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