While the official results don’t show it, last month’s Rolex 24 at Daytona saw the return to form of BAR1 Motorsports and Johnny Mowlem, with the veteran British driver having kicked off his full-season return to North American racing with a pole and strong race performance for the revitalized Prototype Challenge squad.
For Mowlem, the 2015 TUDOR United SportsCar Championship season represents a new chapter in his long love affair for American racing, something he had missed over the last few years with only one-off rides, European-focused programs or others drives that had fallen through.
“It was always top of my list to return full-time to America and obviously the pinnacle of sports car racing in the U.S. right now is the United SportsCar Championship,” Mowlem told Sportscar365.
“America is where I first got paid to race, at the [Rolex 24] in 1999, and where I subsequently raced either a full season or selected races for the rest of my career. Last month’s Daytona 24 brought things full circle for me.
“I was very fortunate that an opportunity arose. The life of a jobbing professional racing driver is very much an up and down one and in my pro career I’ve experienced my fair share of these peaks and troughs.”
Having claimed the 2013 European Le Mans Series GTE championship with Ram Racing, Mowlem was set for a globe-trotting campaign in the FIA World Endurance Championship last year, until the British squad pulled the plug on its program after Le Mans due to financial issues.
It left the 46-year-old on the sidelines, in a position no driver envies, especially during the middle of the season.
“In fact last year was one of the toughest in my racing career, mostly because all of us at Ram Racing went into the season with such high hopes, which obviously all came to nothing when the team had to pull out,” Mowlem said.
“In a situation like that, all you can do is let it be widely known that you have become available and wait to see if any teams out there have a need for a professional driver, which is clearly unlikely when it’s halfway through a season. But I was very fortunate that a few opportunities were offered to me.”
A one-off drive with Greaves Motorsport in the ELMS race at Paul Ricard, filling in for Chris Dyson, was followed by an end-of-season campaign with BAR1 Motorsports, which saw Mowlem take part in the final two TUDOR Championship races of the year.
It ultimately led to a full-season seat at BAR1, thanks to team owner Brian Alder, who Mowlem not only credits for putting his faith in him, but also Alder’s vision of returning the team to its winning ways after a rough 2014 season.
“That is one of the reasons why I was so delighted that we managed to secure pole position and deliver a great race performance [in the race], as this drew a line in the sand and helped remind everyone else in the paddock and beyond what a great team of people [Brian] has put together, and that BAR1 Motorsports is back as a force to be reckoned with,” Mowlem said.
Paired with Silver-rated driver Tom Papadopoulos in the No. 16 Oreca FLM09 for the season, Mowlem is optimistic about their chances this year, particularly after a strong showing at Daytona, where they finished second in class on the track but was later excluded due to a drive time infraction.
While the team’s Silver-rated drivers combined for more than 11 hours of drive time, one of its drivers failed to reach the 4 hour and 30-minute minimum, which led to the post-race penalty. It’s something Mowlem is still not completely at ease with.
“We have to move forward, but it clearly doesn’t take away from the superb performance of what the team achieved,” he said. “But I must admit that it does seem a little harsh that we weren’t allowed to keep points for even finishing last, as was the case with another drive time infringement in the same race. It was obvious no advantage had been gained.”
Looking ahead, 2015 could end up being a busy year for the Englishman, as he’s provisionally listed in Greaves’ Gibson 015S Nissan LMP2 car for the ELMS season and 24 Hours of Le Mans, although a deal has yet to be finalized.
While a return to Le Mans remains high on his list of objectives, Mowlem is excited about the long-term prospects ahead in America, and helping take the Ohio-based squad back to victory lane and a potential championship pursuit.
“When we agreed our initial deal just for last few races in 2014, it was always our intention to continue that relationship long term into 2015 and beyond,” he said.
“In fact we are now working hard together along with my teammate and friend Tom Papadopoulos to put a plan in place that secures BAR1 Motorsports’ future for the long term.
“I hope that we can continue to make forward momentum at the upcoming Twelve Hours of Sebring and beyond.”