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JAMES: Opening a New Chapter for Heart of Racing

Ian James files his first Sportscar365 column ahead of this weekend’s Pirelli GT4 America season-opener…

Photo: Heart of Racing

It seems odd to be talking about a season preview when our season started back in January at the 24H Dubai with the 24H Series! And it’s been busy ever since, with some big IMSA races as well as the GT America season opener at St. Pete, and I am ready to get this Pirelli GT4 America season going too.

I am excited to get to Sonoma, it’s one of my favorite tracks. I’ve been fortunate to have raced there many times and enjoy the challenges of the track.

For the Heart of Racing Team, this is a big weekend and kind of opens a new chapter for us as a team.

Gray (Newell) and I will be continuing our program together and looking for just a little more racing luck this year, while we will also have a second campaign that we are very excited about.

After we had a two-day shootout last year, the Heart of Racing selected Hannah (Grisham) and Rianna (O’Meara-Hunt) to race together in Pirelli GT4 America. They will be taking on so many new things starting this weekend, and it is going to be great to see how they progress.

They will run in the Am class, and have shown us that they have everything to be right there and competitive so this Sonoma weekend is sort of the first chapter in that story.

Both ladies are learning the Vantage pretty quickly for the short amount of time they have been in the car.

This weekend will be a learning experience not just for them, but also for our team as well, fielding three cars for the first time. I think they are ready to go, it is a big field this weekend with tough competition, but I think they will do just fine and this will be a great way to start the season.

I’m also excited to get this championship started with Gray. This will be our third season together and he’s done such a great job learning the car and the different tracks.

He’s already off to a good start at St. Pete in the GT4. He’s also made the jump up to GT3 competition in the 24H Series co-driving with Roman and I. We ended up third in Dubai and won at Mugello this past weekend.

Last year was our first year competing at Sonoma together and it didn’t go as we had hoped. We started out with a decent qualifying run, starting off the first race in fourth place. Unfortunately we had an issue with the car with two laps remaining that took us out of the lead.

We had the pace all weekend long and Gray did a great job with an awesome save during his stint, but some things we just can’t control. We weren’t able to get the car going for the second race of the weekend, which is just really unfortunate. We are coming back this year to settle the score.

Looking ahead to the season overall, it’s great to see that the GT4 package has attracted another really big field this year with a lot of good teams and strong drivers.

Aston Martin has done a great job with both their GT3 and GT4 Vantages, there are quite a few of us running the same car and as we saw in St. Pete, we are all pretty competitive.

As I mentioned, even though this is the season opener, we’ve already been quite active this year—just last weekend we were in Mugello for the 12H, which was our second 12-hour race in a week.

It’s not only us drivers that have the short turnaround time, it’s The Heart of Racing Team too. Just in the month of March, they have had cars prepped for testing, for the double-header GT America race at St. Pete, the Sebring 12 hour, the Mugello race and now out to Sonoma.

After this weekend, we’ll be back at it in California again with our Formula Drift program as well as the two IMSA GTD entries so it will be another big weekend.

There is a lot that goes into these races and I’m continually impressed with how dedicated the men and women at the Heart of Racing Team are.

We are pretty lucky in the fact that we get to do what we love while helping raise funds for the Seattle Children’s Hospital. Since the beginning of the partnership we have helped raise $10 million to help develop new ways to prevent, diagnose and treat pediatric heart conditions.

Ian James is the team principal for Heart of Racing and also drives for the team in Pirelli GT4 America, among other series both domestically and around the world.

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