IMSA Spotlight: Johnny Mowlem
Driver: No. 20 BAR1 Motorsports Oreca FLM09
How has it been returning to full-time racing in the U.S. this year, with BAR1 Motorsports? Has it lived up to your expectations?
“Returning to be BAR1 Motorsports’ full-time pro driver for 2016 was a real pleasure, and things started off so well with pole position at Daytona for the second year running followed by a strong podium finish.
“Then at Sebring, with the introduction of the new Motec engine mapping and TC systems, it moved the goal posts for the teams quite a bit and introduced a real need to go testing which isn’t always possible budget wise. That’s why you saw what used to be a very close PC class spread out in terms of lap times quite a lot over the races that followed. That gap has begun to close again in the last few races which is good to see.
“Unfortunately for us at the BAR1 team, we have been very unlucky since Daytona in terms of results as we were running a strong 3rd and on course for another podium at Sebring before a crash mid-race.
“Long Beach, we had a super-fast car to begin with but a practice crash again set us back. At Laguna, we ran the whole race with one bank of exhaust headers hanging off the engine after being hit by a GT car on lap 10. At Detroit, a freak issue lost us 60 percent of our practice time and we never recovered.
“At Watkins, we got crashed out really early when running second and I think lost a very possible podium there, and at Mosport we had a really unusual high fuel pressure issue that manifested itself in the warm-up and meant we missed the pit window and had to start the race from the pit lane and the problem unfortunately reared it’s head again in the race, losing us a ton of straight-line speed! So as you can see if we didn’t have bad luck we’d have no luck at all!
“My heart goes out to Brian Alder, the team owner and the rest of his team as I can see how hard he is working to try and turn this all around and return us back to where we were, fighting for pole positions and podiums and wins.
“For me personally it has been quite tough, but you have to learn to take the rough with the smooth in this business, and my motivation is still very high and I’m optimistic we can turn this around, especially when I have a co-driver like Matt McMurry, who is young and hungry and fast, and more importantly getting better and better technically as well.”
You have quite a busy schedule in Europe and the U.S. this year. How do you keep your focus while juggling multiple programs, with very different machinery?
“I am used to driving quite different machinery over the last 15 years or so. In fact one weekend at Petit Le Mans I raced a GT3 Aston Martin on road tires in the World Challenge race and then the factory LMP1 Zytek with Stefan Johansson in the main race. We finished second to McNish and Capello that weekend so it didn’t seem to do me much harm!
“The one thing however that has been tough is the level of travel, which again isn’t anything unusual for anyone involved in international motorsport, be they a driver, crew member or even journalists!
“My Virgin Atlantic air miles have gone through the roof and I’m even having to leave in mid-summer holiday in Mallorca to fly to Road America, but as long as I can still feel fresh and look forward to leaving for each race then life is good!”
What are you expecting this weekend at Lime Rock, where PC will be the top class and going for the overall win?
“Given all our recent trials and tribulations, I am just hopeful Matt and I get a slice of luck and we have a quick car and can fight for the overall win. If we’re in the fight for victory or at least improving that chance race by race then we’re doing our job.”
The future of the PC/Pro-Am prototype racing has been a big topic recently. What would you like to see happen?
“That’s a tough one! I personally love the PC class as it allows a Pro-Am environment at the sharp end of the grid, a bit like in the old days before all the driver ranking system arrived and you had privateer LMP1 teams racing.
“The Pro-Am business model has in recent years become a hugely important piece of international sports car racing, and it has afforded a lot of young drivers the chance to earn a living even if they aren’t in a position to land a factory contract. That can’t be a bad thing and I feel quite strongly that there is definitely room for PC cars in the WeatherTech Championship.
“It seems slightly illogical to have had the teams have to spend tens of thousands of dollars to update them this year if you can then only race them for one more year in 2017, but also the cars are now becoming quite long in the tooth.
“But whatever decision is taken for 2018, I hope that a Pro-Am prototype class will still exist in what is the best professional sports car championship in the U.S.”
Tell us about your TV show, Mowlem Racing Travels, and what the reception has been in the UK of your U.S. racing adventures…
“It’s been more years than I care to remember that I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have Sky Sports television commission a diary program that follows some of what I do in racing. Despite the title, we try hard to make this as varied and interesting as possible and not just all about me, as that would make it super boring very quickly!
“This year we’re following a couple of my friends who I am mentoring in their ambitions to be able to progress to ultimately compete at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. There is something really unique in our sport that it allows the opportunity for amateurs, albeit very competent amateurs, the chance to race in the same event as some of the world’s top international racing drivers.
“Although this is growing within the current Pro-Am rules that are being actively encouraged by the various championship organizers, as I mentioned before, we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that in fact it has always been this way.
“In fact, in the really early days of motorsport, it was actually only the gentleman drivers who could actually afford to go racing! So I find it a lot of fun to help perpetuate that tradition.
“The next episode, which centers around our Road to Le Mans race with our Ferrari 488, airs on Sky Sports 3 this week on Tuesday at 6:30 pm UK time and is repeated at 11 pm and again on Wednesday July 20 again on Sky Sports 3.”