Ian James’ 2005
© Russell Wittenberg


Ian James anchored his ’05 employment early by earning a full season ride in the Rolex series with BMW, in one of Tom Milner’s PTG M3s.

dailysportscar.comAlthough mechanical failures at the first two races, Daytona and Homestead, effectively squashed a chance for the GT championship, it was still a successful season. He stood on the podium four times, with third places finishes at Laguna Seca, Barber Park and Phoenix and a first place at Mont Tremblant (right). His outstanding three hour fifteen minute opening stint at a horribly wet Mont Tremblant circuit drew strong praise from the team management.

“Racing with, and against, longtime BMW guys like Bill Auberlen and Joey Hand gives you a good indication of where you are,” reflected Ian James. “I was able to hold my own among this group and that was very satisfying.”

dailysportscar.comHe complimented his Rolex Series races with a full season in the Grand Am Cup. Teamed with Tom Nastasi in the Blackforest Motorsports Ford Mustang, Ian opened the season with a win at Daytona (he and Nastasti at the post-race press conference, right) and was able to grab another victory later in the year at Virginia.

With Jeff Bucknum and Chris McMurry joining forces, with John Macaluso, in the Miracle Motorsports Courage ALMS entry, it looked as though Ian James would not be back in that car in ’05. With the Miracle entry in ’04, he was able to win class honors at Sebring, capture the LMP2 Drivers’ Championship and be selected for the ALMS Rising Star Award. After a year like that James was keen, as was the ALMS management, for him to return to the class and defend the title. Unfortunately with the limited number of LMP entries, and restrictions on a certain GT car per his agreement with BMW, there were just no seats available.

dailysportscar.comWith full season hopes fading, he agreed terms with Miracle to be the third driver at the 12 Hours of Sebring. At the very least he could try to repeat what had been the most significant race of his career so far.

“The (2004) win certainly earns you some knowledge and the confidence that you can do it again. I guess I have a knack for getting these cars to the finish.”

The usual battle of attrition in the LMP2 class ensued again this year, but the Miracle crew battled on and with the help of Jeff Bucknum and Chris McMurry, Ian James was able to score an incredible second Sebring victory in as many tries.

It seemed that that would be the first and last race in the Miracle Courage, but buoyed by the Sebring triumph, John Macaluso accepted the Le Mans invitation and invited James to lead the charge. “It was a boyhood dream of mine to race at Le Mans,” he recalled. “And to go with the Miracle team and car I’ve had such success with was really exciting.”

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He was up to speed quickly at the test day, his first time at the famed circuit, setting the team’s quickest lap, which was good enough for sixth in class. He set the pace for the LMP2 class during qualifying by posting the quickest time for the first session, trimming over two seconds off his previous best. The time wouldn’t hold through the second session, eventually falling to fourth in class – but it was still a very respectable grid placement for a first time driver and a first time team on a first time tire manufacturer, Kuhmo, who did not have a qualifying tire.

“It was the first Le Mans for Kuhmo and they had no qualifying rubber, but the race tire was really good. So we were pretty happy with the effort and the fact that we were able to be very competitive throughout the practice sessions.”

dailysportscar.comJames was selected to start the race, which he considers an “all time highlight of my career”, and along with Andy Lally and Jon Macaluso, was having a solid race - until the wheel(s) literally came off. The team had just completed a night time pitstop and James was back in to drive. Shortly after he re-entered the circuit the left rear wheel came off.

“I had no forward drive as the Courage has an open differential that puts the power to the wheel with the least resistance,” he explained. “I was still on the incline leading toward the Dunlop Bridge, so after discussions with the team over the radio, I just let it roll back into pit lane. They replaced the wheel and we went back out racing. It wasn’t until nearly an hour later that another team protested and we were excluded. That was an unfortunate ending as the car was good and we were running as high as third. I think we could have had a good result, but it was still a great experience. I‘ll never forget seeing the crowd on the first lap. There were so many people, four and five deep at every vantage point along the circuit. Taking the green flag, you could hear the roar of the crowd over the sound of the engines, it was quite a feeling.”

For the year 2005, James can boast class victories in three different series along with a trip to La Sarthe. So it wasn’t a storybook ending for his first 24 hours of Le Mans, but just being a part of such an event is very special, and there is always next year.

2006 plans are starting to become clearer. He is set for another full season in the Blackforest Mustang, again with Tom Nastasi, and will drive the Blackforest Crawford Daytona Prototype at the Rolex 24. He has a seat with an exciting new GT class team for the Rolex Series, but asked to hold that announcement for now. He also has several opportunities with some major players in the GT2 class of the ALMS. “It has been quite a turnaround for me the last two years. You want the team managers to see you as a pro guy doing a good job, getting results and taking care of the equipment.”

So largely because he has been doing just that, Ian James is firmly entrenched on the American scene these days – but he’d also like to race in Europe in 2006.

 

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