Team Spotlight on Villaconn International DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (May 20, 2002) - For a veteran driver, running a successful team means stepping out from behind the wheel. Al Villamil started Villaconn International in 1999 with partner and driver...
Team Spotlight on Villaconn International
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (May 20, 2002) - For a veteran driver, running a successful team means stepping out from behind the wheel. Al Villamil started Villaconn International in 1999 with partner and driver Matt Connolly. Villamil's racing of the team's #38 Primerica BMW Z3 has been forced to take a backseat as the management of the three-car team becomes more intense.
Since Villaconn began street stock racing three-years ago, Villamil has helped create a team he should be more than proud of. After finishing the 2001 season with the Sports Touring I team championship, Villaconn is now working on defending their title, as well as adding a few more under their belt. Currently, Villaconn drivers control the top-four spots in the class driver standings, and the team also holds first-place positions in the manufacturer and team standings. Fresh off a top-two sweep of UnitedAuto Touring 250 at Phoenix International Raceway, the three-car team has its sights sent on Watkins Glen and maintaining their domination in the standings.
Series - Grand-Am Cup Street Stock Series
Class - Sport Touring I
Cars - BMW Z3 Coupe
Garage Location - Medford, N.J.
Website - www.villaconn.com
Year Established - 1999
Drivers - Beau Buisson, Matt Connolly, Ken Dobson, Neil Heffron, Bransen Patch, Don Salama, Al Villamil
Car Numbers - 34, 36 & 38
* Captured first ST I victory in 2001 at Road America
* Won ST I class at 2001 Le Grand Prix de Trois-Rivieres
* 2001 ST I team champions
* Earned pole and victory at 2002 UnitedAuto Touring 250
IN THE WORDS OF AL VILLAMIL...
When did you become involved in racing?
Twelve years ago I started in SCCA driving a Formula V.
How was Villaconn International created?
After taking some time off of racing to build my business, which hopefully funds quite a bit of the racing, I contacted Matt (Connolly) and told him I was ready to start racing again and that I had some ideas. Matt really helped me out on the car end, because I was still busy with work. I have known Matt for many years from racing Formula 2000, Formula Atlantic and SCCA.
What does it take to run a successful three-car effort like Villaconn?
I don't think I run a successful three-car effort. I think I run a successful two-car effort with a third car that we struggle with. That has a lot to do with the car and the engineering of the car and the things we have had to overcome. Today's cars are just too smart for their own good. We have struggled with our third car because we tried to build it from the ground up, and with the rules that we have to work with it is not the right way to build a car. It is easier to take a complete car and strip out what you don't need than to build one from the ground up. There are so many electronics, sensors, and inputs the car's computer is looking for that when it doesn't find one it starts to spit and sputter and go into a fault mode. But that is a whole other story.
The bottom line to run a successful team is it takes a bunch of good guys with no other agendas other than what is best for the team. I think that is why we do well. Everyone is on the same page, and my rule is to keep everybody on the same page all the time and then we'll be able to turn the pages at the same time.
What are your thoughts on the 2002 season so far?
I think it is tough being a driver and an owner. The one thing I am learning is that in order to have a good team it is really tough to be both. It takes a lot of management to have a good multi-car team and is really tough to get your head behind the wheel. So I have put the team first, and my own personal driving has taken a backseat. I am learning that it is really tough to keep 20 people going in the same direction if you are trying to focus on your driving.
How did it feel to win the Sport Touring I team championship last season?
It was good, and I really liked that it was a team championship. It really gives credit to all the guys that are doing the work. It was a win for the team and all of the guys that did the hard work, drivers, crew, and all of the support. At the end of the season we personally gave the entire team trophies to reflect their win.
What are your plans now that BMW is changing to the Z4?
We really like the brand because we think they are solid built cars, and even though they might be more expensive to maintain, I think they require less maintenance. If we stay in Grand-Am Cup we are going to stick with a BMW brand for as long as we can, maybe the GS class M3s next year or something like that. We think they are really well-built cars. We certainly beat them up enough, and they seem to come through. We see the problems the other guys have with some of the other brands, and we just don't run into those problems as consistently as the other guys.
How does it feel to have four drivers in the top- four spots of the Sport Touring I standings?
Really good. All of the credit goes to the crew and the drivers. The crew has done an awesome job in getting the cars prepared. So far this year I don't think we have missed a lap - meaning we haven't been late for a session. This preparation really lets the drivers relax and do what they have to do. They feel comfortable in the cars and that allows them to do even better in the cars. They all have done an awesome job, especially at keeping their heads together.
What goals have you set for yourself and your team?
At some point in time this year we would like to sweep the podium once. The toughest thing right now is we have nowhere to go but down. If we could finish the season where we are right now that would be awesome. I am sure Lexus wants it as bad as we want it.
What hobbies do you have outside of racing?
Is there time for anything else? There is just enough time to do both working and racing. They are both very, very, very demanding.
Who or what has been the biggest influence in your life?
There is no one specific, but I admire those people who accomplish everything from nothing.
Which racetrack do you think is the best for your BMW Z3s?
Shorter, handling tracks seem to do better because we don't have top-end horsepower. We can still get straight-lined by the Porsches, Acuras, and Lexus. We have worked hard at trying to get a little closer to them. The cars' handling and braking are second-to-none to anybody out there. Shorter, tighter tracks, as evident at Phoenix this year and Three Rivers last year, are definitely better.
What advice would you give a young racer?
Keep their head straight. Be aware of everything that is going on around you and not get suckered into doing something on the track you normally wouldn't do. Young drivers can easily get suckered. I talk to them a lot about keeping their wits at all times. Smart drivers seem to always do better.
Is there anything you would like to say to BMW Z3 fans?
We have had incredible amounts of support from these folks over the last few years. We appreciate their support. We get emails and pictures of our cars from them all of the time. They have been very good for us.
The Grand-Am Cup Street Stock Series will travel next to Watkins Glen International for the Sports Car Grand Prix, June 21-23. Tickets are currently on sale for the event at www.theglen.com or by calling 607-535-2481. Additional information about the Grand-Am Cup Street Stock Series can be found online at www.grandamcup.com.