Hey everyone, I would like to introduce myself as the newest blogger at ROUSHperformance.com. My name is Billy Johnson (that’s me on the right in the photo) and I co-drive with Jack Roush Jr. in the No. 61 ROUSH® Performance Ford Mustang FR500C in the Grand-Am Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge (CTSCC) Series. If you haven’t heard already, Jack Jr. and I finished second in Round 3 of the 2010 GRAND-AM Continental Tires Series at Barber Motorsports Park. This marks our second consecutive podium after our landmark win in Homestead-Miami which was the 400th win for his father Jack Roush Sr.
The car was quick right out of the box and again we were consistently one of the fastest cars in each session. The guys at ROUSH® do an amazing job prepping the car and making everything perfect for me and Jack Jr. to do our job behind the wheel. Being quick in practice doesn’t necessarily make things easier, and in some ways it can be harder. If you are the benchmark, everyone else knows that there is time left on the table since you were the ones to find it first, while finding more time on the table becomes increasingly harder. Looking at the fastest times of the session can be somewhat deceiving. Outright speed isn’t necessarily good if you can’t keep that speed up over the course of a two-and-a-half hour race. What becomes important is looking at the average lap times during a session for us relative to our competitors. That is what is important and relevant to the race.
Jack did an awesome job once again in the qualifying session. I found my way to the top of the tallest building and climbed a ladder to the roof to see as much of the track as possible to help Jack get clear room to go for the pole. With my eagle-eye view of the track, I instructed Jack over the radio to hold off a slower car for a couple corners to get a big enough gap to run his times unobstructed. On lap two Jack had the pole. On lap three Joe Foster in the newer Boss 302R Mustang squeaked by one tenth of a second quicker than Jack for the pole position. Starting on the front row is impressive in its own right and we are always a force to be reckoned with in qualifying.
As the green flag fell to start the race, Jack fell into second place and held off several other Mustangs during the opening laps. A few laps later, Jack was all by himself still in second place and settled into a nice little groove as the laps continued. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, the all-wheel drive, supercharged Audi was almost a second faster than the entire field as the track started to get greasy and the tires of all the cars started to fall off.
The AWD and supercharged horsepower of the Audi had a definite advantage over our Mustang on such an ice-rink track and Jack reluctantly gave up second place. This showed a lot of smart driving on Jack’s part. In racing, nothing matters but the last lap, and we weren’t too worried about the Audi for the end of the race and Jack did a great job keeping the ROUSH® Mustang up front and third place is still an excellent position to be in at this point in the contest.
A little after an hour into the race, there was one of the many fantastic wrecks that made up the 2.5 hour race. This was slightly out of our pit window to make it to the end on fuel, but with the anticipation of more yellows to come, it was a good call to come in for our stop. We have some really brilliant people making our calls, some of which who’ve won championships before I was even born! Jack came in and turned the wheel over to me. We had a lightning fast pit stop that really surprised me. Usually I am situated with my seat and belts ready to go with time to spare, but the tire change went faster than normal (and normally these guys are quick) and by the time I tightened my last belt, I was burning-out leaving our pit box.
With the great pit call and fast pit stop, we made it back out on track in sixth place, with a handful of lapped cars between me and the leader of the race, including the Daytona-winning No. 13 Rum Bum BMW. When the green flag flew again, it was a mess with cars three-wide going into braking zones. With the inside of the Turn 5 hairpin getting backed up, I decided to follow a known, quick driver in a Porsche around the outside of the mess. Our awesome Performance Friction brakes allowed me to out-brake both the BMWs and Porsches and make up a few more positions. Unfortunately, the Porsche I was behind hesitated mid-corner allowing two cars by, followed by a miss-shift that let the eventual race-winning Mustang by as well. By that time another full-course caution was out due to another massive wreck.
Once we were rolling again, I quickly dispatched the troublesome Porsche and a few other cars to make it to third. Next was the pass for second that had me and the No. 16 Boss 302R Mustang side-by-side for four corners. Now I found myself in second place. With just under an hour to go, we were in a very good position.
During the next two yellow flag cautions, the main objective was to get a good gap between myself and the following BMWs. With some breathing room, I focused on taking care of the tires for the end of the race. With the race leading No. 52 Mustang really working his tires, I matched his pace while hitting my marks perfectly and saving our tires.
From a few mistakes, I found myself right on his bumper and took a few looks to pass but the door was slammed closed forcing me to drop tires in the grass a couple times. With about 30 minutes of the race left, I decided to continue saving my tires and not to get into that battle with that much time left in the race. Unfortunately a big wreck from a Mustang on the back straight ended the race under caution with about 15 minutes or so left in the race. With saved tires and aggression to bring the fight to the table in the most important closing minutes of the race, we were not dealt the cards to take advantage of it. The last minutes of the race ended up circling the track under caution which means no passing is allowed.
With virtually no scratches on the car, we are looking good to be ready for the next race at Virginia International Raceway on April 24. Unfortunately I cannot say the same for a good part of our competition that ended up in the wall. The old saying of, “To finish first, you must first finish” is so true and important.
While I wanted the opportunity to battle for the lead, the race could have had a much worse outcome. Second place is a great result with a much needed points gain, especially after having our share of bad luck with a DNF at Daytona. This second place finish bumped me and Jack up the points ladder into sixth, while the team is now fourth in the championship. The 1-2 finish for Mustangs (followed by BMW M3’s taking the next four positions), helped Ford overcome BMW for the manufactures points, squeaking by with only a 1 point lead.
It takes so much to win a race, let alone be competitive and in a position to fight for wins race after race. While Jack and I are piloting the controls, the prep work on the car, pit calls, pit stops, and all of the crew are so crucial and such an important component in the team. Our crew chief Quinn Conda provides us with an awesome car as well as the crew with their lightning fast pit stops and hard work back at the garage. I'd also like to thank Brad Francis and Jack Roush Sr. for the support and opportunity to be part of such a great organization.
I can’t say enough about Jack Roush Jr. We are with each other almost every minute of every race and constantly pushing each other to go faster to advance ourselves and the car. Not to sound cliché but it truly is a team sport. The team at ROUSH® Performance Racing is an amazing bunch of hard working individuals with such great chemistry of everyone on the team. It is an honor to be a part of it.
And of course, I must thank our team sponsors: ROUSH® Performance, Diarkis, UPT, Performance Friction Brakes, Kooks Headers, PWR, BMRS, Image Builders Marketing, and Mechanix Wear.
Coming up quickly is our next Continental Tire series race at Virginia International Raceway on April 24th. Stay tuned, as Jack and I should be continuing to keep everyone updated.