It seems every decade in American sports car and GT racing has its mainstays. The names you associate with certain manufacturers. Some have fallback positions as dealers and constructors. But as a standalone business, a race team as a sole income? As the song goes: "It ain't easy." Alex Job is one of the few exceptions. A fierce competitor with a quiet demeanor, his team has returned to the series he left his mark on. As 2010 rolls on, there's no question that Alex Job Racing is back.
ec: One of the popular misconceptions is that it's easy to go racing full time. Motorsport glamour in the U.S. is focused on NASCAR and Indy, and there have been few long-term sports car race teams since the postwar era. You and Holly started AJR in 1988 as a full-time venture. What made you feel you could make it when history has shown otherwise?
AJ: After spending 20 years in the car business and racing on and off I wanted a change, so I decided to give it a try. It started in my two-car garage at home so the overhead was very low. I built a new Fabcar tube frame car in that garage to see if I could make a go of it; if it didn't work I could go back to the car business. I felt that there was a market for Porsche 911 racecars in IMSA since almost all of them were gone by the late '80s. I felt that they could still be competitive if done differently. My intention was to do only racecars, no street cars. By the second year I moved to a 1,500 sq. ft. rental warehouse I shared with someone else. Within a year I had the warehouse to myself. That shop grew to 5,700 sq. ft. by the end of 2000. Now we have 17,000 to operate from.
ec: It's a long way from a two-car garage to a 17,000 sq. ft. building solely for the race team. Is that the price you have to pay to be competitive?
AJ: If you are to have a top-level professional race program you have to have a professional race shop. You need to have the room and equipment to do the program correctly. After all those years renting, I decided it was smarter to own. I was able to buy an acre-and-a-half lot and design and build my own shop. All this took place in 2000 while running the full ALMS season, which included two races in Europe as well as Le Mans. It was a very busy year. One that almost killed me, but in the end it was worth it.
ec: AJR's focus has always been Porsche. Why, and were there ever any other considerations?
AJ: My love has always been Porsche. It started when my father purchased his first, a 912, in 1966. We joined the local PCA and did some rallies together. He also did some autocrosses and that led me to start autocrossing in the late '60s. That was the beginning of my driving career. In 1990 AJR was the only Porsche in the Daytona 24 hour race. We led for six hours and finished second. I like to think that Porsche took notice and started to think about building 911 racecars for sale again. By 1993, Porsche was again producing a 911 RSR. They've been a winning factor in GT racing ever since returning with customer cars.
ec: Your big breakthrough year really looked like 1999. As an independent you won the GT class at Daytona, and then Sebring. After Le Mans the factory came calling and loaned you the new 996 GT3-R. A bigger car, water motor, and no development time to acclimate. How did all this come about?
AJ: In 1998 and 1999 I had a customer named Darrel Havens. He made a two-year commitment to me and it was a great one. He gave me the financial resources to become a consistently winning team. And win we did, including beating the factory BMW team PTG. This was with the aircooled RSR. After Le Mans, Porsche made one of the two 996 GT3-Rs available to us for the second half of the ALMS season. Roland Kussmaul from Porsche came out to help us. We did a lot of development with that car.
ec: AJR won the drivers title and the makes win for Porsche. Your lead driver, Cort Wagner, captured the Porsche Cup, yet Porsche dropped you the next season for another team. In 2001 the factory came back and AJR went on a tear for the first half of the decade. With the assistance comes the added responsibility of advisors, whether merited or not. Is it worth giving up the independence? How do you look back at those days ?
AJ: Porsche did give me the first shot on the 2000 werks program, but I didn't have the financial resources. So Porsche gave the program to someone else, and although they won the championship, there were problems. The program came back to me in 2001 with a different level of support. We had a two-car werks program from 2001 through 2004 and a one-car program in 2005. During this time AJR won three team and driver championships. You definitely give up a level of independence. You follow the factory guidelines, which can be difficult at times. To get started, I had to turn over my engine building to Porsche. We had developed a very successful engine program, but in the end I felt it was worth doing in order to start the factory partnership. The wins and championships made it the right decision. To compete at that level it's important to have a werks program. That still holds true today in GT2 (GT). But when you can win on your own without werks support, as we've done in the past, it's especially sweet. If the financial support is there it's possible to go head to head with the factory programs. But it is very expensive.
ec: In addition to the ALMS GT class, AJR also entered the Daytona Prototype class in Grand Am for 2006. You seemed to have followed a Hollywood script, almost pulled off an overall for the Daytona 24, had no sponsorship, almost folded, and then Ruby Tuesday came to your door. This resulted in several dramatic wins and a promise of things to come. Running two separate series requires a logistical undertaking.
AJ: That's an understatement. Running both Grand Am in DP and ALMS in GT2 during the 2006 season was a handful. We still had some success with a 50th win at Houston with the GT2 car and four wins with the DP car. After such a strong start with the DP, the Grand Am Series felt it necessary to penalize the Porsche-powered cars. AJR was the only Porsche-engine DP that was winning, but they still did it. The rule change took us back to a top-three or top-five team.
ec: In 2007 and '08, AJR concentrated on Grand Am. The results have to be disappointing based on previous performance. You had a one-off chassis, meaning there was no development to be shared, and limitations on the Porsche flat six by the rule makers. Would it have been better to stay in the ALMS and perhaps look for the funding to run the then-new RS Spyder? Or was this a case of just wanting to do it your way?
AJ: After the years of running 911 GT racecars I wanted a new challenge. I also wanted to race for the overall victory, not just class. DP made the most sense. I didn't want to leave ALMS but there was no opportunity for an overall victory there. Porsche gave the Spyder program to Penske and there was no place for me. The DP program didn't have the success that I had hoped for both from the rules changes as well the lack of development of the Crawford chassis.We started very strong in 2006, but in 2007 and 2008 the lack of development with the Crawford really hurt us. The Grand Am rules don't allow the teams to make changes to the chassis and body; those must come from the constructor. Our hands were tied. In addition, all the other teams that were running a Crawford in 2006 when we started either left or switched to Rileys. We were the only Crawford running by 2008-even the factory Crawford wasn't running anymore. Crawford's new DP08 was ready by mid-2008, and after only three races it was clear that it needed a lot of development that couldn't be done in a season. I decided to lease a Riley chassis for the second half of the season. We were immediately competitive and got a third-place podium at New Jersey. If I had started the year with the Riley, 2008 may have been a very different year.
ec: At least AJR can claim some wins in Grand Am, which was something that Roger Penske was not able to do despite a front-line team, a Porsche powerplant built in Weissach, and a top-tier driver lineup.
AJ: I'm happy to say I believe AJR has more Porsche DP wins in Grand Am than anyone else. Interestingly, all four wins came with the Crawford chassis. Penske had the Riley chassis, which is certainly more successful, and had no wins. They had three podiums in 2009, and we had two in 2008. That was the year we changed cars twice, first the new Crawford body and then the Riley.
ec: In 2008 it appeared that AJR was going to return to the ALMS after running in the new IMSA Challenge Series. Now you're back in a big way with a three-car team in the ALMS GTC class and the team had a 1-2-3 finish at Sebring. You followed this up with a First and Third at Long Beach. This has to considered a huge accomplishment. We're used to seeing two-car operations, but three in one class is exceptional. How do you prepare for this and what sort of cost and logistics does it take?
AJ: It was great to return to the ALMS at Sebring this year and finish 1-2-3 in GTC; we also qualified 1-2-3. To sweep the podium was amazing. It was our seventh win at the Sebring 12-hour. The third car commitment didn't come together until eight days before we had to move in for the Sebring paddock. It was a crazy week trying to get everything done before the race on Saturday. My team affectionately calls the Sebring 12 AJR boot camp. It was never more apparent than this year. But no one's complaining. It's a big job to run two cars, but three times the work to run three. We've always been structured for a two-car team and had to completely restructure. This means a third rig, equipment and people. The additional car also requires more attention to race strategy. Each car has its own crew chief, but I have just one engineer and one strategist for all three. It shows the strength of these two people. Greg Fordahl, my engineer, has been with me since 1998. There's no stronger Porsche 911 track engineer anywhere. Each time we unload the cars the setup is right on. At Long Beach there was no time to work on the setup, but we didn't have to.
ec: AJR also has an entrant for the IMSA Challenge, so that means setups for four cars in total.
AJ: That's right. Starting at Laguna we'll have a fourth with the Patron IMSA Challenge car. It will run the rest of the GT3 season, which will be at all the ALMS races except for New Jersey. The fourth car won't be as involved as the three GTC cars, but it still makes for a lot of logistics. Holly will oversee the IMSA Challenge operation.
ec: AJR has won all the majors, including a pair at la Sarthe. Winning at Le Mans has never seemed like all that big a deal to you... do you ever see that mindset changing?
AJ: You've beat me up on that for years. [laughs] Yes, it's changing some already. To win at Le Mans is always big. It's the biggest sports car race in the world. I tend to forget that. It's not a race I like to do since it is so expensive and logistically difficult. France is a long way from Florida. In both cases in the past I had to do it in partnership with another team, which was the only way I could make the finances work. Maybe someday I'll be able to do it completely on my own. Maybe then it will mean even more. That said, the 2005 win will always be very special since we were never expected to win. But we got the pole and led most of the race. We beat all odds, and that made it all the sweeter.
GMG on The GTC Trail
James Sofronas of Southern California-based Global Motorsports Group knows a thing or two about the Porsche GT3 Cup car. As his company has expanded, so has its racing plans.
ec: You and GMG have been regulars in the SCCA World Challenge, especially at Long Beach, which has to be considered your home circuit. When the ALMS announced the forming of the GTC class, is this something that could benefit GMG or is the majority of your business more tuned to the club and challenge series? What prompted your decision to enter both events? The fun of it?
JS: Our client, Bret Curtis, in only his second year of racing, wanted to run GTC with me as the co-driver and GMG running the car. I was excited about this, as it gave us the ability to show a different audience what we can do with a Porsche. Racing is part of our business; it allows us to further develop our street performance parts, so there is a direct correlation. There are several GMG-specific parts on our GTC car that we feel give us an edge. We want to continue with ALMS because it's such a professional series and the endurance format gives us a new challenge. We're registered for the entire season and Bret hopes to be able to do all nine races, schedule permitting.
ec: The Long Beach street circuit is an unforgiving place, where the phrase "hello walls" really applies. You're used to the pace of World Challenge cars, but the ALMS is a mix of three classes with an enormous speed differential. Can you define the adjustments you had to make going from the two races?
JS: I have a fair amount of multi-class endurance racing experience, so it wasn't as big an adjustment for that as it was the difference in the tires. But in ALMS, the closing speeds from the prototypes are something to be extremely cautious of.
ec: The tires-they're perhaps the most critical part of obtaining peak performance. In the World Challenge you're restricted to Toyos and in the ALMS GTC class you have to use Yokohamas. How do you find the optimum setup to go from one to the other?
JS: We have a great team with some of the best Porsche race techs in the business, and we had a thorough test schedule. You learn how each set of tires needs to work. Everything in the car changes when you go from Toyos [a road-legal DOT tire] to a slick [Yokohama in this case], including camber, rake, springs, shock settings, and especially tire pressure.
ec: The ALMS race at Long Beach was run to a shorter time than the usual rounds but still required pit stops. The Challenge is a flat-out sprint. Again, adjustments you had to make, for yourself and your pit crew.
JS: With two drivers in the ALMS race, we each did approximately one hour of driving, so it was just like a World Challenge sprint race. When I got in, there was about 45 minutes to go, so I just had to go flat out the rest of the way.
ec: The layout on the street circuit is both short and tight, with only a few places for overtaking safely, although the action tends to be everywhere. In a mixed class, is concentration a given?
JS: No question. With walls inches away from your entry and exit points, you have to be extremely precise in your line. There's no room for error.
ec: What will remain at the forefront of your participation in both events and the results from the weekend?
JS: We continue to learn from each event within ALMS competition since there's more than just car preparation that comes into play. Teamwork during pit stops and strategy throughout become a big part of the race. With World Challenge, we know it's just flat out and we set the car up to run 50 minutes at 100 percent.