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American LeMans could be biggest ever at VIR

If early indicators are true to form, the inaugural American LeMans Series presented by Tequilla Patron event at VIRginia International Raceway could well be the biggest event ever staged at the fabled road course near Alton.

VIR Director of Track Operations Kerrigan Smith said Wednesday advance ticket sales for the event, which will be held Sept. 12-15 are running well ahead of that for any other previous event staged at VIR.

“Normally our advance tickets sales are very slow before events,” Smith pointed out.

“We have seen almost three times the amount of advance ticket sales. There have been as many one-day tickets sold as four-day tickets sold. I think a lot of people are planning to come in and bring their RV and camp out and stay with us for several days.”

Smith is optimistic that this event will top other events in the region.

“I think this will not only be the biggest event we’ve ever had here, but I’m hoping it will be one of the biggest events the area has had,” Smith said.

“I know Martinsville can do some big numbers with its NASCAR events. I’m sure South Boston Speedway has some good numbers as well. This is a three-year deal we have with the American LeMans Series, and we’re hoping to grow the event each year.

“This first year we will take what we can get,” Smith added.

“We’re hoping we’re all going to be sitting in traffic a long time on Saturday night after the event.”

Smith said the VIR staff has been working to get the facility ready for the large influx of fans that are expected to the event.

“We’ve been limbing and trying to cut some trees down to open up the exposure for the fans in our camping areas,” he pointed out.

“We’re going to try to place several jumbotrons around for the fans and do what we can to make it a very fan-friendly experience for everybody that comes.”

Smith said the reaction of the public to VIR bringing the American LeMans Series presented by Tequilla Patron to VIR has been resoundingly positive.

“There was a lot of regret when Grand-Am decided to cancel the event at VIR temporarily,” Smith explained.

“When we were able to announce that the American LeMans Series was coming to VIR for the first time there was a huge explosion. People forgot the disappointment and embraced the positive. From towns, to the media, to the drivers in the series that had never been here to VIR before, it’s been very positive. We’ve put all of our eggs into one basket, but I don’t think we’ll be punished for that.”

Jamie Kimbrough, the Director of Public Relations for the American Lemans Series presented by Tequilla Patron, says people involved in the series are excited about coming to the famed VIR road course.

“It’s a great opportunity to bring our style of racing to the people of this area,” Kimbrough said.

“The timing is good for us. It’s coming at a time that gives our guys an opportunity to really let the hammer down. It’s the race before our season finale, and the series championship picture will be affected by the outcome of this race. After being here in June for testing, our folks are ecstatic, and our administration is really looking forward to being here. We’re looking at making this something we do for a number of years.”

Kimbrough emphasized that the American LeMans Series is a fan-friendly series. Fans that have purchased a ticket to the race can roam the paddock, see the cars, attend scheduled Tech Talk events where they can learn about the cars and the series, attend free driver autograph sessions, and walk out onto the front stretch grid to see the cars prior to the start of the race.

“Our motto is ‘For The Fans,’” Kimbrough noted.

“That’s why we exist. If it wasn’t for the fans, we wouldn’t exist.”

As for the racing, fans will see some great racing from both individual-owned teams as well as factory teams such as those of Corvette, Ferrari, Porsche and the SRT Viper. 

“The AMLS by Tequila Patron is one of the forefront racing series because it involves manufacturers,” Smith said.

“It’s a pro racer with a pro racer (as a co-driver) in these cars, and it’s a factory putting their best effort out there.”

Smith said another interesting thing about the series is that it is more of an open series.

“It’s not a standardized series like some of the other road racing series where you have to use this tire and this fuel and these brakes and this sticker,” he explained.

“They have opened it up and are saying we want people engineering and crafting the best platform they can create.”

The feature event of the weekend, the four-hour VIR 240, will start at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 15. Four other races, the first of which will start at 8:10 a.m., will precede the main event on Saturday.