Ian James – Breakthrough Year
"Really Psyched To Start Racing"
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.
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
’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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
have a deal with John Macaluso and American Spirit Racing for selected
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.
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.
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
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.
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?