Daytona: a special placeby Johnny Mowlem on 21st January 2015
You may or may not have noticed that at the beginning of this year it was announced that I would be returning full time to the North American Endurance Championship for 2015.
It is something I am looking forward to immensely, due in no small part to the fact that the first race of the year is the Daytona 24 Hours, sometimes also known as the Rolex 24.
On the way to class victory and second overall in 2004
Daytona holds a very special place in my heart, because – and I'm going to show my age now – back in 1999 it was the first race that I ever competed in in the United States, and also the first time that I ever got asked how much money would be OK, which it meant me receiving it rather than giving it! I will never forget that phone call as it was a bit of an epiphany for me, and despite all the ups and downs in the ensuing years, I've never looked back from that moment when I officially became a professional racing driver.
Another reason I am very fond of Daytona is because she has traditionally been very kind to me. That first one in ‘99 was my first ever 24-hour race – the longest I'd raced up until that point was a little over half an hour in Formula 3 or Porsche Supercup! But driving for Tony Callas's Reiser Callas Porsche team David Murry and I, alongside car owner Joel Reiser, finished second in GT and 9th overall, and since that moment I've been lucky enough to race on the famous banking a further 12 times, finishing on the podium 4 times, twice second overall and winning the famous Rolex watch once, so I hope that luck will still hold for this year's race!
Turning to the subject of this years' race, the BAR1 Motorsports team is looking strong, with both team cars amongst the front-runners at the official test, our #16 Prototype Challenge Chevy Oreca slightly ahead of our sister #61 car with the very talented Martin Plowman at the wheel. We were second quickest in the session that I put new tyres on, and ended up fourth quickest over the whole three days official testing of the ‘Roar before the 24’.
Don't get me wrong though, there is some serious competition out there in the PC class, with ex- and current IndyCar drivers Bruno Junqueira and Jack Hawksworth driving together in one car. It’s just an example of the level of driving talent that’s out there across the whole racing field, so I am under no illusions that we are going to need Lady Luck to smile on us if we are to win ourselves another beautiful Rolex watch.
However, John Travis, who first engineered me back at the end of 2008 when I did a bit of testing for him in the A1GP single-seater, has sorted us out a fine race set-up, and although our car definitely lacks a little in terms of outright one lap pace on new tyres, struggling to get the front tyres in particular to generate temperature, we have a very good race car that is light on its tyres and can do lap times on double stint tyres that are only a few tenths away from our outright one-lap new-tyre pace. So given that the race is a long one, I think we've made the right decision in terms of what set-up to choose for the race.
In the #16 car, we've got a good line up, and team owner and IMSA-Lite class B champion for 2014 Brian Alder is actually joining us as a driver manager. Also driving with us is the very underrated ex-Ferrari Challenge champion Tom Papadopoulos and the all-American Hollywood resident, Tomy Drissi. We've also decided to list Martin Plowman in our car as well, just in case we're in a straight fight at the end of the race and I need a bit of assistance in the last six hours or so, with the maximum driving time for a single stint being four hours in a six hour period.
However, the really interesting thing from this line up is that Mr Hollywood, aka Tomy Drissi, runs a marketing company for the film industry and traditionally uses the race cars he drives as very fast billboards for whichever latest Hollywood action blockbuster that is about to open in cinemas. These days the companies that "wrap" cars are incredibly accomplished and I've seen Tomy's cars sporting some really cool graphics showing off films likeDracula and Iron Man, so I was quite looking forward to hearing what our car was going to be wearing for Daytona.
Imagine my joy when I heard that the epic film that we are going to be advertising as we zoom around the Daytona Speedway banking will be none other than… The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water! Having said that, the car does look really good, and it's definitely unusual with SpongeBob himself sporting some serious abs, so maybe we are cool after all. I guess only time will tell. Roll on Sunday at 2.00pm and we'll find out.