One of the greatest things about attending a race in the TUDOR United SportsCar Series is the tremendous access that race fans have to the competitors. Unlike other racing series, race drivers and paying customers share the same restrooms, eat at the same concession stands, and are generally seen as just average joes, albeit ones who are wearing fireproof suits and who drive much faster than the assembled masses.
This past weekend, teams, drivers, and fans gathered at the world center of racing for the fifty-second annual Rolex 24 at Daytona. After the dust had settled and the racing was completed, some of the drivers, many with connections to South Florida, took a few moments to sit down with the West Palm Beach Motorsports Examiner. Over the next few days, this column will feature interviews with some of these drivers, and give fans a glimpse into the minds of some of the fastest athletes in the world.
The first of these interviews is local driver Shane Lewis, who was competing for WeatherTech Alex Job Racing in the twice around the clock challenge.
1. What are your feelings about the 2014 Rolex 24 at Daytona, and your hopes for the 2014 season as a whole?
“It was an honor to drive for WeatherTech Alex Job Racing, one of the best prepared Porsche teams at the Daytona 24 Hour this year. To be able to say you drove in the first-ever TUDOR United SportsCar Championship race is also very special. To have led the GT Daytona class is also very cool. I really thought we had a shot at winning it this year. We gave it all we had and then some. If it wasn’t for a few very small issues, I think we could have won the race.
Daytona is a very special place. Winning it last year [in a GX class Porsche Cayman] is a day I will never forget. I get to look at my Rolex Daytona timepiece they awarded us with on victory lane everyday. At one time it is a validation of what we accomplished and a personal motivation to get another. It made me want to get back this year and do it again. I have raced the 24 at Daytona 17 times, I think, and it never gets old. It never gets easier. The challenge is always there. It just calls you back for more.”
2. How do you feel about the newly minted TUDOR United Sportscar Series, as opposed to Grand-Am and ALMS?
“At first I was a little reserved on my opinions. I thought maybe it was a buyout of one series that would impose their will on the other. But, to my surprise and delight, it has actually been both parties coming together to make one really great show. Everyone working in the new series should be commended on the amazing job they have done so far. No one expected it to be perfect right out of the box. That would be totally unrealistic from anyone’s standpoint. But they are working very hard at making it the best sportscar racing series North America has ever seen. I for one think they may just pull it off. While it’s only been one race into the season, you can see how hard they have worked to get it right.”
3. Do you intend on participating in the entire TUSC schedule, or just t Tequila Patron Endurance Series events?
“I would love to be in the series fulltime for sure. Right now I am signed to do the full IMSA Continental SportsCar Challenge in the number twelve Catena Auto Group Porsche. The races are run side-by-side with the TUDOR championship events around North America. Usually they are two-hour and 30-minute events which makes for a great TV show as well. Tough, tough competition and probably some of the closest racing you will ever see. I could still do the TUSCC races and I’m hoping to get on with a team fulltime if the right opportunity is there. It has to be the right opportunity though. I don’t want to just go run-around. I want to challenge for wins.”
4. Aside from yourself, who are the drivers to watch out for in 2014?
“There are so many good drivers in the Series. It’s amazing the depth of talent both the TUDOR and the Conti series have. Everyone that is anyone or wants to be someone is coming here. But, even with all the young hot shoes, you should never count out Scott Pruett. I think he is the best all around sportscar driver in several generations. He is that good. Sure there are others, but I look up to him more than anyone else.”
5. Do your driving duties include other series in addition to IMSA? If so, which ones?
“I was just talking to someone who wanted to know about the Daytona 24 Hour and the Continental series race and that I happen to be driving Porsches in both events. They asked if I only drove Porsches? My answer was simple. If it has wheels, I want to race it. My plans include the Dubai 24 Hours, the VLN series in Germany when I can and also the 24 Hours of the Nürburgring. Both of these races I have actually won and want to get back and repeat that if possible.”
6. What is your favorite racetrack?
“Oh, tough one. One of the main reason I live in Florida, outside of the sunny weather, is that we have four major road courses in the state (Daytona, Sebring, Homestead-Miami and Palm Beach International Raceway). So its great I get to call them all my ‘home track’. I am at Palm Beach International Raceway the most as I am the club pro there for the track and the driving club. But, my absolute favorite is not in Florida, not even in the USA. It would have to be the Nürburgring circuit in Germany. There is no place like it anywhere in the world. The most elevation changes, the most corners, the most different kind and speed corners… it’s adult Disneyland for racecar drivers. You can never really master the course but I sure have a great time trying.”
7. With IMSA seeming to favor more strict enforcement of the rulebook, and imposing stricter penalties, do you think that this effort will stifle competition?
“I think just the opposite. Things had been getting a little crazy with on track crashes and some pretty unscrupulous driving tactics during the races. It had gotten pretty dangerous as well. I think the firm hand on the driving part has been a good thing. Yes we had a little snafu on the call for the last lap of the GTD race at Daytona but they got it rectified. That black eye will heal and hopefully they will work on getting it even better because of that situation. As far as technical aspects of the rules, well you have to have rules. Yes, I get frustrated at some of the things I see as silly and shouldn’t be worried about. But the officials have a very tough job keeping the race teams under control. They have their reasons and those reasons usually come from having seen something before. Racers will push for every inch they can get on the track and off if it can bring us an a better chance of winning. Don’t think for a minute that the moment a rulebook comes out that a good portion of the teams read it to see what they can get away with, not what they have to do but, what they can do.
I do think there is still too many politics in the rules as to what manufacturer get certain things and other do not. Someone who is ‘sponsoring’ a particular race, or supplying pace cars or partnering in marketing will always seem to come out on top. But that’s part of racing. That’s part of human nature and culture. Aligning yourself with the right product and people is part of the game. No matter what the rules are, that will probably never change no matter who runs the show.”
8. Do you see the series expanding in the near future, or will the 11 race season become the norm?
“I think they have to be very careful to grow the schedule too large too quickly. It’s stupid expensive to run the Daytona 24 Hour, then rebuild the car completely and then run the 12 hours of Sebring. Oh and by the way, the Sebring 12 Hour is rougher on the car and teams than the Daytona 24! It’s really expensive for the teams to run those first two races and then we still have the entire season to go from there. Furthermore, don’t forget another full daylong endurance race at the end of the year in Atlanta. So, economics will dictate some of the growth. I also think quality is much better than quantity here. I would like to see a few more tracks on the schedule and maybe a few removed. I do know that once everyone sees how successful the series is, they will all want to be a part of it and on the schedule. I just hope they remember the teams ultimately have the toughest job and to choose the tracks and marketing partners that will benefit everyone.”
9. I recently completed the Competition 101 Racing School, driving 20 laps in a former NASCAR stockcar. Do you think that programs like this are important to help fans understand the sport more?
“Anytime you can get the fans closer to the action and see what we really do in a racecar is great. I give rides for charity functions in one of the sports racers we have at the Driving Club in Palm Beach. People are always amazed at the speed, cornering and braking ability, but also the level of concentration it takes to do all of that. I would love to do a program for IMSA that I could give rides, explain the pit stops and strategy, and really immerse the fans in what we do. That really helps sell the sport. People are familiar with the challenges in other sports because they grow up with them. Racing is different. Once people get a taste of what it is all about, they are usually hooked.”
10. How was your off season?
“There are some years I really wish there was an offseason. We are not like other stick and balls athletes. They get to have some time off. We end our season in late October and start testing sometimes in December but always the very first of January. I don’t remember the last time I actually went out on New Year’s Eve for instance. We have the ‘Roar Before the 24’ testing at Daytona that very same week so there is no time to go celebrate. One season, one year, rolls into the next. So, I guess November is kind of our time off. I love racing more than anything else in the world but do miss having more than a few weeks to regroup.”
Stay tuned to this column for continuing coverage surrounding the Rolex 24 at Daytona weekend, as well as interviews and behind-the-scenes access to some of the sports greatest teams, while in March, this examiner travels to the 12 hours for even more endurance racing action!
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