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Continental Tire IMSA Driver Spotlight: Tom Long

This week’s Continental Tire IMSA Driver Spotlight: Tom Long…

Photo: Mazda

Photo: Mazda

Driver Profile: Tom Long
Driver, No. 07 SpeedSource Mazda SKYACTIV-D
Follow: @TomLongRacing

You had the honor of leading Mazda’s first ever laps with the prototype, and with the diesel at Daytona. What did that mean to you?

“As hard as Mazda and SpeedSource have been working on the SKYACTIV diesel program, it was just such an honor and a privilege for me to take the flag and lead for them so early in the race. It’s ironic because it spoke to exactly what the Mazda SKYACTIV technology is all about – the fuel strategy and longer stint played to our advantage, and into our favor.

“It’s mainly a huge boost for the guys. There were so many hours going in. I was at the shop the week leading up to the race, and it was 12-hour days every single day. It was a huge boost for them and they deserve it. It’s the least we could do for them.”

What has stood out to you over the last 12 months of development on this car?

“The progress in the last 12 months has been purely amazing for what a couple of the guys, specifically in the engine department, have been able to do, with all the resources they have. You’re taking a stock street-going/road-going engine, and you’re ask it to do three to four times the amount of output it’s created to do to compete with the turbo V6s or normally aspirated V8s, so it’s a tall order.

“What SpeedSource and Mazda have been able to do is take the technology, make some revisions and adjustments and make a better product. Hopefully we can win with it and it will go back into the road cars for Mazda.”

What are your goals for 2015, and how will you adjust to working with new co-driver Joel Miller?

“It’s hard to believe, but last year was my first year in a full-blown high downforce prototype. The learning curve was certainly there, but because the engine and chassis was still so new, everyone was learning together. We’ve developed the chassis similar and engine similar, so it’s now going to be on the driver more to get some results. I’m excited for the challenge and that proved to be case at Daytona. The performance is there, and when we look at it, the pit crews, pit stops, driver performance, those are all aspects that need to peak at the same time. I want to make sure I’m doing my part.

“Joel and I get along really well, not just as a driver but an engineer. He’s very smart. What’s fun about our relationships, is that our style is very similar. We were in different cars last year but we saw our approaches were similar. We’ll try to engineer the things and setup in the same direction, and push each other each race.”

How did you handle the 2014 season of balancing both the Prototype program with the MX-5 in Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, and how different were the platforms?

“There certainly are a lot of differences between the two cars, and physics are physics. In a prototype, the biggest challenge is knowing the amount of additional grip and trust that’s there to give you that confidence. In the MX-5 it’s kind of inherent, not only from all my experience, but in the fact it’s the best roadster sports car out there. When you have that on your side, it’s confidence inspiring, and makes it pretty straightforward. But when you have a ton of grip, and you’re building heat in the brakes and tires, that takes time to develop.

“I truly love the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge action. I love the series and it’s so unique. The racing is so close, so intense. It’s something I’ve thrived on for a long time. But this year, it’s a lot to do between everything. So the focus with the Prototype program, and the sole focus on the new car, I’m sad I won’t be running any Continental races this year.”

You’ll have the opportunity to do testing and development on the new MX-5 – what will that entail?

“I am truly thrilled to be able to do that for Mazda and the MX-5 legacy. As Mazda produces the new chassis, I’ll be able to help with the development process as a test driver during the MX-5 season and run in parallel with current cars. That will help determine as a ‘bogey sample’ as you were, where the performance needs to be. It should be a lot of fun. I won’t be competing, but running the promoter test days, along with our own development program.”

You played a key role in one of CTSC’s best stories in 2014, winning with Liam Dwyer at Lime Rock. How have you been able to help him grow and develop as he transitions into a full-time season this year?

“Liam Dwyer, with his whole opportunity and for me to be involved, is truly a blessing. I feel it was an inspiring story to begin with and to have an injured veteran, and a Marine in the series with us. For me to be able to coach and develop him as a driver, and then for us to pick up the win a Lime Rock at Memorial Day weekend, it was ironic – or almost perfectly scripted!

“Liam has developed as a driver. He was very good to begin with and that’s how we moved forward with him driving. He’s come a long way. His driving has been good, but one challenge for him is just the competition in Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge is just unbelievable. He had to learn the advantages of the Mazda, then deal with multi-class racing throughout his learning curve. But we shined.”

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