Heavy Metal Affliction - Change Racing
Clearly racing is awesome, but when you have your own car in a racing series it makes it all the more thrilling. With its sharp Forza Motorsport livery (designed by our own Ayo Jube!), the #16 Change Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 is your car, Forza fans. So, as we prepare to kick off the 2017 IMSA Weathertech SportsCar Championship at the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona this weekend, what better way to get psyched up for an awesome season of racing than to chat with the folks at Change Racing?
This week, Heavy Metal Affliction talked with Change Racing principle Robby Benton to get some insight into the 2017 IMSA season and what it’s like to be partnered with Forza. So, let’s see what he had to say.
On the Forza-Change Partnership
Heavy Metal Affliction: How impactful is it to Change Racing to have a racing franchise whose fans love racing to the core as a major sponsor?
Change Racing: Anytime you have the opportunity to partner with a company who already has a large motorsport fan base, it’s very meaningful. It goes without saying how proud we are to continue on our multi-year relationship with Microsoft and transition over to promote Turn 10 Studios and XBOX through the Forza franchise. We also take very seriously the expectations that the Forza community have for us. We want to give each and every Forza fan a reason to find excitement in the Rolex 24 at Daytona by seeing the Forza car on track.
HMA: Can you tell Forza fans a bit about the partnership? For example, will they see the Forza-liveried car in every IMSA race in 2017? Will the livery change over the course of the season?
CR: The partnership is primarily based around promotion of the Forza franchise, but more specifically the addition of specific cars as the game develops. The current plan is for the Forza livery to compete in the entire 2017 IMSA Weather Tech schedule. I imagine it may change a bit later in the year as new initiatives come up that need special promotion.
HMA: My Forza community teammate Ayo Jube (Javier Hernandez) contributed to the livery design that was applied. Can you tell me about the livery design process and what you like most about the design influences?
CR: Liveries are a very complex process. Sometimes what looks good two dimensionally on paper is not always what looks the best in real life and vice versa. Then there is a balancing act between our associate sponsors and the IMSA Series-mandated official series sponsors with the size, placement, and colors of their logos. In trying to design something you think will look attractive on track, you have to take into account all of those parameters and strike a balance. If at the end of that process, you end up with a cool concept like we did with the Forza car, it’s a win. I think our car has a healthy mix of simplicity and complexity, while showcasing each partner in a way that maximizes exposure value. Javier did a great job capturing the essence of the Forza brand and I hope everyone enjoys following along during the race to cheer it on.
HMA: What are your prospects for 2017 in GTD?
CR: We want to chase a title. We have all of the necessary tools and people in place to go and do just that. Obviously, we want to win races and stand on podiums but, for us, the goal is the championship.
HMA: Last year at the Rolex 24 the Lamborghinis came out strong, and adjustments of performance had to be implemented. How did these affect your team in 2016?
CR: The Balance of Performance initiative inside IMSA is an ever-evolving process that we have quite a lot of confidence in. IMSA is tasked with a very difficult job in trying to balance so many different types of cars with their strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes it goes in your favor and sometimes it doesn’t, but that’s where strategy comes into play and you make calls during the race to maximize how you stack up at any given event. [In] much the same way as you monitor different channels of data and information while racing in the game, IMSA is always watching our data as well and the use that data to make data driven decisions. It’s never about results, it’s about finding the best balance of performance that will afford the fans the best race possible.
HMA: What is the strength of the Lamborghini Huracán GT3 compared to the other cars in the GTD class?
CR: Our strength is top speed and low drag. Anywhere we go that has high-speed sectors, we tend to shine. As a result, we struggle a bit more on some of the slower, tighter circuits.
HMA: Do you welcome the return of Acura and Mercedes to the IMSA Weathertech series? What are the advantages to having a more diverse field of brands? Is there a downside?
CR: I’ve always felt that the more manufacturers that are involved, the better it is for everyone. I think you tend to see the manufacturers get more involved when there are as many OEM’s as what we now have in IMSA. Everyone wants to win and best each other, so it’s healthy for us all right now. I think the Acura and Mercedes in particular will be strong competitors.
HMA: Is Change Racing more focused on the endurance races or the more sprint-like formats of the IMSA Weathertech series? I understand everything is a balance, but does your team favor one or the other?
CR: We don’t particularly favor one versus the other. For us, we want to win everywhere and each track requires a different strategy, as does each different length of race. We carry a little over 55 minutes of fuel onboard, so we run every race from stop to stop, trying to put ourselves in the best strategic position possible at the end.
HMA: What do you expect to be the toughest race of the 2017 series for Change?
CR: They are all tough for different reasons. I think Long Beach is one that’s circled on the calendar, largely because it’s an unknown for us. The GTD class hasn’t run that circuit before, so it will be new to us and its nature as a street course is tough one.
HMA: Do you think the whole merger between Grand-Am and ALMS is now one fluid series or are there still some kinks to work out?
CR: I think it has come together great. The leadership within IMSA is very serious about producing the best racing possible and they are making large strides to support that initiative. I like what I see and hope that some of the new things they are doing will continue to yield what we all hope to see, which is great racing.
HMA: Do you think the merger was a good idea in the first place? What are the greatest benefits and downfalls of the merger?
CR: Yes, I think it was needed. Anytime there is more than one series doing the same thing, its tough for everyone. Fans, teams, and manufacturers get diluted and it hurts the sport as a whole. Having the best drivers and best teams all racing together is always the best way in my opinion. I don’t see any downfalls. I have a lot of trust in what IMSA is doing and there is a multi-year initiative in place that I look forward to seeing play out. IMSA is good, not only for Unites States sports car racing, but also globally. Anytime you have the influx of European teams coming to compete as we’re seeing right now, it’s a positive indicator.
About Change Racing
HMA: You won the Super Trofeo series in 2014 and 2015. What drove Change Racing to enter the IMSA Weathertech series?
CR: It was the next logical step for us and for Lamborghini. The Lamborghini GT3 had its North American launch last year and we felt we were ready to step up at the same time and be a part of that. It has added a lot of credibility to the Super Trofeo Series’ ability to not only be a proving ground for moving drivers up the ladder, but also for teams.
HMA: Is there a program within IMSA for teams to progress or it this solely up to teams based on their resources and inspirations? Why Weathertech and not World Challenge?
CR: It basically comes down to initiative. IMSA is an open market and anyone that wants to give it a try can find a home in one of their series and grow from there. I chose WeatherTech because it’s where Lamborghini was launching the car. It also works for us because the Super Trofeo events run as companion events and its easy for us to do already being there.
HMA: Tell Forza fans about your main drivers Corey Lewis and Jeroen Mul? How have they established themselves within sportscar racing and within Change Racing?
CR: Corey has kind of grown with us over the past few years. Jeroen is new to the team, but he had a very similar growth path as Corey in the European Super Trofeo Series. We raced against Jeroen some during World Finals and we felt he would be a good team mate for Corey this year. They both have a bright future with the Lamborghini brand and we’re happy to have them both here for 2017 to work together. Proof will be in the results, but I’m very optimistic about how they’ll do together.
HMA: What about Kaz Grala and Brett Sandberg, how did they earn their seats for the Rolex 24?
CR: Kaz raced with us last year at the Rolex 24 and did a fantastic job. He’ll be competing fulltime in NASCAR this season but, since that series hasn’t started up yet, we invited him back with us this year for a second go. Brett won the GTS class championship in PWC this year and he knows Corey really well. We felt he would be a great addition to the driver lineup for the endurance championship events as the third driver. Already, the chemistry is great amongst all four drivers and I think this years Rolex 24 event will be a lot of fun.
HMA: There is a cool storyline behind having the youngest driver lineup for the Rolex 24. Personally, I am always looking to seeing the headline of “Youngest Driver Ever Wins [insert race].” What other advantages does having a young team offer?
CR: I think it speaks to the Forza community in particular. These are guys that not too long ago were themselves gamers chasing a dream to become drivers. While our lineup is young, they are all mature beyond their years and very quick. I’d love to see your headline printed in the Monday paper.