Ian James has been around motorsports enough to know there are peaks and valleys to every season. It’s how you respond to those inevitable low points that determines your fate.
It’s why the team principal and sometimes driver for the Heart of Racing Team remained confident that his two Aston Martin Vantage GT3s would recover from a slow start to the 2022 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season. James’ faith was rewarded in October when the No. 27 car and driver Roman De Angelis wrapped up the GT Daytona (GTD) championship, while Alex Riberas, Ross Gunn and the No. 23 took fourth place in the debut season for the GTD PRO class.
It wasn’t easy to maintain that conviction following the first two races of the season, the Rolex 24 At Daytona and Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts. Mechanical issues and a racing incident contributed to neither car finishing better than ninth in the marquee endurance events. At that point, the No. 23 ranked 10th in the GTD PRO standings and the No. 27 was 12th in GTD.
But James didn’t smash the panic button.
“Sometimes in racing, you’ve got to find a way to come back from the troughs,” he said. “We just kept our heads down and even going into the third round, we were down at the bottom of the points tables but we were still very positive.”
Gunn and Riberas rewarded James’ belief by winning the GTD PRO class of that third race, the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach. De Angelis and co-driver Maxime Martin nearly made it a Heart of Racing sweep until the No. 27 was eliminated battling for the GTD class lead. Still, the potential shone through.
“I kind of had a feeling with the GTD car especially that we could actually win this championship from an early point in the year,” James said, “because the pace was good, the driver combination of Maxime and Roman was very strong. We just kept chipping away at it and we had some luck go our way in some races, but that just balanced out the bad luck that we had earlier in the year.
“I’ve been in the sport long enough (to know) you’ve just got to try and stabilize everything and ride the crest of the waves.”
That crest came roaring in as the second half of the season began, when the Heart of Racing cars won both of their respective classes in the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen. “We’re the first and so far only team to have done it in GTD PRO and GTD,” crowed James.
A week later, De Angelis and Martin took the GTD victory at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. A pair of runner-up results down the stretch — in particular at Virginia International Raceway, where Martin somehow coaxed 40 laps out of a single tank of fuel on the final stint to finish second — also played key roles.
“Proud of the wins — I think we had four wins as a team this year — but it’s really the races when you don’t have the fastest car but you get a result, and VIR was massive,” James stressed. “We got every last drop out of the car so that was very, very gratifying.”
James credits the team’s success to “a tight-knit group of people, like-minded, who want to win” that he began to assemble in 2020. That includes the drivers.
“All of our drivers get along very well and that’s one of our core beliefs,” James said. “We have to have a group of people, doesn’t matter how talented you are, they enjoy each other’s company. That’s one of our underlying decision-making factors when we decide on drivers and crew.”
That tight-knit group includes the team’s manufacturer. James settled on Aston Martin for that very reason.
“We’re obviously one of their more successful teams in the world and they don’t have tens of teams like other manufacturers do, so they’re very focused on helping us do well as much as they can from their end. That’s been very beneficial.”
And that bodes well for 2023.
“It’s not finalized,” James said, “but my expectation is we’ll be back in both GTD and GTD PRO.”