DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. (Jan. 20, 2015) – Performance Tech Motorsports Team Principal Brent O’Neill was a wanted man this month, as drivers from all over the world called him to inquire about a spot in his Prototype Challenge car for the Rolex 24 At Daytona.
O’Neill prides himself on running a clean-cut business from his shop in Deerfield Beach, Florida. So after interviewing candidates, he picked four drivers he thought would uphold the integrity of his team and give his No. 38 car the best chance of improving upon its third-place finish in the 2014 edition of the twice-around-the-clock classic Jan. 24-25: James French, Jerome Mee, James Vance and Sean Johnston.
“We’re looking forward to a good race with a solid group of guys,” O’Neill said. “I think the guys should work really well together regardless of how they came together. The trick is to find good guys you can trust in the car that will keep focused on track. You have to set the goal of running 24 hours.
“We’ll have two engineers in the car with French, who’s close to graduating, and Sean Johnston, who used to work with us when he studied engineering. It’s pretty cool how much they understand what goes on with the car.
“I’ve never had so many people call to talk to me as when we announced James Vance. We’re looking forward to seeing what he can do. He really is a great kid. Jerry (Mee) has being doing great. I think he’ll build up some strengths by being around these guys. It should be a lot of fun.”
The most prestigious event in North American sports car racing – and the kickoff to the 2015 TUDOR United SportsCar Championship season – starts at 2:10 p.m. (ET) Saturday, Jan. 24. The race continues for the next 24 hours on the 3.56-mile course at Daytona International Speedway that combines part of the high-banked oval and an infield circuit.
Performance Tech’s official lineup changed rapidly with multiple drivers vying to become part of the esteemed PC team.
Vance’s deal came together in less than an hour, seven days before the team left for Daytona. Vance, 21, known for his business skills, worked quickly to find sponsorship so he could take advantage of the opportunity presented by O’Neill. ExpoSystems, FBI Freight and other investors came through to finalize the deal in record time. This will be his first TUDOR United SportsCar event. Vance, from the Toronto area, raced last year at Daytona in the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge series.
“Just the nostalgia of racing in the 24 Hours is such a big deal,” Vance said. “We (drivers) are so lucky to have one of the coolest jobs in the world. I feel so fortunate this deal has come through and is happening. At the end of the day, in terms of my career, I’m still very young. I’m 21 years old and going against some of the best drivers in the world. I may not go out there and set the world on fire, but I’m going to go out there do my job right and do all that I can to bring the car back safe.”
Johnston, from Mount Shasta, California, is returning to the team – but in a different role.
In 2011, Johnston was Performance Tech’s engineering intern. He handled fuel calculations and buckling drivers into the PC car. Johnston then won the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama championship as a driver in 2012 and moved to Europe in 2013, where he raced in the elite Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup and Porsche Carrera Cup Germany for the last two seasons.
One week before this year’s Rolex 24, Johnston heard his former boss had an open seat. He always has wanted to race in the world-renowned event, so he called O’Neill and threw his helmet into the ring.
O’Neill was enthusiastic about welcoming Johnston to the cockpit of his PC car. So Johnston worked with his sponsor, Driscoll’s, a California-based leading supplier of berries, to secure the deal. It took just 48 hours for Johnston to land the fourth and final seat in the team’s car, five days before the team left for Daytona.
“My history with the team goes back way far,” Johnston said. “In 2009, I had just completed my first year of school and I emailed about 20 different American Le Mans Series teams and said I’d work for free if I could travel with them. Brent was one of two replies I received, and the only one that said yes. I worked with them through the summer 2011. In fact, the only laps at Daytona I’ve done were in an IMSA (Prototype) Lites car during a PBOC race as a thank you for the three years of service.
“Endurance racing is what I want to do with my career. When I saw on SportsCar365.com that they had two open seats, I reached out to Brent. He mentioned he had thought about calling me. So we were totally on the same wavelength.
“From there, the deal came together in 48 hours. I have to express my gratitude here; I really am incredibly appreciative that my first professional start in an endurance race at Daytona is with Brent. I’m very thankful for this opportunity.”
Familiar faces Mee and French will be back behind the wheel of the No. 38. The two competed together at the season-ending Petit Le Mans in October 2014 at Road Atlanta with Performance Tech. Though familiar to the team, neither driver has a large amount of track time at Daytona.
So Performance Tech focused on giving French and Mee more experience on the unique combination of high-banked corners on the oval and the tricky infield road section at Daytona during The Roar Before the Rolex 24 on Jan. 9-11, a vital pre-race test session at Daytona.
“It’s going to be a tough race but I’m excited to take on the challenge and be back with the team,” said French, 22, from Sheboygan, Wisconsin. “I have to thank my dad and Brent for this opportunity. Being at The Roar made it all more realistic. It also made me aware of how much hard work is going to go into this race. At the time we weren’t even sure of how many hours I would be in the car. I haven’t worked with some of these guys before, but it should be good.”
Mee, from Houston, learned the subtleties of the Daytona circuit at The Roar and is eager to learn about the strategies and techniques needed to succeed in a 24-hour race.
“The track looks simple on paper, but it has a lot of nuances that you may not pick up on quickly,” Mee said. “I had fun at The Roar. I got the car up to higher speeds than I had taken it previously. This is the only track I’ve been on with banking the way it does; I really enjoyed that.
“I don’t think this will be easy. You have to find time to rest during the race. The intuitiveness you have after waking up isn’t as good as when you just hop out of the car. We have some good guys in the car. Things should go well.”
Live coverage of the 53rd Rolex 24 At Daytona begins at 2 p.m. on FOX and continues through 4 p.m., with subsequent coverage continuing on multiple FOX outlets and imsa.com. U.S. broadcast details (all times Eastern):
2-4 p.m. Saturday: FOX
4-8 p.m. Saturday: FOX Sports 2
8-10 p.m. Saturday: FOX Sports 1
10 p.m. Saturday-7 a.m. Sunday: IMSA.com
7 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Sunday: FOX Sports 1
Keep up with Performance Tech Motorsports by following the team on Facebook and Twitter at @Perf_Tech. For more information on the team, visit performancetechmotorsports.com.
ABOUT PERFORMANCE TECH MOTORSPORTS: Competing in IMSA races for nearly three decades as a driver and/or team manager, Brent O’Neill founded Performance Tech Motorsports with the goal to help drivers become more competitive and move up the racing ladder. Whether you are a driver or a sponsoring company or team owner/partner, it takes more than talent, money and desire to win a racing championship. It takes racing management experience. With thirty one years in the racing business and a cumulative team experience of over 110 years, Performance Tech Motorsports has a full range of leading edge engineering, vehicle enhancement, program management/logistics and at track support to help our clients win on and off the track.
From Lindsay Condon // firstname.lastname@example.org // 317-224-8298