Jonathan Bennett and Inspire Motorsports make their plans for the future LAKEVILLE, CONNECTICUT (July 23, 2010) - When Jonathan Bennett decided to join the Cooper Tires Prototype Lites Championship last year, he knew he had an interest in owning...
Jonathan Bennett and Inspire Motorsports make their plans for the future
LAKEVILLE, CONNECTICUT (July 23, 2010) - When Jonathan Bennett decided to join the Cooper Tires Prototype Lites Championship last year, he knew he had an interest in owning a team someday. But after a series of seemingly random coincidences put the pieces together earlier this year, Bennett now owns a team with a rosy future - and today's not looking too bad, either.
"I'm a little bit at a loss for words!" smiles Bennett, after finishing on top of the Friday morning practice sheet in Utah - this after leading practice sessions and qualifying two weeks earlier in New Jersey. "The team's given me a great car and I'm rolling the dice and driving it really hard, so that seems to be working right now."
Bennett had looked around at different series last year and decided that driving an L1 car in the Lites Championship was the best place for him. Driving the #54 DP02 with Composite Resources colors, his teammates include series point leader #21 Charlie Shears (US Builders) and #13 Gary Gibson (Perfect Pedal). Bennett drove in six races at the end of last season, finishing second at Petit Le Mans, so that he could start the 2010 season with some experience under his belt. Eventually owning the team was a distant thought.
"I have a fairly successful business in South Carolina (Composite Resources) - it was a struggle for 12 or 13 years, but it's alive and well and doesn't require constant attention from me. It's like here - I have a good crew! And at some point, you have to pull the trigger. I've always wanted to drive the fastest car I could afford to, so this was the logical next step. And I'm not spending my child's college tuition.
"I got into the car late last season so I wouldn't be starting from the back this year. I had some good races and began talking with Kerry Jacobson, the owner of Inspire - I always had an interest in owning a race team, but I knew it was a very difficult business. It's difficult to keep it sustainable."
But when Jacobson thought about expanding the Lites team while trying to keep his club racing business going, Bennett was willing to help, and the idea grew - quickly - from there.
"I basically talked him into splitting the company, where he would take the club racing side and I would take the race team. We kept the Inspire Motorsports name, but we're in the process of changing the branding now - a complete rebranding of the company is coming up, probably by Road America.
"I think we're doing practical growth. I injected some funds and hopefully we can get it to some level of financial stability. And our hope is that we have a professional look and the personnel to back it up, so that we can become a team that's running not only a DP02, but an LMPC car or an LMP car. Yea, maybe it's a little bit like building a rocket ship in your backyard, but you have to have goals! And I think an LMPC car is in our immediate future - I don't know how, but I hope with our team performance and level of professionalism, it'll come."
Step one for Bennett was to put his team in place. A large part of the puzzle was to add a team manager who had significant racing experience and could guide the team upward. With the racing season already fully underway, Bennett despaired of finding someone with the kind of background he was looking for - until he went to the gym and had a chance meeting with the man who would become his team manager, Morgan Brady.
"I was wearing an ALMS tee shirt at the gym, and Jonathan came up to chat with me," relates Brady. "I told him about my background, that I'd been working in racing for quite a few years, that I used to manage a team in British Formula 3 and had worked for US F1, and Jonathan said 'I'm about to buy a team, so I think we have something to talk about!'"
"At that point, we had not even bought pencils and paper yet. I hadn't even bought the team," remembers Bennett. "But I asked Morgan to hold tight - when he agreed to come on board, and bring one of his lead mechanics from US F1, I finally could see a path to actually starting. We'd been talking about this happening in the off season, but I decided it should happen now.
"The technicians at Inspire had a lot of experience in DP02s and Morgan had a lot of contacts from other areas of racing, like Formula Atlantic - if you take a leading Formula Atlantic team mentality and apply it to DP02s, I don't think that's really been done yet. We're bringing people from European road racing, from Atlantics - there are guys who are working for unstable teams that are looking for a stable, quality DP02 team with aspirations of going higher. I can't explain it, but we're just trying to do the best job we can do and people are starting to notice."
Bennett has seen the immediate results of his efforts in his recent statistics.
"Working with Morgan, and with my driving coach, I've become a more analytical driver - I can come in and describe what's going on with the car. I complained to my coach at Laguna that I was stuck in "8th to 6th land." I think I was trying to be too perfect - but you can't experience the limit if you're too perfect. He said, "you have to go out there every once in a while, put the car in the turn and just really dig - and you're not doing that." At that moment, I thought, am I going to be comfortable where I'm at? I knew there was more, and I'm willing to crash the car - it's not something I'm looking to do, but you have to jump in the car and treat it as a sports car. And I ask Morgan, if I really tear two corners off the car, that's okay? He said, "that's what we're here for."
"We'd really like to see our company go to the next level, and as a driver, I'd like to join it, but that's not the priority right now. I don't think my time in the DP02 is up yet. This is my first solid season, so one more solid season in the car, and if this continues to go well...
"I know that the number one priority is doing a good job every weekend, but I also know we have this other place we're going."