This week’s Continental Tire IMSA Spotlight is Karl Thomson, team owner of Compass360 Racing. C360R has a shot at winning both the GS (Ford Shelby GT350R-C) and ST (Audi S3) titles in 2016 with three solid lineups…
IMSA Spotlight: Karl Thomson
Team Owner, Nos. 74, 75 Compass360 Racing Audi S3 (ST), No. 76 Ford Shelby GT350R-C (GS)
Drivers: Nico Rondet, Jim McGuire (No. 74), Kyle Gimple, Roy Block (No. 75), Pierre Kleinubing, Paul Holton (No. 76)
What led to the decision to acquire the Ford in GS?
“We retired our GS-class Subaru after Laguna Seca last year in favor of running a shorter schedule with a GTD-class Audi R8. The plan was to run all Audis in 2016, but although there are cars eligible for GS (the RS5 and TT RS), both are due for replacement in the next 12 months, which meant that there was little point for Audi to invest in marketing them.
“At the same time, we had some discussions with the folks at Ford and Multimatic about the new Shelby GT350R-C, and it made a lot of sense to put together an initial two-year program with them. Multimatic’s Toronto facility is 15 minutes from our shop, and we share a similar working style, and so we’re looking forward to seeing what a couple of Canadian teams working together on the Mustangs can do.
“The GT350R-C is a proven platform, and we think our Holton/Kleinubing driver pairing compares favorably with their Maxwell/Johnson. Scotty and I have been friends for ages, and Billy drove with me in 2006 and 2007, that last year very nearly winning the ST driver’s championship in one of our Acura TSX’s. So I think we have some solid chemistry between the 76 and 15 cars.”
How do you rate the competition in GS even though there have been a lot of manufacturer and team changes since last year with the Subaru?
“There’s no question that 2016 is a rebuilding year for GS. The costs to build cars and field them got run up over the past few years, and I see this season as an opportunity for the series to get back to budgets that teams and their clients can work with. The Cayman GT4 CS is a big part of that, and I think you’ll see a bunch more of those cars start showing up as the season goes on.
“It’ll be nice to see Chevy come back with a new version of the Camaro that’s closer to stock than the previous car, much like Ford has done with the GT350R-C. At somewhere around $230k, the Mustang is really good value, as is the Cayman. The cool thing is that there are the options for teams to buy turn-key race cars from the manufacturer, or to also build their own cars to the same spec. That’s important for the future of the series.”
How much better do you think the Audi is going to be this year in season two? What do you think of its chances at Daytona for its first race?
“Obviously finishing off 2015 with a win at Road Atlanta was the best way to end the season, which saw us developing a very complex road car from scratch. We are the only team in the world racing an S3 based on cars we bought from our local dealer (thank you Pfaff!), and whilst it proved to be a very strong platform, we spent much of the season working on programming the electronics… the electronic nannies of a street car needed to be taught some things about racing!
“As for Daytona, we have good straight-line speed, but the S3 sedan is a bit of an aerodynamic brick compared to cars like the previous-generation Cayman. Our goal for the 74 and 75 is to score some points and then focus on tracks like Sebring that should suit us better.”
What does the partnership with Children’s Tumor Foundation mean for Compass360 Racing? What was the genesis of the “Art Car” project?
“We’ve supported CTF’s Racing4Research program since 2011. Our good friend Ryan Eversley, who was in our 75 car that year and was also the designated pro in a GT-class Porsche, introduced us. I was immediately taken by the energy and enthusiasm that they bring to the track. Every year they had been using the 24 Hours at Daytona as a fundraising initiative, and we were the first CTSC team that added our support.
“When you see all the kids and their families in their blue tee-shirts, you can’t help but be impressed… I believe they’ll have almost 100 people at Daytona this year. The kids and their families are living with neurofibromatosis (NF), which is the most common genetic disorder that you’ve never heard of. Incredibly, it affects 1 in 3,000 people.
“A couple of years back, the R4R Program Director, Jill Beck, put together a really cool thing with Patrick Dempsey and Park Place’s GT Porsche program, that saw the 73 car wrapped in a painting made specially for the Foundation by artist Jeff Hanson, who has NF.
“I offered to put the same art on one of our cars for the rest of the season, and the piece was auctioned off at the CTF Gala in New York City, raising $20,000. This year we have another new piece of art that is specific to the Mustang. Amazingly, the original art has already been purchased by a private collector, even before the season begins!”
Outside of racing and building cars, what are some of your passions that make you tick? Being Canadian, is there a natural hockey obsession?
“My 15-year-old son, Miles, is a goaltender, and I just got back from a tournament trip in Pittsburgh, where the boys won their first-ever championship. The ride back on the bus was full of good energy, and I hope to bring that vibe to Daytona.
“I enjoy outdoor stuff like snowboarding, scuba diving and boating, but I’m also a huge nerd. I love watching the Space-X feeds when they do the satellite deployments, Doctor Who with my daughter, Laura (who is at university studying medicine), and movies like Interstellar and The Martian.
“Most of all, I love to travel, which comes in handy with our team running 20+ weekends a year. Last year I had the opportunity to travel to Japan with Laura for her final World Cup competition (she competed for Canada for a number of years in rhythmic gymnastics), and then to France for Le Mans. Delta’s in-flight WiFi is quite possibly the best thing ever.”