Mustang legacy continues in Continental Tire Challenge
More than 50 years after Dan Gurney turned the first laps in a Mustang I prototype, the legacy of the original Pony car is still running strong at race tracks around the country, including Virginia International Raceway, site of this weekend’s IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge round.
No fewer than four Mustang Boss 302Rs are set to do battle in Saturday’s race. The Boss 302R is the latest in turnkey road racing cars engineered and sold by Ford Racing Performance Parts. Among the Ford entries at VIR is the No. 158 Multimatic Motorsports/Miller Racing entry of Ian James and Billy Johnson, who’s considered one of the most successful Mustang drivers in series history.
“Being a part of Roush and now being a part of Multimatic, the manufacturer of the car, I’ve been deeply rooted in the Mustangs,” Johnson said. “There is kind of an expectation that goes along with that to do well.”
The 27-year-old California native has lived up to those expectations, claiming 15 career wins and more than 30 podium finishes in Continental Tire Challenge competition, many of them coming with co-driver Jack Roush Jr. in the Roush Performance team.
But with Roush moving on to the Pirelli World Challenge this year, Johnson found himself with longtime Ford partner Multimatic Motorsports to help spearhead their championship attack in the GS category.
Teamed with GT veteran James, the duo has seen its share of bad luck in 2014 and are still searching for their first trip to victory lane.
However, the Canadian squad at Multimatic, led by Larry Holt, has been on a recent upswing, with proof having come by a double podium finish at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park last month, with Johnson and James finishing second, ahead of the sister Boss 302R of Scott Maxwell and Jade Buford.
“The whole scheme of the series has changed a lot in the last two years,” said Johnson, who finished runner-up in the GS championship in 2011. “If you take lap times from two years ago, compared to now, they’re a lot faster. GS teams are developing their cars race by race to become faster and faster.”
While development hasn’t completely stopped for the tried-and-trusted Boss 302R, much of their focus is on the future, with the imminent launch of the 2015 Ford Mustang, which is expected to make its way into the Continental Tire Challenge next year.
“There’s absolutely a future for the Mustang in Continental Tire Challenge, and even more globally than ever,” Johnson said. “This is the first time in the 50-year history of the Mustang that it’s going to be a car offered all around the world.
“Racing has always been a deep part of the Mustang’s heritage. Now more so than ever, the focus toward the 2015 version is not only a big step up in terms of refinement and a better road-going car, I would also expect that to be much more of a better-performing race car.”
Johnson continues to play a key role in Roush’s road racing programs, including having driven its NASCAR Nationwide Series Mustang while also serving as a driver coach.
“It comes full circle in so many ways,” Johnson said. “I’m very privileged and very grateful for everyone at Ford, Roush and Multimatic for believing in me and having me be a part of the operation. I hope to continue to be a part of the success of the Mustang legacy.”