Billy Johnson Grand-Am Blog: Third Top-5 in a Row!

JackBillyVIR377x283 For those of you who have been keeping up to date with ROUSH®’s Grand-Am Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge (CTSCC)’s effort with Jack Roush Jr. and myself, then you know that Jack Jr. earned his first official career pole position at our last race at Virginia International Raceway in the No. 61 ROUSH® Performance Ford Mustang FR500C by just 0.001 seconds over veteran Joe Foster in the newer Boss 302R Mustang.

Personally, I don’t view this as Jack’s “first” pole position in professional motorsports because he also qualified on pole in Round 2 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, but was later disqualified for an insignificant technical infraction. You may remember this race which saw us starting from the back and moving through the entire GS field for our first win of the season, marking Jack Roush Sr.’s 400th win in motorsports. Jack Jr. is consistently showing he has what it takes to beat the best and this second pole position at VIR further shows it.

This race was our third Top 5 in a row. Consistency is the key to winning championships and that is our underlying goal this season. Consistency is even more important for us since we have to overcome a DNF at the season-opener at Daytona to climb our way back to the top of the points standings. The consistency of the last three races is a testament of the team’s abilities and performance. Though we aren’t leading the point’s championship at the moment, we seem to be the team that everyone is looking at.

Virginia International Raceway (VIR) is a technical and narrow 3.2-mile track that requires the car to be very responsive and nimble. The previous tracks we have run at don’t have similar turns as VIR so our first sessions weren’t quite where we wanted to be. But a top 10 in such a competitive field is nothing to be ashamed of. After a few tweaks of the suspension, the guys at ROUSH® had our car handling great and we were back on top of the time charts.

VIR also has two very long straights that favor the high powered cars. Due to the recent rule changes from the Grand-Am officials, our competitors are now faster while Mustangs like ours received a 50 pound penalty of added weight. We found ourselves down on power compared to the likes of the Camaro, BMW M3, and new Boss 302R Mustang. Despite this disadvantage, our car excelled in its handling. While Mustangs have typically been viewed as straight-line only cars, the guys at ROUSH® made our Mustang handle better than the BMWs even though the BMWs now have a power advantage over us. This seems somewhat backwards but it just goes to show the potential and ability of the Mustang platform. Keep in mind this is showroom-stock racing and we run a factory unibody chassis and suspension layout, pickup points, and rear axle. Just like the cars you see on the road or are driving yourself. I find that pretty cool…

Things can change in a hurry in racing. While Jack started from the pole, he wasn’t the first one to cross the line at the start of the race. In fact he was over a car length behind in second position at the line. While there was no penalty for a jumped start, it was irrelevant due to a sticking throttle that caused Jack to go off the track. Fortunately he hung on to the car and was able to bring it back in to the pits in one piece. While the team fixed the car quickly, Jack went back out on track in the middle of the Street Tuner (ST) field. Starting the race in the back of the Gran-Sport (GS –our class) field at Homestead was difficult, but starting the race from the middle of the ST field on lap 2 is magnitudes worse.

If you don’t follow the races on SPEED Channel, you really should check it out. A field of 60+ cars, in 2 classes, and showroom stock racing is INTENSE. Intense as in a lot of great battles, passing all the time, and wrecks! VIR was not a letdown with more than its share of big accidents. I still find it unbelievable that our No.61 ROUSH® Mustang made it through the entire ST and GS field without a scratch on the car. You can probably count the amount of cars with no damage at the end of this race on your hands. Cars were 4-wide in places where there is only one racing line, and cars were bouncing off of each other like a pinball machine.

Jack did a great job moving through the field unscathed, matching the times of the leaders. Unfortunately he was 2 minutes down due to the additional stop. After a few yellow flag cautions from a couple of big wrecks, I found myself behind the wheel and was ready for battle, near the end of the 60 car field. Usually there are a few predictable pit strategies that everyone seems to use, but because of the timing of all these yellows, there were a lot of cars on vastly different strategies. It was hard to tell who was truly leading and who still had to pit.

After a ton of close calls being within inches of cars who were half in the dirt and passing in places I thought would never happen, I found myself back into the top 10. This is where the pit strategies got interesting. Since the last hour or so was green-flag racing, we didn’t have enough fuel to make it to the end. Neither did many of our competitors. After pitting while running in the top 5 for a splash of fuel, many others did too and we ended up fourth on track. I had a long battle with one of the Fall Line BMWs and pulled away through the technical sections and out of corners but lost all the ground I gained on the straights. I could barely hold of the BMW by out-braking him at the end of the straights but it wouldn’t last.

Despite turning the fastest race lap at the time (which was eventually beat by another M3 by 0.2-seconds later on), the BMW got a good exit coming onto the front straight and had no problem pulling up along side of me and that’s all she wrote. You have to know when to pick and choose your battles and how far to take it, and this position just wasn’t in the cards for this weekend. That sealed the deal for fifth position, but none the less fifth was a very good result despite starting at such a substantial disadvantage from the get goes. We were also the highest finishing Ford Mustang, behind many BMWs and a Camaro.

Jack and I moved up to fifth in the driver’s championship while the ROUSH® team moved up into fourth. BMW eclipsed Ford in the manufacturer’s championship but the season hasn’t even reached the halfway mark yet. There is still a lot of racing left to do.

Our next race is at BMW’s home track at Lime Rock Park in Connecticut. We have just about a month to get the car ready and further work on improving our speed. At the moment the BMWs have a slight upper hand, but we have been consistently near the top of the time charts and showing speed and ability to fight for wins.

Once again our crew chief Quinn Conda did a superb job providing us with an awesome car and getting it dialed in at the track as well as another great pitstop and hard work in the garages by the crew. I can’t thank Brad Francis and Jack Roush Sr. enough for the support and opportunity to be part of such a great organization. And of course thanks to my co-driver Jack Roush Jr. for an awesome and difficult drive moving through the entire field including the ST cars.

None of this would be possible without the support from our sponsors: ROUSH® Performance, Diarkis, UPT, Performance Friction Brakes, Kooks Headers, PWR, BMRS, Image Builders Marketing, and Mechanix Wear.

Round 5 of the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge will be held at Lime Rock Park on May 29. Stay tuned for further blogs by Jack and myself and be sure to catch the races on SPEED Channel.

About the author

ROUSH Performance
ROUSH Performance
ROUSH Performance, a division of Roush Enterprises, designs, engineers and manufactures completely assembled pre-titled vehicles, aftermarket performance parts, and superchargers for the global performance enthusiast market. Based in Plymouth Township, Michigan, ROUSH Performance was founded in 1995 by motorsports legend Jack Roush.
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