Billy Johnson Grand-Am Blog: ROUSH Grand-Am Year-in-Review

BillyJohnsonInterview377x283 It’s now that time of year when all 2010 activities are finished and we are gearing up for a strong start for the 2011 season. After wrapping up a very successful tire test at Homestead-Miami Speedway two weeks ago, including trying out the new 2011 Ford Racing BOSS 302R racecar, there is still a lot that needs to be done between now and the Daytona Test Days that are coming up January 7.

While in the previous installment Jack Roush Jr. has recapped the Grand-Am season, he did leave out a few events that happened this year that I will touch up on. But first, I will quickly say that this has been a great year for the whole ROUSH® Performance Team and I am very thankful to have been a part of such a great effort. Despite the DNF at Daytona, we finished in the Top 5 in every race (nine), with six Top 3 podium finishes and two wins. The first of those wins was at the second race of the year at Homestead and marked the milestone 400th victory in road racing and NASCAR for Jack Roush Sr. It was truly an honor to be a part of such an event and is the highlight of my driving career (so far). It’s hard to ask for much more than that, but our third place in the championship really shows just how competitive the racing is in CTSCC and how you always have to bring the “A-game” to the racetrack.

If you are up-to-date with all of the posts regarding ROUSH Performance Products No. 61 Mustang FR500C driven by Jack and myself (Billy Johnson) in the Grand-Am Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge, then I will do my best to keep from being too redundant. Jack has already expressed his feelings on the season and how important everyone on the team is and how racing truly is a team effort where every individual plays a crucial role in the outcome of the race. While I feel the same in every regard, I will tell you about some highlights of the year that he didn’t mention.

This was my first full season driving with Jack and RPP after driving with the team in a handful of races at the end of last year. At the first race of the year, held at Daytona, his dad gave both me and Jack the keys to brand new ROUSH 427R™ Mustang Convertibles for a media event that weekend. It was an awesome experience and that is such a cool car with a boat load of power, great sound from the exhaust, and tight handling. They were really fun to drive.

But to make the story better, on the way back to the hotel we turned left onto a four-lane road which happened to be A1A at Daytona Beach. The irony of this was the radio started to play Vanilla Ice’s famed song “Ice, Ice, Baby”. Let me paint the picture a little better for you. I’m following Jack in matching 427R convertibles, turning left onto A1A (Beachfront Avenue), with the ragtop down (so my hair can blow), and while they weren’t necessarily “5.0′s” the spirit of us being in Mustangs, (and a supercharged 4.6L I might add) made it close enough to be an ironically hysterical moment. Just in case you were wondering, that is where the similarities with the song ended.

Fast forward to around Halloween time, there was a two-hour indoor go-kart endurance race that Jack and I did together in Detroit. The competition was tight since most of the people there are regulars of that facility, including some of Jack’s co-workers. We were also up against Jack’s good friend Jude and my friend Shelby amongst teams filled with small, young go-kart racers who had a clear weight advantage on us. My National go-kart title didn’t mean anything having to carry an additional 20-30 lbs around (and mind you I’m 6′ 0″ and weigh 160 lbs) which is HUGE in a sub-500 pound go-kart. That made me 25 percent heavier!

You’ll find most drivers tend to complain of a lack of power. I will be no different in saying our car did have a lack of power, but it did turn really well to the left. Unfortunately, we were running a clockwise track configuration which has a lot of right hand turns. While only qualifying third, I quickly put our kart up to first on the first lap. As the competition slowly got back up to speed I fell back to a rightful third place. But with good pit stops and pit strategy (hey, we do this professionally), we were able to just finish behind the go-kart kids for solid second place finish in was probably the fourth fastest kart.

Now this was unacceptable. Sure we had a slow kart, but like at our Grand-Am races, we don’t show up and race just to lose. So less than two months later, and a couple days before our Homestead tire test, I flew back up to Detroit to redeem ourselves in another two-hour go-kart race.

While we had a slightly faster kart (maybe the third fastest this time) we still only managed to qualify third. This group was a little more rowdy with crashes that took out half the field on numerous occasions. Oh and did I mention Jack’s dad was there timing us every second along the way, asking if we were gaining or losing to our competition, and giving input here and there. Whether it’s a Cup race or our go-kart race, he doesn’t mess around. And neither do we!

With better pit stops, and me knocking down my average time from the previous race, we were able to pull off a win this time! It was far from easy and we had to give it 10/10ths because it was that close. We were now able to walk away pleased and start work down in Homestead preparing for 2011 in a new racecar.

Now we found ourselves at the December Homestead tire test with our old faithful No. 61
Ford Racing FR500C Mustang as well as a new hot-rod BOSS 302R (chassis #007) that we were doing some  initial testing with. Our FR500C worked flawlessly and gave us a good benchmark of where we were at compared to the rest of the field, and also gave us a target to shoot for in the new car. With almost five years of development under its belt, the FR500C continued to show how good of a car it is and how we were able to achieve such great results this year. Speed and consistency are what it takes in racing, and that is what we have achieved with the FR500C Mustang. Now the BOSS has the new 5.0L RoadRunner engine in it which differs slightly from the base 2011′s 5.0L Coyote engine.
 
Though we found the new BOSS to be a very good racecar, it became clear during the test session that it needs to have a wing approved by the series for drivability, longevity, and safety. And that pretty much sums up our feelings for using the new car in 2011 – we will only consider running this car next season given a rear wing rule concession that we’re comfortable with.

I would now like to take a moment to thank our great sponsors for all of their support this year. Not only do all of these companies have awesome products, they are also filled with great and helpful people who all had a big impact on our performance this year: ROUSH Performance, Diarkis, UPT, Engineering Directorate, Performance Friction Brakes, B.M.R.S., P.W.R., and Kooks.

I also have to thank Jack Roush Sr. and Jr. for the opportunity to be part of such a great organization and Jr. for being an awesome co-driver and doing one heck of a job this year. Leading the most laps and finishing first in the Grand-Am Drivers Performance Index really says a lot about his driving abilities.

It’s now time for the Holidays but we are hard at work preparing for the upcoming Daytona Test Days on January 7. I hope you all have a great Holiday Season and tune to SPEED Channel next year to watch our races and follow our progress here at RoushPerformance.com.

-Billy Johnson

 

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