Billy Johnson Shines in Formula Mazda Debut. San Clemente California, April 23, 2005. 18 year old Billy Johnson, the versatile up and coming road racer from Southern California was impressive in his first ever Star Mazda Pro Car drive at Road...
Billy Johnson Shines in Formula Mazda Debut.
San Clemente California, April 23, 2005. 18 year old Billy Johnson, the versatile up and coming road racer from Southern California was impressive in his first ever Star Mazda Pro Car drive at Road Atlanta finishing a hard charging 10th.
A last minute deal with Team Bucknum Racing allowed Billy to race the number 45 Car at Road Atlanta.
Thursday morning's practice session was the first time Billy had ever driven the 240 horsepower Formula Mazda and was the first time he had ever been on the track at Road Atlanta. He was impressively quick in the opening session with a quick lap only 1.3 seconds off Sebring Runner Up and fellow 2004 Formula BMW-USA competitor Matt Jaskol.
"I was really happy to be able to do this event and be back racing wheel-to-wheel with same group of guys I raced with last year. The car itself is amazing to drive and Team Bucknum gave me a car that I could put into top 10."
Unfortunately, a clutch replacement prevented Billy from participating in the final three practice sessions of the day. "Team Bucknum did a fantastic job getting the car ready for Friday's Practice and fellow drivers Scott Jenkins, Robbie Montinola and Phil Fogg were a huge help sharing track information." In both practice sessions on Friday, Billy continued to improve his times and move farther up the leader board finishing in the top 20 of the 42 car field in both sessions.
Billy entered Saturdays qualifying with a total of three sessions and 45 laps experience both at the track, and in the Formula Mazda. He qualified a respectable 18th but felt he should have done better. "I was a bit disappointed in my qualifying position" Billy related. "Last year in Formula BMW USA I was used to qualifying with Matt Jaskol, James Hinchcliffe and Graham Rahal and here I was several positions behind them." . Team co-owner Jeff Bucknum was very impressed with Billy's qualifying effort however and reminded Billy that the other guys had one race and hundreds of laps more experience in the cars.
Turn one can be hairy in any race, but even more so with a field of 42 aggressive drivers in a sprint to Road Atlanta's flat out turn one. Billy made it through turn one without loosing position and was among the first few cars in the second pack. He made a couple of passes to clear of that group and then set out to reel in the lead pack.. "My engineer told me that tire management was crucial in this series so I maintained a quick smooth pace that allowed me to reel in the cars ahead of me without burning up the tires. This left me more tire when I needed it to make passes later in the race."
In what Team co-owner Jeff Bucknum called "the most exciting and progressive race in the entire field" Billy managed to pick off a car every two to three laps using "aggressive but controlled moves", eventually passing Robbie Pecorari for 10th with a about five laps to go. From there he rapidly closed on Graham Rahal. "Graham and I had quite a battle over the last lap, he managed to hold me off by less than a car length at the line. My tires were in much better condition than his. I wish the track had one more turn!"
"Overall I had a great result and a great race experience this weekend. Team Bucknum was awesome. The engineers Pete Mercier and Pierre Phillips and my mechanic Mark Capitain gave me a great car. Co-Drivers Scott Jenkins and Robbie Montonola were a huge help. Paul Grosjean did a great job helping me put the deal together and I can't say enough about Jeff Bucknum. I really appreciate his allowing me to race the No. 45 car at the last minute but more importantly, I appreciate his advice and racing insight. It's not everyday a driver of his stature takes the time out of their own race preparation to talk with an 18 year old second year racer. Jeff: thanks for the career clarifying moment.
Billy Johnson will be in action again April 29th and 30th al Laguna Seca in Grand-Am Cup competition. For more information on Billy Johnson, please visit at www.billy-johnson.com, and www.jmracing.com.