Finally back in the game

by Johnny Mowlem on 17th September 2014

As I sit here on a Virgin Atlantic Airbus A340-600 enjoying a sparkling water (yeah, right) and writing this column, I'm reflecting back on the nature of this motor sport business which really is personified by the adage ‘when one door closes, another opens’.

The last time I wrote a column for Motor Sport I was still in the employ of the wonderful RAM Racing team with whom we won the LMGTE class of the European Le Mans Series last season.

This year we started out racing in the World Endurance Championship, but for reasons that were pretty clear to everyone who understands how the motor sport industry works – i.e. money, or lack of it – the team's management had to make the unfortunate decision that they could no longer continue to race at that level. So immediately after the Le Mans 24 Hours, where ironically we had a great run going for a while, I found myself in the rather tricky position of being a racing driver without anything to actually race.

Initially it didn't feel too bad because the WEC has an enormous gap in its race calendar between Le Mans and the next race, this weekend at the Circuit of the Americas in Texas.

But as the middle of August was fast approaching I began to get a little bit more twitchy as none of the teams that I'd spoken with to mention my availability had come back to me with a firm offer.

In their defence they'd all been extremely friendly and encouraging that there might actually be an opportunity for me to join them, but that old problem kept rearing its head again... money!

For any race team to go racing at any level they need to find the budget from somewhere, be that corporate sponsors or drivers who bring a budget, and there are always a limited number of places available for professional drivers who instead actually have an adverse effect on the team coffers, especially when you're bang slap in the middle of the racing season.

But I have been incredibly lucky because in the last few weeks I didn't land just one drive, but two.

My main deal is the reason that I'm sat on this aeroplane heading towards the USA. I have inked a deal with BAR1 Motorsports to finish off the Tudor United SportsCar Championship in their No. 88 Prototype Challenge Oreca Chevy. This is all very exciting for me, as it means going back to my sports car roots where I first began to earn a crust some 15 years ago.

Back then it was the American Le Mans Series, and yes I do know that things aren't quite the same as before, but nevertheless, America has always been one of my favourite places to go racing so I can’t help but feel a flutter of excitement as I head over the pond.


Johnny in the ACEMCO Saleen at Road America, 2004

Even better was that a week ago Chris Dyson asked me at the last minute to sub for him in the No. 41 Greaves Motorsport LMP2 Zytek Nissan in the Paul Ricard round of the European Le Mans Series, which took place last weekend.

Chris was busy over in Salt Lake City ensuring his brand new GT3 World Challenge Bentley program ran smoothly, and he clearly did a good job as Guy Smith rather terrifically gave Bentley their first US GT3 victory and himself a rather good 40th birthday present. Who says old drivers can't still be super quick?

Anyway, it was very nice to get re-acquainted with not just the Zytek, which I hadn't raced for nearly four years, but also to be back among friends in the ELMS. Also, I cannot describe how professional and friendly the Greaves Motorsport team are, as within about one hour of being at Paul Ricard I felt like I'd been driving for them for years. A really super bunch of people.

Unfortunately the race itself didn't go quite according to plan after a first lap incident, but I still thoroughly enjoyed the weekend racing alongside the incredibly laid-back Matt McMurry, (especially given his youth), as well as getting to know Luciano Bacheta and Mark Shulzhitskiy in the No. 28 sister car.

So we've almost come full circle as I sit here 30,000 miles up and can be truly thankful, that for now at least, another door’s opened and I’m still in the game.

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