James Walker Looks Back On His First Season In Sportscars
Twelve months ago, James Walker was offered the perfect opportunity and took the decision to switch from single-seater racing to sportscars. It’s a big decision for any young driver to make but James hasn’t looked back since his first Le Mans Series race in the JMW Motorsport Ferrari 458.
James, you and your team went out and won the first race in the Ferrari. Considering you were in the ‘Pro’ class that is a big achievement for a rookie. How did you do it?
It seems so long ago already. The team didn't collect the new car until the week before the first race so we were really up against it. My team-mate Rob Bell had lots of experience with the Ferrari 430 as did the team so I didn't think of anything other than trying to win the first race, which we did! We also managed to make a little bit of history as this was the first victory for the new 458 Italia. I'd been to Paul Ricard before so it was really a case of making sure I didn't make any mistakes and learn as much as I could. I'd shared a car before, having done the Rolex 24 at Daytona for the last two years, so it wasn't completely new but it does take some getting used to. As it turned out Rob and I always liked the same set-ups and I learnt a huge amount from him. We also had great support from everyone at JMW Motorsport and Dunlop. It was such a great family atmosphere within the team and to do what we did, always being quick, winning two races and finishing second in the championship just goes to show what you can achieve when you put the right people together.
You had a slight dip mid-season, judging purely by the race results. Can you explain what happened there?
After the win at Paul Ricard we then headed to Spa. We had another great car there and the Dunlop tyres again worked really well. Towards the end of the stints we were taking huge amounts of time out of our rivals. It was the first weekend that I felt really comfortable in the car and knowing the track very well from F3 and Renault 3.5 helped. Imola was probably our toughest weekend. We had a few small gearbox issues and I'd never seen the place before so with limited wet/dry running it was a case of me learning during the race. As the year went on I actually enjoyed been put into pressure situations like that. When you are racing against the Gimmi Brunis and Marc Liebs of this world it makes you drive to another level as they are so good at what they do. Next up it was Silverstone where a one-minute stop-go penalty for Rob being hit by one of the Audi LMP1 cars put us out of contention. That was hard to take but we fought our corner as hard as we could.
After three tough weekends in a row I arrived at Estoril for the last race knowing we were going to have a good weekend. It just had that feel about it. With Rob concentrating on new tyre/low fuel set up for qualifying, I did the majority of the old tyre/full tanks work. This again felt very good from the word go. Rob did a great job to put the car on pole. In the heat of Sunday the combination of tyres and car set up gave as a fantastically quick race car. After an intense fight with the No.77 Porsche we ended up with the win and took the runner-up spot in the championship. It was a brilliant weekend and a great reward for JMW Motorsport team owner Jim McWhirter and all of the guys that had put so much time and effort in all year.
What happens next? Are you signed up for 2012?
Not yet, but I’m really hoping to continue with JMW. To get two wins in my first year in sportscars was very special. I also realise how lucky I was to go straight in with one of the best teams in the paddock. I'd love to be in the Le Mans Series next year but at the moment nothing is signed. With the new FIA World Endurance Championship starting next year it’s going to be interesting to see which teams go where. There will be some different circuits for the Le Mans Series next year but the only one that will be new to me is Brno in the Czech Republic.
I’m really hoping to do the Le Mans 24 Hours in 2012 as this has been a life long ambition of mine. I don't want to go there just to be part of it. I want to go there to win. Hopefully I will have some good news on that front in the New Year.
I can't wait for 2012 to get started. I have a feeling it’s going to be another great year. Thanks again to everyone at JMW Motorsport and Dunlop for the support this year. Happy Christmas and I’ll see you all soon