For Jack Roush Jr. and Billy Johnson, the opening round of the 2012 Grand-Am Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge season was a welcome change from the previous year. After stuffing his Roush Performance Boss 302R Daytona’s turn one tires on the fourth lap of last year’s race, Jack Roush, Jr. was redeemed by taking the win at the 2012 BMW Performance 200 at Daytona with his co-driver, Billy Johnson.
After qualifying second to teammate Shelby Blackstock, Roush drove a solid stint before handing the Boss 302R over to Johnson. A squadron of three Fall-Line Motorsports BMW M3s mounted a full-on assault in the closing laps of the January 27th race, led by Bryan Sellers. A great restart from the final caution period gave Johnson the breathing room he needed to take the checkered flag
As has been the case for the past several years, the field for the season opening race at Daytona was large. Thirteen of the seventy-four cars that took the green flag were Mustangs. Notables were three Mustangs from Roush Performance, another three fielded by Rolex-series veterans Starworks Motorsport, and two from Rehagen Racing. Not only did the 2009 series champions return to race at Daytona with a Boss 302R, they also dusted off their championship-winning #59 Mustang for drivers Nicholas Latifi and Scott Turner.
The Roush Performance Mustangs and Fall-Line Motorsports BMWs were quickest in the practice sessions prior to qualifying on Thursday afternoon. The short, fifteen-minute qualifying session was interrupted by black flags, which meant few competitors got a full lap to set their best time.
Nonetheless, the quickest time was set by Shelby Blackstock in the #51 Roush Performance Mustang Boss 302R. Joe Foster notched the third quickest time in his Aston Martin Vantage. Al Carter, the quickest of the Fall-Line Motorsports BMW drivers, was to start 9th.
Friday Morning before the race dawned damp and gloomy. The rain over night had stopped, and the track was drying leading up to the 1:30PM start of the BMW Performance 200 race. When the teams rolled their cars out onto pit lane for the customary pre-race fan walk, the clouds grew dark. The local radar didn’t indicate the heavy drizzle falling on the track.
With this in mind, the Grand-Am officials gave the teams the opportunity to change to wet tires after their usual “recon laps” before the start of the race. By now, the track was completely wet, so all the teams switched to the soft, grooved Continental rain tires before rejoining the pace car for the start.
After the drop of the green flag, both Roush Performance Boss 302R’s were overtaken by Joe Foster’s Aston Martin through the turn one braking zone. But Eric Curran was on a charge, and by the end of the first lap, he drove his #01 Camaro GS.R to the lead. Jeff Westphal (#19 Insight Racing BMW) snatched the lead from Curran on the 11th lap, and held it until the first caution period on the next lap. Westphal and Curran stayed out, while much of the rest of the field pitted for fuel, try tires, and a driver change. Due to miscommunication, Westphal handed the lead to Curran when he pitted two laps later.
Shortly after the restart, Matt Plumb and his #13 Rum Bum Racing BMW M3 moved into the lead, followed by Al Carter in his #45 Fall-Line Motorsports BMW M3, while Curran dropped to third. With just over forty-five minutes remaining in the race, a critical caution flag came out. After taking over the controls from co-driver Jack Roush Jr., Billy Johnson took the lead after pit stops.
On the restart, Bryan Sellers and his Fall-Line BMW M3 applied heavy pressure to Johnson, but Johnson successfully deflected Sellers’s attacks after two more re-starts, the last with just three laps remaining.
Johnson crossed the finish line with just over a second in hand over second place finisher Hugh Plumb (#45 Fall-Line Motorsports BMW M3). Plumb nosed past fellow Fall-Line Motorsports teammate Bryan Sellers after a last lap draft gave Plumb the extra speed he needed to overtake Sellers. The remaining Fall-Line Motorsports BMW M3 shared by Charlie Putman and Charles Espenlaub finished fourth.
Jack Roush Jr. was understandably thrilled to take the win, though in his understated way. The senior Roush was also on hand in victory lane, and explained how he “kept his mouth shut” this year, since he felt his last-minute advice on turn one braking points that he gave his son prior to the 2011 race might’ve contributed their Boss 302R going nose-first into the turn one tire barrier.
It was Billy Johnson’s first overall win with his GS-class Mustang, though he notched an ST-class victory in 2007, driving a Compass 360 Honda Civic.
Looking ahead to the rest of the season, the BMWs are going to be hard to beat. Crossing the stripe behind Johnson were six BMW M3s, all run by top teams Fall-Line Motorsports, Rum Bum Racing, and 2011 champions Turner Motorsport. Unless Grand-Am makes some adjustments, it looks like it’ll be a Mustang/BMW street fight again in 2012…and we wouldn’t have it any other way!
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