One year later in January of 2017, Ward was spraying podium champagne at Daytona International Speedway when he and his co-driver Damien Faulkner finished third among a field of 38 cars in IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge competition.
It was Ward’s IMSA debut – racing a Porsche for CJ Wilson Racing. Performing like a veteran driver with only a year of race experience under his belt, Ward credits the Pirelli GT3 Cup Trophy USA in helping him prepare for such a successful first IMSA outing.
“The Pirelli GT3 Cup Trophy USA helps you with traffic management and that was crucial at Daytona,” said Ward following the Daytona podium ceremonies. “In the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, there are two classes – one of which is slower (ST) and one of which is faster (GS). I compete in the faster GS class so being able to manage the traffic was key. The track time I received by racing in the Pirelli Cup series was also very important because the more time you spend in the car, the faster and more comfortable you get.”
Ward raced for long-time Porsche team Kelly-Moss Road and Race in the 2016 Pirelli GT3 Cup Trophy USA championship, developing his race craft throughout the year. Coached by Faulkner during the season, Ward broke through for a podium finish in the 2016 season-finale at Circuit of the Americas.
The IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge features races longer in length and requires two drivers per car. Ward starts each race and performs qualifying duties for CJ Wilson Racing, while Faulkner anchors the car to the finish. While most of the races are two-hours long, Daytona was one of two four-hour endurance races on the 2017 IMSA schedule.
Ward opened the race and drove for over two hours before handing the car over to Faulkner.
“Russell (Ward), performed like a pro and proved his skill,” said Faulkner. “What he did, and the performance he gave was remarkable. To begin with, he did over half the race himself – this, he made possible by doing a really good job. So many elements can go wrong during a race. The composure he showed was top drawer. After incurring a penalty, he duly served, and calmly executed a drive-through. I mention this because, it would have been so easy for him to get angry and speed in the pit-lane incurring further sanctions. But he took it in his stride. We have also been working on radio chat since last season. It’s very challenging for a new-comer to have the spare capacity to give a coherent reply. Last year we might have had a “click” of the radio but during one of his stints at Daytona he was giving us a running commentary on smoke emanating from a nearby competitor. That’s progress! I’ll be very keen to see where we’re at when we come back to the Pirelli GT3 Cup Trophy USA this year.”
Pirelli GT3 Cup Trophy USA President Greg Franz was in attendance for Ward’s debut and was thrilled to see the young racer shine at Daytona.
“It was great to be there at Daytona and see Russell (Ward) make such a strong debut run with Damien (Faulkner),” said Franz. “For him to come and learn how to race with us and then be able to perform so well at this level is really impressive. I think it reflects well not only on his driver coach (Faulkner), but also on what we are doing in our series. Driver development is at the core of what we do. We have drivers who have decades of experience mixing it up with drivers who are much newer to the sport, so there is always the opportunity for development and growing every weekend, no matter how much experience you have. We are also pleased that Russell and his father (Bryce) are planning to continue racing with us again this year!”
Likewise, Jeff Stone, President of Kelly-Moss Road and Race was impressed with the rapid progress Ward showed racing for his team last year.
“When we started working with Russell (Ward) and his father Bryce, they were very new to the sport, but showed great aptitude,” offered Stone. “In a very short time we went from test / training days to racing in the Pirelli GT3 Cup Trophy USA. Russell is a very determined competitor who has some very good natural skills to build on. If he continues to focus and hone his race craft he will continue to do well in the sport.”
The 2017 Pirelli GT3 Cup Trophy USA season kicks off April 14-16 at Thunderhill Raceway Park.
Thunderhill Raceway Park
Utah Motorsports Campus
Utah Motorsports Campus
Circuit of the Americas
Source. Sunday Group/Photo. Porsche