GRAND-AM Series: Long, Freedom Ready For Home Race at VIR

By Auto News Log • May 10th, 2011

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – There are many reasons why Tom Long has reason to look forward to the Bosch Engineering 200 at Virginia International Raceway.

First off, he’s almost always there. One of the team principals on the Freedom Autosport stable and the team’s lead driver, he frequently makes the near 60-mile drive from his Raleigh, N.C., home, to the Alton, Va., facility – for testing, track days, and races. The short distance between Freedom’s shop and VIR easily makes it his home track.

Second, it’s the site of a couple of firsts for Freedom – the team’s first Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge race in 2007, and first Street Tuner victory in 2009. The win was also the first for Long and team co-owner and co-driver Derek Whitis, who launched Freedom as a tribute to the U.S. armed forces, and was the first of three victories in four races.

And, if that isn’t enough, the team’s Mazda MX-5s traditionally handle well at VIR, with its long turns and ever-changing elevation, and the MAZDASPEED3 models are coming into their own after its debut season in 2010.

“We take a lot of pride in representing our home court as good as we can,” said Long after attending the VIR media day, where he gave rides to local media members and later competed against them in a go-kart challenge at the facility short track.

“It’s such a beautiful circuit and has a lot of history. From the team’s perspective, that first win kind of put us on the map, and we’re just trying to return to victory lane now.”

VIR also can serve as a momentum builder for a team that hasn’t finished extremely well in 2011. Long and Whitis’s best finish was seventh at Barber Motorsports Park in the No. 25 Mazda/ Mazda MX-5. Their MX-5 teammates, team co-owner Rhett O’Doski and Andrew Carbonell, haven’t finished a race yet, and missed another one all together.

“From all aspects, we’ve been focused on putting together consistency and competitiveness to get back to the top step of the podium,” Long said. “It’s been a frustrating start to the season, but I have a feeling that, as focused as the team has been, this is our best chance to win a race so far this year.”

The MAZDASPEED3s have featured a rotation of drivers. The best finish for either of the team’s two MAZDASPEED3s was with the No. 27 Mazda/, with Brad Rampelberg and Eric Foss taking sixth at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Rampelberg is eighth in the ST points.

“The MAZDASPEED3s have really been showing strong as of late, and we’re getting closer to having them run near the front,” Long said. “The team has also been focused on the development of these cars, and you can see that already this season. This race, as much as any, we’ll have as much potential, and breaking through for a victory is an achievable goal for us.”

Another reason Long is looking forward to VIR this season is to avenge a disappointing race last year. Whitis was moving toward the front when he was caught up in a multi-car incident that destroyed the car, and Long never got behind the wheel. That race also ended the pair’s two-race winning streak.

“All three of our cars were poised to do well in that race, and all three had issues that dropped them out,” Long said. “We’re just hoping for better results this year, especially since we love the fans so much and want to do well in front of them.”

The team, in search of its first podium with any of its four cars this year, will join more than 60 cars at VIR, the fourth round of the season. The two-and-a-half hour race will be held starting at 11:15 a.m. ET on Saturday, May 14.

Source: GRAND-AM Road Racing


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