Jeff Ward says an interaction with Tim Pappas on Instagram led to his drive with Black Swan Racing in this weekend’s Pirelli World Challenge round on the streets of Long Beach.
The motorcycle racing legend and former IndyCar driver is set for his PWC debut in the team’s Porsche GT4 Clubsport MR, which is one of seven GT4-spec cars competing in the GTS invitational class.
Ward, who hasn’t driven full-time in four-wheeled circuit racing since the 2002 IndyCar Series season with Chip Ganassi Racing, said he was eager to jump at the opportunity, even if it came under unique circumstances.
“I just met him through Instagram and [started] talking,” Ward told Sportscar365. “He’s a big moto guy; he has a bunch of bikes.
“He wanted me to come out and drive his car and I couldn’t come out that one day, but he said they go all the time.
“He’s got a hangar with a bunch of cool cars and bikes and I went out and we just hit it off. He called me that night and said, ‘Hey, I’m doing Long Beach, do you what to race that car?’ I’m like, sure!”
“I’ve never turned down an opportunity when somebody asked if I want to drive a car.
“I certainly wouldn’t do Indy cars or anything, I’m just too old, but I’ve been racing bicycles and doing stuff, working with athletes.”
The 56-year-old, who has enjoyed an extensive and diverse career ranging from Motocross and Supercross to NASCAR, Global Rallycross and Stadium Super Trucks, is set for his first sports car racing start in nearly a decade.
Ward’s only previous professional appearance came in the 2009 Rolex 24 at Daytona, at the wheel of a Spirit of Daytona Racing Coyote-Porsche DP, which he shared with fellow motorcycle drivers Jeff Russell and Jason Pridmore plus Guy Cosmo.
“I always wanted to do some of this stuff,” Ward said. “It’s serious but it’s lower commitment, lower pressure.
“When you’re in the top series of anything, sponsorship is a big deal.
“The endurance stuff, I loved doing Daytona because there are other people involved and you can be down a little bit and make it up. It’s not just all about you and going fast every second. I’m kind of into that.”
Sunday’s 50-minute race, however, will see the former IndyCar race winner back in a single-driver sprint race setting as he attempts to get up to speed with the GT4-spec Porsche.
A test at Buttonwillow last week was meant to provide him his first laps in the car, although gearbox issues forced Ward to sample Pappas’ Porsche 911 GT3 R instead.
“It’s hard because I didn’t get to drive this car a lot,” he said. “It’s a slower car, it’s more forgiving on throttle down and things like that, so I should be fine.
“I would have liked to have pushed the limits with braking and here you have to give yourself a bit of a cushion with the walls. You can’t just slide off into the dirt.
“I should be fine. I’m just here to have fun and see how it goes. We’ll go from there.”
IGTC Outings Possible
Ward said additional GT race outings are possible later this year, potentially in the Intercontinental GT Challenge with Black Swan.
The seven-time AMA motorcycle champion has been rated Bronze by the FIA due to his age and recent inactivity from top-level motorsports, which could play into the team’s benefit for the Total 24 Hours of Spa and Suzuka 10 Hours.
SRO rules for both races require two Bronze-rated drivers in Pro-Am lineups comprising of four drivers.
“ [Tim] wants me to maybe do a couple endurance races in the GT3 at Spa maybe Suzuka,” Ward said. “I don’t know what Tim is looking at or anybody [else].
“I got rated Bronze so that’s a good position I think! Because of my age, I think they started me as a Gold but I haven’t raced in IndyCar in 15 years.
“I’m 56, I’ll be 57, so I get demoted two times and that put me down there. I don’t know how that world works.”
The team is coming off Pro-Am class victories in the last two IGTC rounds at Laguna Seca and Bathurst and has committed to the entire four-round championship, which concludes with the California 8 Hours in October.