TWO WEEKS FROM OPENER, WILKERSON READY TO ROLL SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (January 29, 2010) -- What a difference a year makes. 365 days ago, Tim Wilkerson was readying is troops and his equipment for the season opener in Pomona with more question...
TWO WEEKS FROM OPENER, WILKERSON READY TO ROLL
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (January 29, 2010) -- What a difference a year makes. 365 days ago, Tim Wilkerson was readying is troops and his equipment for the season opener in Pomona with more question marks than exclamation points in his head. He'd not only made the switch to a new chassis during the off-season, he'd moved from the familiar two-rail style to the newer and safer three-rail configuration, and in addition he was putting a sleek new Shelby Mustang on the car for the first time. If making changes can create challenges, Wilkerson had gone for the gusto.
This year, after a slow start in '09 finally evolved into a successful campaign that featured two race victories, one runner-up result, and a fourth-place finish in the points, Wilkerson and his Levi, Ray & Shoup team are approaching the 2010 season with a different and more calculated approach. This year, it's all about continuity and confidence, as the team aims to take the momentum they had built during the second half of the '09 season and translate that into a solid start to a long and successful 2010 Full Throttle run.
"We learn lessons all the time in this sport, or at least we try to, and that was probably one, last year," Wilkerson said. "We just made a lot of changes, and those can be tough enough when you're doing them one at a time, but they're really hard to sort out when you're doing multiple new things at once. We had to dig through it and keep our confidence up, early on, because it was a struggle. Once we started to find our groove a little, things got a lot better and the car became our friend again. By midsummer, last year, we were feeling like ourselves again and we carried that right to the end of the season.
"This year, the emphasis has been more on making sure we have some shiny new parts in the trailer and everything is serviced and ready to go, so that we can hit the ground running in Pomona with the same confidence we had last fall. Same approach, same people, same stuff. That doesn't mean everything will just fall into place, because cars are cars and they can go 'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde' on you over the course of a single weekend, but I think we're a lot better off than we were at the beginning of last year, just by having a better grip on things and because of the strong finish we had last season."
Never a big preseason testing fanatic (the LRS team made only a couple of days worth of runs in West Palm Beach last year) Wilkerson's version of spring training in 2010 has been more about "getting in shape" than it's been about tune-ups. He and the LRS team spent half a week in Phoenix recently, but the vast majority of their on-track work was centered on further testing of the "spec motor" NHRA is investigating and developing. Once those laps were complete, the team managed to make an on-track effort with their standard set up.
"We agreed to go out there and make some laps, trying out some stuff for NHRA and giving them the feedback they need on this deal, so it wasn't a normal preseason test in that sense," Wilkerson said. "The benefit for us was just getting in game shape, if you know what I mean. You can't simulate the effort it takes to make a lap, service the car, and get it back out there again, so it was good for the guys to be doing that work at a race track and getting back in rhythm that way. It's like a football team running the plays, really. We'll have that under our belts on the first day in Pomona, so that was very worthwhile.
"Then, we did have the chance to put our regular stuff back in it there at the end, just to make sure we still knew what we were doing and the car was happy. We might've stayed and made a few more laps that way, but the weather moved back in and that was it. We've never been one of these teams that will go set up and run for days on end in January, anyway, because we'd rather spend our budget on winning rounds and races and we're pretty good at adapting on the fly, so I think we'll be fine. We're ready to go."
The 2010 season won't be completely without change for Wilkerson, as his team will soon take possession of their first 2010 Shelby Mustang bodies. The new 2010 Ford was developed to build on the aerodynamic advantages of the 2009 version, making it even sleeker and faster. Wilkerson's new bodies are still in the process of being mounted and completed, though, so fans shouldn't expect to see the 2010 Shelby, in Levi, Ray & Shoup colors, until Gainesville at the earliest.
"Our new bodies aren't quite done yet, and with Pomona and Phoenix back-to-back this year there's no way to make that change between races," Wilkerson reported. "We'll start the season with the same body we ran at the end of last year, and that will be fine for a couple of races. Once we get the 2010 Shelby Mustang on there, it should just give us one more reason to go faster.
"Looking back on 2009 and ahead to 2010, I'd have to say the switch to Ford and teaming up with the Tasca group have really been huge advantages for us. The people at Ford Racing are in this to win, and you can feel that dedication and excitement any time you're around them. They give us support in a lot of ways, but just having a company like Ford behind you means you've got an advantage over a lot of teams out here. I'm proud to have the blue oval on my fire suit, I can tell you that, and we hope to get our LRS Ford back in the winner's circle a bunch of times this year."
Starting the year with continuity and momentum should give Wilkerson and his Levi, Ray & Shoup team a head start on the road to a successful season.