Ian James says it’s been a “big undertaking” for he and the upstart The Heart of Racing team as the program returns to IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship competition for the first time in four years.
While carrying the same name when it last competed in the GT Daytona class with an Alex Job Racing-run Porsche 911 GT3 R, James said the new operation, backed by Gabe Newell, has been built from the “ground-up” in rather rapid fashion.
Tech billionaire and philanthropist Newell gave the green light to start the program three months ago according to James, who has assembled a team made up of crew from his past racing endeavors.
It includes former Alex Job Racing engineer Phil Pierce as well as junior engineer Grady Young, who had worked at Team Panoz Racing, which James had both drove for and served as the team manager in Pirelli GT4 America competition last year.
“There are some faces from AJR but it’s basically people that I’ve worked with in my driving career,” James told Sportscar365. “We’ve tried to put together a group that gels well and can get the job done.
“When [The Heart of Racing] program first happened in 2014, I kind of put it together and paired it with Alex Job.
“I’ve always had an integral part of it but now obviously, I’m really hands on in terms of making some key decisions. It’s exciting. It’s hopefully the next chapter of my career.”
As was the case last year, the 45-year-old Englishman will split his duties between driving and team management, although will only be in the team’s new Aston Martin Vantage GT3 for the Michelin Endurance Cup races.
Alex Riberas and 2019 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA and Canada double-champion Roman De Angelis are confirmed as full-season drivers, with Aston Martin Racing factory driver Nicki Thiim completing the lineup for next weekend’s season-opening Rolex 24 at Daytona.
“While I’m still able to drive, I want to still do that and remain competitive,” James said.
“But there’s a big challenging to running a team and being a team manager. Last year at Panoz, I enjoyed that role and it’s now gone a step further.”
James has given high marks to Aston Martin Racing, which has assisted the Florida-based team in getting up to speed with the new-generation Vantage.
“The folks at Aston are really excited about it. We’re excited, with the Heart of Racing able to bring it back to America.
“There’s a lot of energy with our fundraising in Seattle about it. But I think just from fans to acquaintances to people in the paddock, people like to have the Aston brand here and it’s exciting to bring it here.”
While only having received the car three weeks prior to the Roar Before the Rolex 24, James is upbeat on their chances straight out of the gate, despite the competitive nature of the class.
“I’m hopeful we’ll have a shot at it,” he said. “The competition is so extreme in GTD now. You need all of the boxes to be ticked and need a lot of luck to win this race.
“It’s exciting to have guys like Alex and Roman and Nicki in the car. Nicki has a lot of experience with the car so that will help accelerate our learning curve.
“The Aston Martin Racing guys have been very help to get us up to speed.”
De Angelis Set for “Massive Learning Curve” in Rookie GTD Season
Set for his first full-season WeatherTech Championship campaign, De Angelis said he expects his transition from Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge to one of the most competitive GT3 categories in the world to be a “massive learning curve”.
The 18-year-old, who claimed 22 victories in 28 starts in GT3 Cup Challenge competition last year, is set for his first experience with a front-engined race car.
“It’s going to be a massive learning curve,” he told Sportscar365. “I have really good teammates, so that’s going to help me, hopefully look at some data and get used to it quite quickly.
“But I think we have a good enough team to figure it out quite early so it should be good.”
De Angelis will be following in the footsteps of fellow Canadian Zach Robichon, who graduated to the GTD class for 2019 following a dominant season in Porsche’s single-make series the previous year.
“Zach Robichon was my teammate two years ago and he put a good beating on me,” De Angelis said. “I learned quite a bit from him and last year I managed to match the numbers he had.
“He did a fantastic job also, jumping into the GT3 car with Pfaff
“Hopefully we could do the same. That would be good.”