Johnny Mowlem

Johnny Mowlem wants to race prototypes. Most sportscar drivers around the globe want to. Unfortunately works drives are a precious commodity and competition is, therefore, unsurprisingly fierce. But if you were to pick a time to make it in sportscars, choosing now would actually be quite a shrewd move

Johnny Mowlem

There is currently a veritable plethora of sportscar championships around the world from which to choose - in Europe there is the SRWC and the FIA GTs and stateside there is the Grand Am series and the ALMS. When put together they make not only a word of anagrammatical proportions, but also the strongest sportscar scene since the heydays of the late 1980s and early '90s. Mowlem has decided that the best arena for proving his worth lies in the land of opportunity and after a year in the Porsche Supercup series, he is currently there or thereabouts at the top of the GT class of the American Le Mans Series.

"I always saw Supercup as a way of getting into world sportscars," explains Mowlem, "and the ALMS is effectively the world sportscar championship, so for me this is a good step. The only thing now that I have to do is to take my front-running GT form and turn that into running at the front of sportscars overall."

Competing in his first Le Mans 24hours this year was certainly a step in the right direction for Mowlem and a third place in the GT class better still. The third place has since metamorphisised into second, following irregularities with the class-winning Dick Barbour Racing Porsche's fuel tank.

Finishing Le Mans is something of a milestone. Finishing Le Mans on the podium, on your debut is impressive. So, returning to the bread and butter of a 1000km race at the Nurburgring, which is where the ELMS heads next weekend, is surely quite difficult to do after the sense of occasion of a race at La Sarthe.

"No, not really," contests the 31-year-old. "I think it should be quite easy. In terms of outright pace we've still got a long way to go, so at Le Mans we didn't really have the speed, but because it's such a long race it wasn't so bad. In a long race it's down to the driver to be consistent, whereas when it's short sprint racing it's more down to the car. The Nurburgring is also a long race so we should be alright."

There is no question that pounding round the same eight miles of circuit for hour after hour will work wonders for a driver's concentration. For Johnny to achieve a second in class on his debut becomes all the more impressive when considering how new his Skea Racing International team is: it only came into existence in January of this year. More impressive still is the pace of Mowlem compared to his illustrious team-mates. Sharing the team's 911 GT3 R with Johnny was works Porsche driver Sascha Maasen, who has carved something of a reputation for himself on the Sportscar scene. With a convincing GT2 victory at the Hungaroring and a Petit Le Mans win last year, his speed is unquestioned.

Mowlem was clearly un-phased by the German's reputation and when asked if he had learnt anything from Massen, he is unequivocal in his response.

"No," he says firmly. "That was the thing I was pleased about. I mean, he's a very, very good driver, but the thing that I noticed, which was nice for me, was that his pace was very similar to mine, and in actual fact I ended up qualifying the car and everyone ran with the same fuel loads and tyres. So yeah, I was pleased to be able to set the time which actually qualified the car."

It would be fair to say then that Mowlem is definitely making a way for himself in GTs, but he is not overly sanguine about his chances of thrusting himself to the forefront whilst still in the GT class. To consider sportscars is to think of such classics as the Jaguar XJR- 9, the Porsche 956 and more recently the Audi R8 - all of which are prototypes. Occasionally a GTS Viper might steal a small portion of the limelight, but for the GT cars, it's often a case of out of sight, out of mind. Mowlem does not disagree.

"I do think GT gets a raw deal", he says, "and everyone will say that's just because I'm in a GT car, but it's not just GT, it's GTS as well. Corvette and Team Oreca Viper are spending an enormous amount of money, time and effort and are running just as professional a deal as the prototype teams, with the possible exception of Audi obviously, and yet they're not getting the recognition they deserve or the coverage. There are some really good races going on within a race, but only the top two or three teams get featured. I mean, if you weren't in an Audi at Le Mans you didn't get a look in."

Despite Johnny's heartfelt defence of his current class, he has larger designs on where he is headed, and while more GT coverage would of course be welcome, the class is merely serving as stepping stone. Prototypes are the ultimate goal. A lot still lies between Mowlem and that goal, but establishing yourself and believing you are able is half the battle. That's the half that Johnny has already won - now comes the hard bit.

"I don't want to be a GT driver forever," says Johnny. "But that's not to take anything away from GT, because there are a lot of high calibre drivers in the class to race against and prove that you are worth a shot in a prototype. They just look like so much fun and Allan (McNish) is always telling me how much fun they are. I mean, I'm sitting around on a pogo stick. He's saying his car doesn't feel like there's any bumps at all on that corner and I'm saying it feels like a bloody ploughed field in mine. I only hope I can make it up there. I need to make that final step up before I can consider myself right up there with people like McNish, which is obviously what I'm striving for."

With more hopefuls than prototype seats, Mowlem will want to continue his run of form at the Nurburgring next weekend. From results comes recognition, and from recognition comes promotion. He is well on the way to achieving the first and can only hope the others will follow in time.

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