That competitive spirit

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Ed Brown’s Patron tequila was the most active and visible sponsor in the old American Le Mans Series. These days, Patron enjoys the same role in the merged Tudor United SportsCar arena. Patron is the title sponsor of the four-race North American Endurance Championship comprising the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona, the Sebring 12 Hours, Watkins Glen 6 Hours and Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta, and also operates a party tent for fans at many races.

This year Brown’s race team, led by veteran sports car racer Scott Sharp, is expanding its horizons by running a pair of Honda HPD ARX-04b P2 cars in the World Endurance Championship, as well as the four Patron North American Endurance Championship races. It’s a big, expensive job, but Brown and his marketing people believe it will reap sales benefits around the world.

“It’s a good fit for us,” Brown says, “because it exposes new eyes to Patron outside the United States and it’s a good fit for the WEC because we’re an American team that can give the series relevance.”

Patron will expand the party tent idea, introduced successfully at ALMS races, to the WEC. “We’re going to have a Patron Party Zone at the WEC races,” Brown says. “It will open a few hours before the start and operate all through the race and for a few hours afterwards.

“The drivers can go and mingle with fans and we think this will be a good way for us to start our WEC programme and get exposure.”

Brown believes the TUSC must align itself with the WEC. “From the prototype standpoint we need one type of TUSC car from 2017 – and that’s a P2 chassis that a team can race in the WEC and Tudor series. There shouldn’t be any confusion about what the specs are for either series.”

Mike Shank is another TUSC entrant who shares Brown’s perspective. Shank’s small but ambitious team scored its first Grand-Am win in 2007 and triumphed in the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona in 2012. This year Shank has switched from racing Daytona Prototypes to embrace the worldlier P2 concept. He hopes to compete at Le Mans next year and in some other World Endurance Championship races, too. Ozz Negri qualified Shank’s new Ligier JS 2-HPD/Honda on pole at Daytona in January, while AJ Allmendinger turned the race’s fastest lap.

“I feel the P2 concept is closer to what we’ll have in 2017 in the TUSC and I wanted to start now,” Shank says. “A second reason is that I want to go to Le Mans in 2016. This car is a proven product, so after racing it for a year we’ll be ready to go.

“The budget to run one of these cars is about the same as a Daytona Prototype, and I like Jacques Nicolet, who owns Ligier. The car is incredibly well built and designed and I like his passion. He’s a racer first and a successful businessman second. I put everything I have into this effort and I think he does, too.”

Shank agrees with Brown about the direction the TUSC needs to take. “We have to get our racing in the United States aligned with the world,” Shank adds. “We need a common formula with the WEC so I can race at Daytona and Sebring and also in Europe or Japan if I want. I’ve got to be able to race my cars around the world in order to sell the sponsorship required.”

Like IndyCar, the TUSC has a tiny media footprint and it’s a very difficult sales pitch. To succeed the TUSC must be properly integrated into the WEC and offer sponsors an expanded global presence. Otherwise the TUSC will face an IndyCar-like future as no more than a provincial backwater.