In a spirited run that, emotionally speaking, very nearly erased an entire first-half season’s angst and frustration, Multimatic Motorsports drivers Ian James and Billy Johnson and their No. 158 Ford Mustang Boss 302R finished second Saturday to the No. 9 Chevrolet of Matt Bell and Andy Lally on the 2.459-mile, 10-turn track. In third was the second of Multimatic Motorsports’ two team cars, the No. 58 Ford Mustang Boss 302R piloted by Jade Buford and Scott Maxwell.
Keeping in mind that racers often insist the best of almost any sports car race comes nearest its end, the last 14-minutes-or-so of Saturday’s Continental Tire Sportscar Championship race at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park certainly proved such to be the case.
Only, those 14 minutes also were too few in number and way too late in coming for one of Ford’s best, driver Billy Johnson, who very nearly drove the wheels off of his Multimatic Motorsports’ No. 158 Ford Mustang Boss 302R, in an effort to work his magic all the way to the winner’s circle.
Friday evening, James had expressed considerable optimism about Saturday’s race, saying that while CTMP now is likely “the most challenging track we go to,” Saturday’s ninth-place in CTSC qualifying led to the discovery of a CTMP secret that gave the team a still better feeling for Saturday.
“We tried some set up changes for qualifying that did not work because a higher track temperature caught us out,” the English native-turned-U.S.-citizen said. “While P9 is not where we wanted to end up for the start, I think we now have a good race-car setup for Saturday – one that we think others may not have noticed – and we’re looking forward to the race.”
As if the top runners weren’t already nose-to-tail before a final caution period, the race’s fourth, with about 20-minutes remaining they were collected and constrained so that the final sprint to the flag wasn’t likely see the tight racing dematerialize.
Turned loosed by the green flag with 14-munites to go, the top-three running order was No. 9 Andy Lally; No. 15 Scott Maxwell; and, No. 158 Billy Johnson.
Slowly and surely, Lally began pulling away from Maxwell, who behind had an anxious Johnson raring to go – if only Maxwell could.
An accomplished racer in his own right – Maxwell in a couple of months’ time will be inducted into the Canadian Motorsports Hall of Fame – it’s just very, very hard for someone like Maxwell to quickly realize he or his car didn’t have what it’d take on Saturday to overcome the deficit built between Lally and himself.
But recognize it he did and with five minutes remaining radioed team engineer Larry Holt, “I don’t have anything for him (No. 9, Lally), I’m letting Billy by.”
Lot a shot from a canon, in an instant Johnson was by and on his way to challenge Lally.
But it was really just too late. With roughly three laps available in those five minutes, there was little Johnson could do to overcome a nearly four-second deficit, even though the driver did close the gap to barely more than one second.
“With those Camaros carrying two more liters in engine size than us (6.97 liters to 5 liters) it was tough to catch them, much less run with them,” Johnson said.
“Still we were really strong.”
“The important thing is that after having a string of bad luck through the first part of year, we finally got the breaks to come our way and we finally pretty much got that monkey off our back.”
Getting that ape to hang elsewhere wasn’t exactly easy. So difficult, in fact, the entire team would have to throw him off. And so it did: The pit crew was itself on fire, spending two fewer seconds (2:05) servicing the James/Johnson No. 158 Boss 302R than did the No. 9’s crew (2:07).
In two weeks’ time the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge visits hallowed ground at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, taking on the famed track in the July 24-25 Brickyard SportsCar Challenge.