Article published in the Australian Clubsport magazine.
Young South Aussie driver Tom Drewer is currently dominating in the USA in the IMSA Lites Series that is run in conjunction with the American Le Man Series on famous circuits such as Sebring, Miller Motor Sport Park, Lime Rock, Road Atlanta, and Laguna Sega.
It’s a motor racing ‘too good to be true’ story, but in this case it’s the real deal, so how was it achieved?
Tom Drewer, son of Adelaide GP and Clipsal 500 PR man Mike (an Ex Formula 2 racer), had plenty of desire to achieve on the track, but like so many didn’t and still doesn’t have the budget to match the ability.
He did the normal things, karting, Formula Vee, and Saloon cars, but while his results were excellent for the equipment he had, he simply didn’t have the money for a full season of national Formula Ford or the like to really show his worth.
Another promising driver with a stalled career. That was it until along came Greg Steer and Terry Little with a desire to introduce the American built WEST sports racer into Australia.
Greg had invested in the American company and had enlisted Little to make it happen ‘down-under’ so the highly experienced former V8 Supercar team boss and director of the Australian GT Series set about looking for a driver.
‘We could have gone for an established ‘name’ driver to debut the WEST in Australia, but I wanted to prove the car was good, fast and reliable and that it wasn’t all driver and so we decided to give Tom (Drewer) a ride’.
‘I thought he was more than OK, but it wasn’t until I saw him drive the WEST that I realised how good he was’, Little the man who first put Jamie Whincup in a V8 Supercar and supporter of the fledging career of Indycar driver Will Power added.
‘We decided the 2006 AMRS Series was the place to run the car and Tom first raced it at Adelaide International after only one test session. Despite not competing in all rounds he won the under 1400cc Championship and dominated at every meeting with lap records and regularly coming from the back of the grid to win handicap races after giving away a minute or more on the field. His opposition was varied, Future Racers, various Porsches including Cup Cars, Radicals, TramsAM, you name it.
What really impressed me was the way he went about it. He was fast, but super clean. Passing so many cars is not easy when there is such a difference in handling characteristics etc, but in a season and a half or racing Tom only put one little scratch on the car and won the 2007 AMRS Thundersports Championship outright.
Drewer raced the car at Calder, Winton, Wakefield Park, Queensland Raceway and Oran Park with the same clinical efficiency
There was more opposition including the Saker, Prosport Mulsanne, and three more WESTS but it was Drewer that was getting on with business with race and rounds wins and more lap records.
In the meantime, Terry Little had gone from mentor to manager and had arranged for Drewer to have a one off Fujitsu V8 Supercar driver, and without him even having done a single practice lap he fronted for the Wakefield Park round last year.
He was running hard and strong for a total rookie until a smashed real wheel put him out of the points in the final race, but it had proved that the ‘kid’ could drive and this fact was displayed again when he won the AMRS V8 Giants round at Winton after putting the Gary Wilmington owned AU Falcon on pole.
After finishing the 2007 season as an AMRS champion, it was a case of what do next, and Drewer, Little and Steer looked at the USA.
‘I knew Tom had the talent and just as importantly the determination to make it as a driver, but there was no point trying to do the V8 thing in Australia without the proper funding.
The Americans were impressed with Tom’s speed and car feedback so we looked at placing him in the IMSA Lites Series’, Little said.
Greg Steer helped arrange a car in America and Tom was signed to drive with the PVM team that now is the constructor on WEST Race cars.
At the time of writing Tom has won all four rounds of the IMSA Lites L2 Championship winning both his races at Sebring in Florida and at Miller Motor Sport Park in Salt Lake City. He has also set new race records at both venues.
Tom Drewer recognizes he still has a long way to go, and funding is still a big problem.
Family, friends and supporters are supporting his 2008 USA season and following his success to date John Trimble and Daily Planet have come on board.
‘Speaking from Atlanta where he trains, helps prepare his car, and seeks sponsors and further drives, Drewer said his dream of becoming a professional race driver was ‘just that little bit nearer’.
‘The prototype American Le Mans teams know who I am now, and I have to get some tests in prototypes or head in the direction of Indycars through their Lites category.
It’s still a long way off, but I am having a go that would not have been possible without the AMRS Series, Terry Little, Greg Steer, and my dad. They have had the faith in me and I have had a lot of encouragement from people like Vern Schuppan and Murray Walker.
I will give it my very best shot, so watch this space’.
Over the weekend I was back at Sebring, where I won the first two rounds of IMSA Lites, to instruct for the Viper Days Driver Training School.
It was fantastic to be invited back down to the historic Sebring Circuit by Deb and Bob Blizzard and Viper Days, the official driving school of Viper Club of America, to pass on my knowledge to students new to Sebring- even if I spent most of the weekend in the passenger seat.
My PVM Racing teammate, Jim Garret, was also invited to instruct. Jim raced a Viper GTS Coupe before stepping into an IMSA Lites West half way through last year.
It was a really interesting experience being in the passenger seat. Viper Days has an instructor motto “Bigger than Most” referring to the size our, err courage, for getting in a 500bhp+ car with a novice driver behind the wheel that doesn’t know the track at all.
It certainly was an interesting first session. My student, George, the proud owner of a black 2007 SRT Viper had absolutely no fear as we barrelled into turns three and seven and ten for the first time. I think all he would have been able to hear was me firmly encouraging him to brake! It was clear that George had good car control, but like all students new to a race track he just tried to carry far too much speed into the corners, and even though he felt fast and he gathered up the car mid corner, the lap times showed otherwise!
He admitted to me at the end of the day that he ‘hated me’ after the first session. And, I can understand why. I’d just told him, in the nicest way possible, that pretty much everything he was doing in the car could be worked on and he was slow, even though he thought he’d done a pretty damn good job and it felt fast.
Over the next two sessions we worked really hard. It’s a lot for the students to take in and a really hard environment for them to work in. They’ve got an instructor shouting in their ear, at the same time as learning the track, driving techniques, and the real capabilities of the car.
George, for instance simply had never really hit the brake pedal hard (on the limit hard) on the road. That’s what un-nerved me in the first session. I thought the car’s braking capabilities were terrible, it just never seemed to really bite, but once he tried hitting the pedal hard, the Gen 3 Viper’s big brakes came to life.
We worked hard on lines and cornering in the classroom and it paid off. By the end of the day we were nearly 30 seconds faster than the beginning of the day, and the third fastest car overall.
George had gone from literally hating my guts to my new best friend in the space of a couple of hours. It was a fantastic feeling to be able to pass on my knowledge and see the transformation in George. I was really surprised at how quickly he picked everything up. By the end of the day he was doing solid lap times around a circuit the morning before he’d never seen. I was really proud of him. I think it’s pretty hard for anyone one who’s a successful person in their own right to be told by someone much younger than they are how to drive their car. But George just knuckled down and focused and the results spoke for themselves.
The day wasn’t without incident though, just as George started beaming with confidence after putting it all together on the second lap of the last session of the day we went in to turn 4. It was a classic moment. Mid corner, George with one hand on the wheel, one on the gear stick, turned my way to tell me he was getting ‘pretty damn good at this’. Right at that moment, he lost control and had a half loose. I just smiled and raised my eyebrows. Nothing needed to be said. We had a laugh about it for the rest of the weekend.
The next morning George had another small loose going through the turn 15 complex. This time we managed a 180 towards the wall but it was a pretty lazy one, and I was so relaxed I didn’t even flinch. The good thing was that George now understood why we had lost control. He’d gone off line in turn 14 and that had put him in the wrong trajectory into 15. A combination of that and too much road speed into the corner and around came the back end. He could see where he’d gone wrong and why I’d been harping on about focusing on turn-in and braking points. The next lap he was back on line and back on the pace.
When I cut him loose in the next session he went faster again and came back in to tell me I should get a bonus! I was just glad he was having fun and had learnt a lot about his car and driving around a race track. I was really proud of him and pleased to have a new best friend in America. So, George if you’re reading this, top job mate!
The driver training was only one aspect of the Viper Days event. The Viper Racing League was also there for a round of their championship. Around a dozen Competition Coupes lined up to battle around the historic circuit along with a handful of 400bhp+ front-wheel drive Dodge Neon SRT’s. Both cars are rather impressing bits of kit. The series is a feeder category for Viper Drivers looking to compete in SPEED World Challenge. It was great to hear the roar of a field of big V10s- a little different to the scream of my high revving Kawasaki ZX-10R powered West!
I would really like to thank everyone from Viper Days and the Viper Racing League for such a great weekend. In particular I would like to thank Bob and Deb Blizzard and Skip Thomas for the opportunity and their hospitality. Oh, and George for being a great Student!
USA based Australian driver Tom Drewer is ‘delighted’ with the results of a successful two day test at the Road Atlanta circuit in Georgia.
The test, designed to find optimum set-ups on the new spec tunnel floor WEST race car, went ‘totally to plan’ according to Drewer who together with PVM Racing team mate Eric Vassian both recorded times in the mid 1.20 bracket.
‘It was my first time at Road Atlanta, and my impression was that it was a little like a Bathurst with plenty of undulation around the 12 turn 4.987 kilometre circuit.
Turn 11 is amazing as you go under the bridge totally blind and then plummet down the hill and around the last corner onto the main straight. Turns 1 and 3 also put a smile on your face. Turn 1 is super quick and the amount of g-force generated from the aero of the tunnel floor is quite severe on your body, particularly your neck, so I am working on that part of my training regime.
The esses after Turn 3 are also very challenging as you hold the car flat down the left, right, left complex pulling gears all the time’.
Drewer reported the team to very extremely happy with the times, being 2 seconds better than PVM had ever recorded before at the circuit.
‘We were only a second off the time set by a much more powerful L1 Elan prototype that was also at the test running a new tunnel floor, so that bodes well for our L2 cars at the next American Le Mans Series IMSA Lites event scheduled for May 17-18 at Miller Motorsport Park in Salt Lake City, Utah.
We didn’t put new tyres on the car to go for an ultimate time, and I took a fairly conservative approach, so I figure there is a little more in both me and the car.’
Drewer is currently leading the 2008 American Le Mans Series IMSA Lites L2 Championship having won both races at Round One in Sebring, Florida in March this year.
Hi everyone. I just thought I would write a quick report to keep everyone in the loop with what’s been going on since Sebring.
Hi everyone. I just thought I would write a quick report to keep everyone in the loop with what’s been going on since Sebring.
Most of my time has been spent doing the administration side of motorsport, helping PVM prepare my car for the next round at Utah, and continuing to improve my fitness.
However, on Monday and Tuesday of this week I went to Road Atlanta for a two day test.
It was my first time at the famous circuit. I imagine my first impression of Road Atlanta is similar to the first impression you get from Bathurst.
I was just totally blown away by the number of fast corners, the amount of undulation and of course that amazing, and totally blind, turn 11 under the bridge before you plummet down the hill and around 12 onto the main straight.
Turn 11 is an amazing corner. You crest the hill under the bridge pulling third gear, and you take the next fifteen or so meters with no reference to where the track is going absolutely flat out as you dive down the hill.
But it’s turn 1 and the Esses after turn 3 that are the most fun.
Around turn 1 the aero from the tunnel floor just sucks you to the ground and the g-forces on your body are amazing. My neck was actually sore by the end of each day from going around this turn.
The Esses just put another grin on your face. You come out of turn 3 in third gear with plenty of road speed and hold it flat down and around the left, right, left before going back up towards five. There’s no lift here. It’s just flat, pulling gears 4 and 5 as you go through. It’s unbelievable. It’s wild!
Road Atlanta has instantly become my new favourite race track.
The two day test went exactly to plan. The first session was spent doing observation laps and putting sectors together. By my second session I was pretty well on the pace (thank you X-Box!) and we began testing setups to optimise the performance out the IMSA Spec WEST Tunnel Floor car.
The weather, which had been threatening on Monday (we did have some light drizzle during the afternoon), cleared up for a fine and rather warm day on Tuesday.
In the end my team mate, Eric Vassian, and I got another two seconds out of the best time PVM had ever recorded at Road Atlanta. We both finished the second day in the mid 1 minute 20s. This was an extremely competitive time, only 1 second off the fastest, much more powerful, L1 Elan prototype participating in the test with their new Tunnel Floor.
I was extremely happy with my personal performance because this was my first time at Road Atlanta. I also took a rather conservative approach, yet was quickly on the pace, and I feel have a little more up my sleeve for when we go back there later in the year to race.
I think we have really bridged the gap to the L1s and I’m really looking to Utah now and seeing just how far up the overall grid we can be.