Jon Lewis – Back To His Endurance Racing Roots (Year 2)
dailysportscar.comJon Lewis, President and CEO of American Spirit Racing is getting back to his racing roots. A competitor in the Camel GTP days of IMSA, and also in the old Firehawk Showroom Stock Series, Jon is now back where he wants to be, in endurance racing. He is putting his efforts into his team and the sport of his choice, hoping to build both to become top-level entities in their fields.

Gary Horrocks listened, as Jon explained his reasons for doing what he does, where he does it - as he prepares to race the two B2K / 40 Lolas in 2004.

“I look at this past season running the Riley and Scott in the ALMS as a re-acclimatisation year, getting us back into endurance racing. So, we decided to jump into the deep end of the pool. We knew we couldn’t win, but considering everything, I thought we had a respectable showing. It has always been my philosophy that to be the best, you have to compete against the best. We were able to finish ahead of the Intersport R&S and also one of the Panoz on occasion.

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"I really thought we might get a podium at Laguna Seca, when the Champion team had their gearbox problem, but six minutes later, out they came and beat us. Coming to the ALMS was still the best move that we as a team could have made.

“Our 2004 plan is to run the Lola B2K / 40 all season long, powered by the AER prepared Nissan V-6. As a team, we need to win races and be in a position to win the Championship, and that is where our focus is. So far, as previously announced, we have Bobby Sak and John Olsen in one car, and John Macaluso along with another driver to be announced in the other. Guy Cosmo and Ian James will join in for the longer races. LMP2 is a true privateer category, in which I expect to see five to seven cars run the full season, and I feel that it will be a very competitive run for the title.

“Our race operation has been based in San Diego for the past four years, as Michael Lewis (no relation), who has driven for us since our Trans Am days, has his shop there. We now have a new shop here in Cape Coral, Florida that we are moving into as we speak. It will be a much more convenient place for us to be located. The weather is good, there are many tracks around to test at, and the cost of living and doing business is much less expensive. All in all, the move should be a good thing for us.

“The new package that Lola has designed for the 2004 LMP2 specific rules will enable teams who own B2K / 40s to retain a significant amount of the value of their investment. It’s a good way of allowing people to stay with the marque. By replacing the tub and the bodywork, the customer does not lose on their investment in the typical spares that they have, such as suspension components and the like. Unfortunately, at this point it, is only a drawing board operation. With today’s economy, no one is rushing to order new cars and until somebody shows up with a better mouse trap, there is no need to invest in a new package.

“Sportscar racing has come a long way since the 1998 season, which might have been about as low as things could get. The series was transitioning between the PSCR Andy Evans era and the ALMS era of Don Panoz. We were out there, trying to race a Vector M12, which is another story. Our second race of the year was at Las Vegas and the crowd was, well, rather small. The line at this race was ‘what’s the difference between a sportscar race and a NASCAR race? At a NASCAR race, the fans know all the drivers’ names, while at a sportscar race, the drivers know all the fans’ names.’ Well, from then to now is a night and day difference. Don Panoz and his group have done a tremendous job in building a great series in a short time.

“At that time, it was obvious that we, as a team, needed to go in another direction, and the Trans Am Series was really the most stable place to be. I had Amerisuites on board and hooked up with Mike Lewis. Mike and I hit it off well, and actually led the series for a while in 1999, eventually finishing fourth. We had a good run, but the direction of the series has changed dramatically since then.

“Right now, things are crazy here in the States, especially with the CART and Trans Am situation. I just don’t know how this whole thing will turn out, but I’m glad that I’m not trying to pull together a budget to race in either of those series right now. In reality, we only have a few stable series here. Obviously among those, we have NASCAR, IRL, ALMS and Grand Am. Everything else is up in the air. I feel very strongly about our decision to go with the ALMS though. As I had stated earlier, it has been the absolute best move we could have made. Unlike being in the Trans Am, we know that we will be racing next season.

“Did we consider the Grand Am for this next season? Not really. We looked at all the options and I see what they are trying to do, and some of it is good, but I still view it as a step below the ALMS at this time. It seems to have made some great strives and getting involvement from NASCAR drivers has helped create attention, but what happens when these big name drivers return to their Nextel Cup drives after the 24 hours of Daytona? I will admit that of the Daytona Prototypes, the Crawford doesn’t look too bad, but the rest of them look uglier than sin.

dailysportscar.com“In my eyes, sportscar racing is a different breed. The fans and those involved are technical people that appreciate technical advances. I just don’t see anything technically appealing about the tube-framed Daytona Prototypes. To me, the GTP days were the greatest, with the sexiest cars ever built, and the current LMP cars are the closest to that concept. I examined the Daytona Prototype package, and even with the so-called cost savings, it would still cost about $1.6 million for a proper one-car budget. I can’t justify that in Grand-Am at this point.

“I like the package that the ALMS offers. I like the fact that the races are events where fans show up and are welcomed. The television package is good and it is a strong package to sell to manufacturers and corporate partners. Until their attendance grows dramatically, I couldn’t legitimatize bringing prospective sponsors or key clients to a Grand Am race, especially at the rovals. Even with a decent attendance, a roval looks empty, but with attendance of only 10-15,000 fans, they can really look empty. Professional motorsport sponsorship is all about B2B and corporate entertainment these days. Long gone are the days that a company can justify the expense of just having their name on a car. For me, the ALMS is the premier and only road racing show to be in. Perhaps that will change in the future, but not today.

“But things are not all that they could be in the ALMS. The missing piece of the puzzle is a powerful title sponsor, much like RJR was with their Camel brand, back in the IMSA GTP days. Everything is in place for the ALMS to be huge. They just need that marketing partner that can push the sport to that next level. What people do not realize about a title sponsor is that it is not just the money that they bring to the table. It is the push in the marketing and exposure that a large, high profile corporate sponsor can bring. Everybody says that it a tough economic time, but in reality, now is the perfect time for someone to jump in. Now is the time to capitalize on these opportunities, while your competition is waiting for the turn around to happen. We could be on the verge of something really big here.”

We believe so too, Jon.

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