Experience pays off in more ways than one when it comes to racing.
Jim Lowe was resigned to watching the Grand-Am Rolex 24 at Daytona from home after a sponsorship deal fell through late last month. The South Jersey doctor has moonlighted as a racecar driver for the past seven years, but he was going to have to sit out the prestigious 24-hour race Jan. 26-27 in Daytona Beach, Fla.
Thanks to several racing connections he has built over that time, though, Lowe now has not only a team but likely his best chance ever at winning the race.
“All the sudden it all kind of fell into place,” Lowe said in a phone interview Wednesday evening as he made the commute from his office in Linwood to his home in Villanova, Pa.
Things didn’t look good when a sponsorship deal with Doran Racing, Lowe’s team for last year’s Rolex 24, fell through last week.
But Lowe got a call a few days later from Colin Braun, an American Le Mans Series driver who had been one of his teammates in the 2011 Rolex 24. Braun and his ALMS teammate/owner, Jon Bennett, were looking for a ride, so Lowe put them in contact with Doran Racing owner Kevin Doran.
With each party contributing some money toward the effort, they reached a deal in a matter of days and quickly put together a four-driver team. Joining Lowe, Braun and Bennett will be former IndyCar driver Paul Tracy, Lowe’s teammate last year in the Rolex 24 and three other Grand-Am races.
The deal was finalized last Sunday, just five days before the start of the Roar Before the Rolex 24, a testing session in Daytona that started Friday and ends Sunday.
“It was about the latest I’ve had a deal confirmed ever for a race,” Lowe said.
The deal also includes the Six Hours of the Glen race June 30 in Watkins Glen, N.Y., and the July 26 race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Together with the Rolex 24, the three events make up Grand-Am’s North American Endurance Championship.
Lowe helped Doran Racing finish seventh in both the Rolex 24 and the NAEC last season, but the expectations are much higher this year because the team will debut a brand-new Daytona Prototype car. The team’s old car was about two seconds off the pace on each lap, Lowe said.
“Basically, last year the best we could hope for was to finish behind every running Prototype,” Lowe said. “We didn’t really have a chance to beat any Prototype that didn’t wreck or break.
“This year, the reality is that we have a legitimate chance to be competitive, to be on the podium in any race we enter, and it’s not unreasonable to drive well and expect to have a chance to win the thing.”
More speed, more pressure
Doran said that between the new car and the additions of Braun and Bennett, who won the ALMS Prototype Class team championship last season, he expects to finish higher in the NAEC.
“We are confident to have a strong year,” Doran said in a statement.
The faster car means more pressure on the 49-year-old Lowe, who until this weekend had not been in a racecar since last summer. In a 24-hour race, the keys are consistency and avoiding mistakes, rather than pure speed, so every driver needs to be at his best.
One advantage Lowe has is his familiarity with Doran Racing. In each of the past two Rolex 24s, he has driven for a new team. The 2011 race also was his first in a Daytona Prototype after five years racing in the slower Grand Touring class.
“When you’ve got to be with a new team and a new car and a track that you may or may not be familiar with and you don’t even know the name of the guy who’s buckling your seatbelt, it sounds silly, but that’s a big deal,” Lowe said.
This weekend is for “blowing out the cobwebs,” Lowe said. The new car will not arrive for another two weeks — they will test it in North Carolina on the way to the Rolex 24 — and this weekend the team planned to give Bennett the majority of the seat time since he has never driven in Grand-Am.
It has been and will continue to be a hectic month for Lowe, who specializes in neurosurgery. He said every day he’s not on the track, he will be either in his office or the operating room.
“It’s going to be no rest for the weary for this month, which is a great thing. I’m very happy about it,” he said. “It beats the hell out of watching (the race) on TV.”
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