Ian James said he tried to take “zero risks” in Sunday’s Pirelli GT4 America Sprint season finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, knowing the points cushion he had to take the Pro drivers’ championship.
The Englishman claimed his first professional sports car racing title in 15 years following a turnaround in fortunes for the Team Panoz Racing driver in Vegas.
James headed into the title-deciding weekend at an 8.5-point deficit to championship leader Michael Cooper and 1 point behind second place runner Spencer Pumpelly after losing the points lead following a rain-soaked weekend at Road America.
“I was definitely the underdog coming into this weekend,” James told Sportscar365. “At Road America, we had a big points cushion there, that evaporated and then when we came here I wasn’t sure if it could be done.
“But they had some bad luck and luck was on our side.”
A hard-fought opening race of the weekend was rewarded with a win, thanks to late-race punctures for both Cooper and Pumpelly, which swung the points back in James’ direction heading into Sunday’s title-decider.
“Going into it with a 16.5-point cushion, I knew I needed a fourth or fifth place finish,” James said. “That was my focus, with zero risks.
“When you take zero risks, sometimes you get into different people’s battles.
“I had a couple of close encounters and then had Jarett Andretti in front of me and Drew Staveley right behind me at the end. I was just trying to bring it home.
“But those last ten minutes definitely seemed a lot longer than that.”
While Cooper claimed a dominant victory, James’ fourth place finish was enough to take the drivers title and also the teams’ championship for Team Panoz Racing for the second consecutive year.
The team’s GT4 SprintX Am lineup of Preston Calvert and Matt Keegan, meanwhile, were crowned class champions in a banner weekend for the Georgia-based organization.
“Obviously this year was in honor of Don after his passing away last year,” said James, who took over as team manager this year. “It was a lot of responsibility on my shoulders.
“The team has worked so hard. I’m so elated for them and I’m so elated for the Panoz family that made this happen.
“To have both cars win their championships, it means so much. It’s just a testament to the hard work and groundwork that was put in.”
“Not the End” of Panoz Avezzano GT4 Program
James said he’s feeling “pretty confident” that Panoz Avezzano GT4s will be on the GT4 America grid next year, after some initial questions over the program’s future.
The two-car effort had been committed by Nancy Panoz for this year only, as a tribute to her late husband.
“We’re just trying to figure out those details but it’s not the end,” said James, who said he’ll unlikely defend his GT4 Sprint Pro title as a driver.
“It will probably be more of a Pro-Am setup. I may drive with a customer or we’ll do all Ams. I’m not hanging the boots up quite yet. You’ll probably see me at Daytona.”
Check out our full interview with Ian James in this week’s Sportscar365 Double Stint Podcast, which will be released on Tuesday