ACEMCO’s Sebring
Johnny Mowlem’s ACEMCO Debut

dailysportscar.comLet’s clarify that: Johnny Mowlem’s ACEMCO Saleen Debut – and everyone else’s too of course. Johnny drove for the team at Le Mans last year, in the Ferrari 360, and ended up leading the GT Class at the half way mark.
The fifty-second Sebring 12 Hours wasn’t quite like that…

"The whole of the ACEMCO team worked their ****s off throughout the week. Terry, David and I may have ended up on the podium, but as drivers we became almost immaterial in the end. Normally when you end up third in a race, you don’t see the mechanics and engineers except at the pit stops, and as long as the stops go smoothly, it’s the drivers who are the visible part of the whole team. This one was different for us.

"We’re actually taking a lot of encouragement from what happened. Does that seem an odd thing to say? Well, look at it this way: we had bad luck after bad luck throughout the meeting. That gets it all out of the way for the year in one go! Seriously though, we were unlucky, but the fact that we had problems at Sebring with several areas of the car – at one meeting, all in one go, rather than spreading them out over the first few races - and that we’ve got plenty of time to put them right before Mid-Ohio, and the fact that it was a 12 Hour race, and that we came away with points for third place…. and that the #4 Corvette didn’t score well. Look at it like that, you'll see that there are quite a few positives.

"Jeff Giangrande now has a job list for the team as long as your arm! They will get through that in time for us to go testing in May. We’ve got tests lined up at Portland, Mosport, Sears Point and Laguna Seca, so there will be a big step forward in speed as well as reliability.

"There are other positives as well. On the Saturday before the race, we set low 1:57 laps on some development Pirellis. This was a new construction tyre that we didn’t use in race week, but compare that with what Ollie Gavin managed in his opening stint, when he was giving the Corvette everything it had, and I think we’ve got reason to be encouraged. I was pleased that Ollie had to drive as he did from the back, as we have a very good understanding of what the race pace target is now. After qualifying, we couldn’t be sure.

"ACEMCO’s development programme isn’t just about reliability either. We’ve got two key areas of the car to explore to find more pace, and we’ll get quicker throughout the season. We’ve got some catching up to do, but that’s nothing we didn’t already know. If you look at the initial GM program with the C5-R against the ORECA Vipers, they didn’t exactly have it all their own way either! We’ll have a number of performance developments on the car between now and testing in May. Jeff’s commitment to this team is absolute.

"So what did happen at Sebring, apart from the fact that we scored a podium finish? Well, the guys managed three engine changes in three days – with two engines! They were due to fit the race engine on Wednesday, early, because it was supposed to arrive early on Wednesday morning, so the team spent late Tuesday taking the ‘old’ one out: bear in mind we’d decided not to run on Tuesday. Then word came through that the fresh engine wouldn’t arrive until late on Wednesday: we’d miss all of Wednesday’s running, unless they put the original back in, which they did!

"They then had a late night on Wednesday, taking the same engine out and putting the fresh one in.

"Friday night was even worse for them. In the Friday morning session, we had a gearbox problem, and they concluded that if they put the gearbox back as it was, they’d have the same problem again. The only answer was to have parts flown in from Indianapolis! The guys were supposed to leave the track at 6pm on Friday, but they ended up leaving eleven and a half hours later, at 5.30am – five hours before the race was due to start!

"If ever a podium was earned by the team, not by the drivers, this was it – and we hadn’t got to the race yet!

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"Terry had had a problem in Qualifying, and then the warm-up went badly too, but we were running well from the start of the race – in a very solid third place. I took over from Brabs and the problem that he’d had – losing water pressure – was getting worse. The team could follow the rising temperature thanks to the real-time telemetry, and I had to bring it in. They robbed the part of the cooling system from the spare car, and we dropped from second (Ollie had dropped out) to fifth. Very cleverly, they took the decision to weld the part they’d taken off the car, just in case it was needed….

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"Later in the race, David had the same thing happen, and thanks to the foresight of the team, we had a replacement part. Parts like that just don’t fail – twice!

"We’d also had a problem with two of the lugs that secure one of the wheels, so late in the race, we decided to play safe and bring it in for an overhaul.

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"They fixed the lugs and bled the brakes, so the only other problem we had was that the gearbox was a bit ‘crunchy’. You had to really heel and toe it to get a clean change, and downshift very late in your braking zone, when the wheel speeds were much lower.

How is the ALMS and the GTS class in particular looking?
I’m actually very encouraged about the GTS Class in the ALMS: They’ve got Jeff’s commitment, Dick Barbour runs a very good team, and he’s bound to have at least two quick drivers in the Lamborghinis, there’s the prospect of other manufacturers coming back in… and let’s face it, if you want to take on the best, the ALMS is the place to do it.

And what of Johnny's team mates? We noticed from the live web coverage that all three were doing consistent lap times and all lapped in the 1:59s in the race. Was the partnership as strong on the inside as it looked from the outside?
Brabs was a great partner to have – he is very consistent and has an enormous amount of downforce experience. Technically he also has a very good feel for the car, and that was very helpful to the team as a whole. From his time at Panoz, Bentley and Prodrive, he’s very used to helping a team develop a new project, and that was evident in his feedback. Terry (Johnny’s partner for the rest of the 2004 ALMS series) and I are getting on great and he is also a very quick driver. The 3 of us really got along well, although David and Terry did spend a lot of time discussing the spiritual direction of the human race!!

And how was Sebring in its 52nd running?
Fabulous, as always. A great atmosphere, a brilliant sportscar event, it’s got the history, the crowd, huge interest from everyone present, and excellent weather. I love it – In my opinion it’s only second to the Le Mans 24 hours in it’s atmosphere. I’m looking forward to going back next year!

 

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