We sat down with Compass360 Racing team principal Karl Thomson at Barber Motorsports Park, to get the lowdown on the team’s ambitious 2014 platform of running Subaru WRX-STi and Honda Civic Si programs in both the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge and Pirelli World Challenge. Thomson, of Toronto, also discusses the C360R team’s dedication to the Children’s Tumor Foundation and Racing4Research.org, as they raise awareness and donations to help end neurofibromatosis (NF), which encompasses a set of distinct genetic disorders that causes tumors to grow along various types of nerves. May is NF Awareness Month.
MotorSportsTalk: How did the process of getting together with the CTF begin and continue into the 2014 program, with the art car?
Karl Thomson: The CTF has been at Daytona specifically around the Daytona 24 Hours, and 2009 was the first full livery year. We started with Ryan Eversley, and we always had some CTF (signage) on Ryan’s car. It sort of spread to the other cars. Jill (Beck) used some events as activation opportunities for kids – our NF Heroes – and to bring local heroes and donors to the track, and get them excited about the end NF program through racing.
This year, the foundation came up with the art car concept, designed by an NF Hero, Jeff Hanson. He’s actually legally blind due to the tumors in his optic nerves. He’s definitely been affected. But he’s amazing and his art is phenomenal – it’s in a few places.
Jill commissioned a piece to wrap the Porsche at the 24. That car ran again at Sebring, so we had two longer races with art on it. If we can do it with IMSA, we can do it over here to extend the program. This gives Jill an opportunity to bring families – I think 37-40 come out on Saturday – as we race. Auctioning the print off also raises awareness for the foundation.
MST: Good timing that the artwork colors match the Compass360 colors!
KT: A lucky happenstance. But the piece of art is quite amazing. I’m the caretaker from the car standpoint.
MST: So when the “NF Heroes” see the car, what does that moment mean to you?
KT: The reality is, sadly, they’re kids dealing with an affliction, it affects their lives negatively and ends it early. To have an event like this, where they can just be kids, sit in the car, be at the event and feel a part of the team, it’s great for them.
MST: Have you had the chance to meet Jeff?
KT: Yes. I met him at Daytona. When they had the big unveil with the Park Place car, Dempsey there, the press went bananas. I met him and his parents. We’ll likely do something for him in Kansas as that would be his home race.
MST: The team’s program itself this year is multi-faceted between the Subaru and Civic programs. Why add the Subaru to a tried-and-true car?
KT: Honda doesn’t have a car for GTS/GS really, it doesn’t really fit. So we wanted some experience running in a faster class.
There are some changes coming in (Pirelli World Challenge) TC with TCA, so I want to have a GTS footprint. It’s a good place to be, and the Subaru is a logical car to run. We know Hondas; we have ran Hondas since 2006. The Subaru is a bit more complicated, but it’s interesting because it’s a different kind of car. It’s not a big V8; it’s a 2.5L turbo with four-wheel drive. It gives the class some diversity.
MST: Your Ryans are shifting – Winchester from a Civic to a Subaru and this weekend, Eversley doing the same. How do you think they’ll get on with it?
KT: They’re both pros; Ryan (Eversley) has driven GT3s, Caymans, Winchester, Mustangs for a bit. They’re both pretty adaptable. You can see we’re just around the top 10. The car is a work in progress. It’s a good platform. With a bit more development and having both Ryans available to drive, we’ll get there soon. We ran all Daytona and ran all Sebring; those are 2.5 hour races. We have the reliability, but we don’t have the cooling dealt with. Additionally, we’re not running the max boost yet.
MST: Considering he usually has a co-driver, how do you think Ryan (Eversley) would fare just as a single driver for Barber?
KT: Ryan’s having a good time this weekend. He lives two hours away. One of the reasons we’ve done it here, this is a main CTF center where a lot of research happens (at the University of Alabama-Birmingham). It’s almost local for him.
MST: Of course he’s not your only driver, since you opted to get behind the wheel this weekend…
KT: The last time I drove was the Daytona 24 in 2013, so it’s fun to be back in a car. That was a GX class Cayman. It’s funny, but it’s fun too since all the Civics are closely matched. There’s the potential for a great battle between us and (Jason) Saini close in the (Mazda) MX-5. There’s four or five us to have a good battle in TC.
MST: How will your TC class rookie, Michael DiMeo, fare this year?
KT: I’m really disappointed in him today; I had such high hopes (laughter, since I realized DiMeo was sitting right next to him after I asked -TDZ). No he and I ran within a couple hundredths. He’s never been to the track before. He impressed us, with the second race podium in Houston. He can go for a championship, and rookie-of-the-year. But the reality is I’m having such a great time, I may not get out of the car!
MST: Lastly, on the new TCA class, how do you think they will fit into the PWC class structure?
KT: They’re less of an issue than the TCB. They’re very similar in corners but we’re quicker on straights. You hit TCB guys, if you come up in the wrong spot, you’re toast. But I think the TCA class will be a good addition.
As this interview took place before the Pirelli World Challenge races in Barber, DiMeo won the TC race Saturday with Thomson’s car retiring due to a mechanical. Eversley finished 12th and eighth in the two GTS races. The C360R team resumes with multiple Civic Sis in ST, and the Winchester/Ray Mason Subaru WRX-STI in GS, at this weekend’s Continental Tire race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.