Talking With Tomy Drissi – American Spirit R&S MKIIIC Driver
© Andrew S. Hartwell

June is going to be an action-packed month for dailysportscar readers – and writers. ALMS fans are eagerly anticipating the resumption of the ALMS, at Road Atlanta in four weeks time, while the Le Mans 24 Hours ‘neatly fills the gap’ in the middle of the month. We’ll be concentrating on Le Mans during the next two weeks, not forgetting that many teams will have to rush from one continent to another immediately after June 15. American Spirit Racing can be a little more considered in their preparations for the Chevy Grand Prix. Andrew Hartwell caught up with Tomy Drissi, as his enforced absence from prototypes approaches its end, to learn more about this prototype newcomer.

dailysportscar.comTomy Drissi has been driving racecars professionally for just four years. He made his mark in the North American based Trans Am series, driving for Jon Lewis’ American Spirit Racing team (ASR). He took the Trans-Am Rookie of the Year honors in 1999, driving alongside Mike Lewis in the ASR / Autocon Motorsports entry.

Seasoned team owner Jon Lewis – a veteran of several American race series including the Firestone Firehawk Endurance Series and the IMSA Camel GT Series - decided the time was right to make a move to the world of prototype racing in the ALMS. He picked up a slightly used Riley & Scott MKIIIC from Rob Dyson and, with his new road rocket in his shop, he set out to make a name for his team in the world of prototypes.

Bringing familiar faces together again for this new challenge seemed to be a good approach, so Jon Lewis called on a few old friends. With Drissi and Lewis on board, he then made sure he had the right person to lead the team, and that meant bringing Buddy Fey back to ASR.

The ASR website provides the following information about Buddy Fey, the Chief Engineer for the prototype effort.

“Prior to the 2002 season where he served as chief engineer for Tom Gloy’s race winning Trans-Am team, with driver Butch Leitzinger, Buddy was chief engineer with American Spirit Racing during Michael Lewis’ race winning 2001 season. Buddy Fey also held top-level engineering positions with the Cadillac LMP program, Forsythe Racing, the Chevrolet factory Trans-Am team, Galles Racing in the IRL and Joe Gibbs Racing in NASCAR.”

With the new old pieces in place, the team made its ALMS debut at Sebring. Mike Lewis, Drissi and young American Guy Cosmo finished 12th overall and seventh in class. The trio completed 318 of 367 laps.

We ran into Drissi at Lime Rock Park – where he was running a Jaguar for Paul Gentilozzi’s Rocketsports Racing team. The abysmal weather left him sloshing and sliding across the LRP road surface the entire race, but he managed to finish on the same lap as the leader, in sixth place overall. He almost beat out LRP favorite -and veteran Hollywood film star - P.L. (Paul) Newman – a spry 78 years young!

[I guess Drissi couldn’t get past Newman because he is one actor who knew his (racing) lines! Sorry - couldn’t resist that one!]

We asked Drissi how he came to again hook up with Jon Lewis and ASR:

“We were just sitting in my office one day and, since we had a deal for the whole year with Rocketsports, and with a couple of the (movie) studios for sponsorship, we thought everything was going well there for Trans Am. Then I got a call from Jon Lewis, the owner of the American Spirit race team and he asked me if I could help out and drive in two races. They said they may get some business from somebody else and then I would get the whole year and be the other driver with Mike Lewis.

“The plan is to do a whole season in ALMS – we’re missing out Le Mans obviously. I made a deal for a couple of the network races and at that point the team helped me out and wanted me to drive with them. I was able to sell the sponsor on the fact that the races would be on network television. They came back to me and said that any driver willing to do that they would help sponsor for the rest of the year. I know that Jon and the team are going to do whatever it takes to keep me there and I’m going to do whatever it takes to stay there.”

Drissi’s Trans Am Jaguar is painted up with graphics for a movie to hit theaters this summer. “The movie is called LXG for ‘The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’. It opens the week after the fourth of July.

A 20th Century Fox release provides some background on the film:

“Set in Victorian England, the story centers around a team of extraordinary figures enlisted by a mysterious caller to stop a villain intent on turning the nations of the world against one another. The coterie of heroes are led by Allan Quartermain (Sean Connery) and comprise some of the greatest figures from adventure literature: Captain Nemo (Naseeruddin Shah), Dracula vampiress Mina Harker (Peta Wilson), invisible man Rodney Skinner, (Tony Curran), American secret service agent Sawyer (Shane West), Dorian Gray (Stuart Townsend), and Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde (Jason Flemyng). Richard Roxburgh ("Moulin Rouge") plays the League's enigmatic recruiter, M. Stephen Norrington ("Blade") directs. -- © 2002 20th Century Fox

Drissi explains his connection with the film:

“I work in marketing with the studios. I always have, probably since I was 17 years old, starting with sweeping floors and now I am marketing and engineering and design.”

From the movies to the racetrack can be some ride. Did Drissi have a long background in racing as well? No. But he is in it big time now.

“The only modern racing car I have ever driven is a Trans Am car, and I only started four years ago professionally. I’ve never done any club racing, but I did do some vintage racing and that gave me some experience. We went off to Sebring; I had never driven in a prototype before. But that Riley & Scott was pretty rookie-friendly.

“Bill Riley really helped out by taking the car back and putting some updates on it. And the Jim Matthews team also helped us out. The racing community is very helpful and I think they will continue to help us as long as we are not getting too close to passing them. So until then, Jim Matthews is a really good guy! I’m kidding; he really is a good guy.

“Their car looked like the Batmobile! I really would have loved our car to be black too. But I’ll drive it even if it has pink polka dots if the sponsors want it that way! Our white car looks very clean it has a couple of blue and red stripes on it. I saw some photographs of the car at night and it really looks great!

The year ahead will be challenging but one suspects that Drissi is up for almost any challenge. Would he care to speculate on what a good first season would look like?

“We don’t know who is running ALMS full time or part time, but we are going to run the full season. What an accomplishment it would be, for a team that has been together for three or four months, with a fraction of the budget that many of the other prototypes have, to be in the top five in points and maybe hit the podium a couple of times. I mean, there are some big boys out there and that is about all you can ask for.

OK, how about one more challenge? Can American Spirit Racing, or Dyson, or Matthews or anyone for that matter shoot down the Audi jets?

“Well, to be honest, the Audis are so advanced that I don’t think you would have to touch (change) them for a couple of years! They are still going to be the tanks they are. I could not believe the Bentleys and the Audis at Sebring! They just look bullet proof!”

Perhaps with the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen on their side the ASR guys could be the ones to make a few dents at least. After all, there are three steps on the podium.


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