Ian James – Breakthrough Year
"Really Psyched To Start Racing"

Although he is a very accomplished professional driver, Ian James may not be a name familiar to all sportscar fans. That is something Ian hopes to change this year. The 29-year-old Brit is set to have possibly his biggest year ever – as Russell Wittenberg discovered at Daytona International Speedway, as the trailers were unloaded for the 42nd Rolex 24.

You made the typical progression up the racing ladder starting with karts, then on to the open-wheel series such as Vauxhall Lotus and Palmer Audi. When did you make the move to start racing over here in the states?

dailysportscar.comIn ’95 Wayne Taylor invited me over to drive in GT program he was putting together for the USRRC. Unfortunately, three weeks before the season was to start the deal fell apart. I had no other backing and was relatively unknown over here so it was very difficult to find another ride. I decided to go back to Europe and competed in F3 and Palmer Audi for the next two years. I always kept an eye on the series over here and attended as many races as I could, trying to break in. Finally Dino Steiner, who followed the European series pretty closely, offered a ride in his Motorola Cup BMW. We did pretty well, winning at least one race every season. That eventually led to my opportunity with Lexus.

And now you are a Factory driver for Team Lexus, correct?

Yes I have been with them since 2002 and I am signed again for 2004. Interestingly this is the only factory Lexus team in the world.

So you have been racing full time since ’98 in the Cup series, but you have also done some Rolex series and ALMS. Tell us about that.

dailysportscar.comWell in 2000 I had what I thought was going to be a really nice deal to run in the ALMS. I was driving with Joao Barbosa, who by the way was a fantastic teammate, in the Nygmatech Porsche GT3-R. We competed at Sebring and Charlotte that year, but the team was sponsored with Internet money, and after the stock market crash the project was cancelled. Another team that I have had much better luck with is Blackforest Motorsports. I met their crew chief, Brian Knott, he and I just got along really well. I started racing one of his customer’s 962 in historic events and that led to several opportunities, including three races in the team’s Riley & Scott MkIII in 2002.

You have had some tough luck with GT programs. How did this deal with The Racers Group come together?

Chris Gleason and RJ Valentine really pushed to get me in the car during the Test Days, but I think it started back at the Finale in November. I was there on Wednesday, the test day before the event, with Blackforest, to help set-up their Porsche GT3-RS. I was able to do a 1:54 and that got Kevin’s attention. So I got a chance in the #68 car on the second day of the test and went quick straightaway. I was able to cut 2.5 seconds off the car’s best time so far and set the third quickest time in GT during the last two days. I think I was able to show them that I could do more than just throw out one quick lap. I am hoping that I will be driving with Chris and RJ for the whole Rolex series; we are working to make that happen.

You never know when somebody is watching do you?

No you don’t, you never know who could be watching and notice you. I try to stay really disciplined every time I am in the car. It would be so easy to back off and say that quick laps times don’t really matter for endurance racing or when you are just testing.

What are your prospects for the Rolex 24?

A top three finish. We obviously need to stay out of trouble, drive conservatively but fast, and all the drivers need to stay on the same page.

You also have a deal with John Macaluso and American Spirit Racing for selected ALMS races.

Yes, I am set to do Sebring, Mid-Ohio and Petit Le Mans. I drove with John in the R&S at the ’02 finale and we ran pretty well. He has joined forces with Jon Lewis to run a Lola in the LMP2 class and it should be an excellent opportunity for me. John does everything first class, 100%, or he doesn’t do it.

You just recently tested the Lola at Roebling Road, how did that go?

Great, I was actually quite surprised how good the car was. The handling is excellent, it was down on power a bit, but they have lots of improvements scheduled to address that. We will have a new motor, an upgraded AER Nissan 3.2, carbon brakes and larger wheel and tire package. We have some more testing planned soon. I think we will have a lot more pace than this car has shown in the past.

What can you add to a race team?

I think seeing the big picture. It’s not just about how quick I can be, but also my car and my teammates. My Father was an Engineer, I worked as a mechanic for years, and so I understand what it takes to keep the car going. I have also been a driving coach for 10 years now and can maximize my teammates’ potential as well, if need be.

You are set with Lexus; you have a top GT ride for the 24 and possibly the series, and a prototype seat for Sebring and PLM. This could be a big year for you.

This could be the breakthrough year. I’m blessed that all three programs are with good teams and good equipment. Having a chance to win each time I race is really exciting. I am afraid to say too much though and tempt fate. I don’t want it all to turn to shit. I am really psyched to start racing.

This is how it ended up for one of The Racers Group Porsches a year ago. What's in store for Ian James and #68 this week?

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