you also consider this or did it come down to doing the most professional job, meaning full concentration on the ALMS?
EI: Since 2004 we've run twice in Grand-Am, both times at Daytona for the 24. In 2005, we made the decision to commit fully to the ALMS-it's challenging and can be distracting to run concurrently in different series as there are different personnel, different rules, etc. There is a crossover in the fan base, though; for Porsche fans there's a lot to follow in Grand-Am. From a team perspective, it would be interesting to see the two series collaborate. But with the conflicts of disparate logistics and race weekend overlaps, we don't believe we can give our best to either championship unless we focus only on one.