Mike Johnson says the biggest challenge in the relocation and off-season expansion of Archangel Motorsports has been the ramping up of staff capable to take on top-level IMSA racing in three different series.
While having made his return as a team owner in Michelin Pilot Challenge last year, Johnson spent the winter months moving shops from the former Park Place Motorsports base in Dallas to his own facility in St. Louis.
Initially tabbed for 2020, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic delayed his team’s relocation and was further challenged with the addition of a WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Acura NSX GT3 Evo program for Magnus Racing and Alan Brynjolfsson’s expansion to IMSA Prototype Challenge with a Ligier JS P320 Nissan LMP3 car for he and longtime co-driver Trent Hindman.
“At the very beginning the most challenging thing is finding people,” Johnson told Sportscar365. “Obviously when you’ve been in the sport as long as I have you have a pretty strong rolodex.
“But my shop is based in St. Louis.
“[Originally] it was going to be one car [this year] and easy to manage. Then John [Potter] showed up with the Acura and Alan [Brynjolfsson] added the LMP3 car.
“You’ve got to hire [a lot] of people.
“It’s very difficult to get people to move and all of the stuff that goes with it. You can find very good people that are out there but some of the best are going to be with teams they’ve been at for 10-15 years.”
Johnson said he had a form of ‘gong show’ ahead of the start of the year in what resulted in a doubling of his staff.
While acquiring equipment from Magnus and continuing with Brynjolfsson’s GS class operation with an Aston Martin Vantage GT4, Johnson brought on selected staff from a U.S. F4 team that’s based at his shop to help run the LMP3 car but still needed more crew to fill the void.
“I think one week I hired like ten people,” he said. “I said, ‘Hey, come to St. Louis and we’re going to work for a week and see how it goes.
“Some people made it, some people didn’t and off we went.
“It was a pretty large financial output to build a race shop from nothing, get everybody staffed up.
“Once we got going, we got going. But that is and was the biggest challenge of starting a new team in a city that nobody [in motorsports] lives in, is getting people to get there.”
Johnson said there’s a lot of “familiar people in familiar roles” at Archangel, which has seen him temporarily take in crew members as he did some 20 years ago in the first incarnation of his team when it campaigned prototypes in Grand-Am.
“I have people staying at my house on a regular basis,” he said. “I have an [extra] bedroom so they can stay there for three days or whatever.
“When Archangel Motorsports started in 2000 when we moved to sports cars, the Andy Lally’s, the Spencer Pumpelly’s, the Ryan Eversley’s plus a dozen mechanics that lived in my house at one point or another.
“I think we were at Daytona in 2002 and I counted 14 people that at one point lived in my house that were working in some capacity in that race that weekend.
“It’s just part of it. You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. Because budgets are always a concern and you can’t pay everybody $100,000 and put them in a brand-new car and house.”
Despite being under the same roof, both the Magnus and VOLT Racing programs are run with separate crews, although all three cars share the same pit box and core equipment on race weekends.
All three series, however, have yet to race on the same weekend.
“Mid-Ohio, in a weird sort of way, is going to be our biggest challenge from a personnel standpoint,” Johnson said, which will see Prototype Challenge, Pilot Challenge and the WeatherTech Championship all on the same bill.
“We’ve got two races on one day and another on the next day. It’s going to be boom-boom-boom.
“And it’s going to be most difficult for Alan as well to race different cars back-to-back, which he hasn’t had to do other than testing or at the Roar.”
“Anything is Possible” for Remainder of Season
After a disastrous start in all three series at Daytona, Johnson is hopeful to continue the momentum gained in their most recent outings at Sebring, which was highlighted by a win in IPC for Brynjolfsson and Hindman and a fourth place GT Daytona class finish for the Magnus Acura of Potter, Andy Lally and Spencer Pumpelly.
“We had a horrible Daytona,” Johnson said. “For all intents and purposes we walked out of there with three DNFs.
“The Acura had a horrible race. Something happened to it early on and we just lost all handling and never could get it back.
“The P3 car was in a crash in qualifying and under a full course yellow another car drove right into the back of it and ripped half the car off. That stumbled along through the rest of the race.
“Then we crashed the GS car.
“You look at the points and we were dead last in all three categories. You sit there and think the championships are done but then you go to Sebring and we get a win [in IPC], Alan qualified third [in Pilot Challenge] before we got DQ.
“Without the penalty we would have worked our way up to the top-three easily.
“The same was with Andy [in the 12-hour]. He was making a pass for third and we got spun back around with a few minutes to go. We could have had a double podium.
“We now have a fighting chance. We’re coming off some great momentum. We have some test days planned between now and Mid-Ohio.
“Our drivers believe in us and the team believes in itself. Anything is possible.”