Jason Bowles started off the year by winning the season opener for the Cooper Tires Zetec Championship in Sebring, Florida. It was the biggest win of his career and as a result, he was invited to race the Grand Am Cup for Team Lexus in the ST class, as a teammate of veteran sports car driver Andy Lally. Bowles had never raced a car with fenders before and had never even sat in the Lexus Sport Cross that he was going to race in Flordia. Jason was very appreciative of the offer and was looking forward to racing a sports car for the first time in the 3 hour endurance race.
Upon arriving to the track on Friday morning, he was introduced to the team members and was briefed of each day's schedules and agendas. When practice began, team leader Andy Lally took the car out and worked on getting a base line set-up so that both he and Jason would be comfortable in the car. Jason took control of the wheel for the first time and was focusing on getting accustomed to everything that was different from his previous racing experience, the brakes, the power, handling and even having a roof over his head and fenders over the wheeels. In addition Jason had to learn the Homestead road course, so overall it was a very challenging day for the Grand Am rookie. After about 10 laps Jason came in to the pits to get some advice from his experienced teammate. He was now comfortable and ready to put in some competitive times. After a very helpful conversation with Lally, Bowles took to the track and completed another 20 laps. During the session Bowles lowered his time each lap and was becoming more and more confident. Jason was quoted as saying "I had a lot of fun driving the Team Lexus Sport Cross. It's a ton different than anything I had ever driven before. I'm getting more comfortable with every lap and I think by Sunday I will have a pretty good handle on things.
Saturday's schedule consisted of three practice sessions and qualifying late in the afternoon. During the three practice sessions Jason and Andy worked on finding a setup that they would both be happy with for Sunday's race. In between practice and qualifying Team Lexus, Andy and Jason agreed that Jason would qualify the car for Sunday's race. That also meant that Jason would be starting the race as the rules state that whoever qualifys the car must also start the race. The qualifying session was a short 15 minute session with the fastest time earning the pole position. Unlike sprint racing, in endurance racing, qualifying is not extremely important as long as you can put the car near the front and you have a good car for the race. Jason was able to put in a lap during the session good enough to put him seventh in class. "I'm happy with my effort in qualifying. I think I probably could have gone a little better but I caught traffic on my good lap and I didn't want to put any more abuse on the tires before the start of the race" Jason said.
Before the race, Jason and Andy sat down and talked about some of the different things to be aware of during the race, which features two classes of cars on the track at the same time. Lally also explained the driver change and pit stop procedure with Jason who had never had done either before. The idea was to have the pit stop go smoothly and Jason as comfortable as possible. When the green flag dropped Jason was able to pick up a few positions and settle into a competitive rhythm. During the first stint of the race there were two full course cautions which helped keep the field bunched up. On the first restart Jason missed a shift and dropped three positions, and stayed in that position for the remainder of his stint. When he was called to the pits, the car was still in good shape and in a competitive spot to earn either a podium and possibly a win. The driver swap went smoothly and Lally took over. With a full tank of gas and a fresh set of tires Lally went to leave the pits but the #3 Sport Cross had trouble re-firing. 20 seconds later Lally sped off to see how far up the standing they could climb. Andy started to gain positions immediately and with the help of a few more caution periods and good pit strategy, the team was now running in third. Lally was closing in on second place and was looking to challenge as the race wound down, but a full course caution with five minutes remaining relegated the team to third place. Although the outcome was not a win, the team showed grit and determination to earn a third place finish after a costly time consuming pit stop.
"At the start, I picked up a few spots but then I missed that shift on the restart and gave everything I had earned, back in one straightaway. My goal was to keep the car on the lead lap and as close to the front as I could, before handing over to Andy. Once I turned the car over to him, he did a great job to come back from the pit stop and get us a podium finish. I would like to thank everybody at Team Lexus for their help and support throughout the weekend. I would really like to come back and do this again because it is so much fun."Bowles was quoted as saying after the race.