It’s been an interesting season for Fan Force United and its owners (Tyce Carlson, Chris Williams, Scott Williamson). There have been highs and lows, moments of encouragement, and periods of frustration. Basically, it’s been a racing season. It’s the nature of the beast and it’s what we love. It’s our mission to share all of that – the good, the bad, and the ugly – with racing fans in general, and what we affectionately call our “fan force” in particular. We absolutely, without fail, want to be the most fan-engaged team there is, and we feel like we’re well on our way to getting there. After all, we’re race fans first and foremost. We feel like our “Ride With FFU” promotions, in which fans that engage with us via social media get the chance to have their name on our cars, have been a pretty good start. That’s probably simple, but it’s just the beginning. We want to make the fans feel like they are a part of the team, and that’s just one way to make that happen.
Of course, it’s difficult to be engaged with the fans if you’re not racing, so our first goal was to make sure we were on track this season. That mission was accomplished when we brought a talented young man from India into the fold. Signing Armaan Ebrahim was obviously an important step, as it was going to allow us to run the full season in Indy Lights, and to put our “fan first” philosophy into effect. Not only that, but it obviously opened up a potentially massive fan base, as Armaan gets a lot of attention in India. With Armaan on board, we were able to staff up, picking up some really talented and experienced guys for our team (Brad Brewer, Greg Beck, Ted Bitting, Tim Wardrop). Obviously, this provided a great foundation for our team, and it gave us the confidence to not only run Armaan, but to give Armaan a teammate at Indy, as we were able to add a program for Emerson Newton-John for the Freedom 100. That race didn’t go as we had hoped, with Emerson caught up in an early crash, and Armaan having to call it a day a bit early with a mechanical problem. Neither had the chance to compete, and there’s nothing worse than that.
And then there was the 500. It’s still hard to believe that the Fan Force United team was able to be a part of it. As of May 1st, our plan for the month of May was to run Armaan Ebrahim and Emerson Newton-John in the Freedom 100, and to join the masses in watching the Indy 500 from the stands. The Indianapolis 500 was certainly on the radar screen, as it is the goal on which sights are set, but not for this year. My what a dramatic turn in the team’s fortune. A conversation that led to a phone call, which led to an email and another phone call, which ultimately led to the little Fan Force United team making the big leap to the big cars to prepare and run a car for the legendary Jean Alesi, forever changing the complexion of this racing team and its principals. Things can never again be the same. The Indianapolis 500 has been tasted. It’s glory has been sampled. Indy has now entered the metaphorical bloodstream of the Fan Force United team, and once Indy is in the blood, it creates a condition that can never be reversed – not that we would have it any other way.
Yes, we qualified last and finished last, but we knew going in that it was going to be a struggle, being significantly down on horsepower. However, we feel like we acquitted ourselves well, and we’ve received substantial kudos from our colleagues in the industry for the effort we put forth. So even though, under normal circumstances, such results at Indy would be disappointing, and even a low-point, for us it was a high point. Yes, it had its frustrations, but as was said, we’re race fans, so it was pretty hard to let the frustrations overcome the sheer excitement of being a part of the world’s greatest race.
Of course, the lowest point so far was having to part ways with Armaan. When he was such a big part of getting us on track, it was really difficult to see that relationship come to an end. It’s hard to say what happened there. The best way to sum it up is just to say that things didn’t “click.” We started the season with an 8th place finish in St. Petersburg, but things never got better. That’s tough when you have great expectations. We know we have the pieces in place that we need to be successful. We are confident that Armaan has the talent and the foundation from which to develop. Unfortunately, those things never came together to produce the results that all of us wanted. So, rather than press on, continuing to operate in a way that increasingly felt like shoving a square peg into a round hole, we decided to part ways. Doing so would allow us and Armaan to find the path that best suited all involved, and we wish him nothing but the best.
With a couple of oval races being next up for us, our path led us to Bryan Clauson. In all honesty, he was our first call and our only call. We felt like we needed to make a big statement to our fans, and to the racing world in general, by putting Bryan in that seat, hopeful that it would be a nice shot in the arm for the team that seemed to be dragging a bit after the high of Indy. Of course, with a good string of Indy Lights races last year, being fresh off his rookie run at the 500, and with his being a two-time USAC National Driving champion with countless race wins under his belt, it’s not like he’s an unknown quantity. He jumped in the car and finished 10th for us at Milwaukee. On the surface, that may seem like cause for disappointment, as that’s the same result that we had the previous weekend in Detroit, but it was actually a source of encouragement. How so?
We had good practice sessions, though qualifying was not what we wanted. Bryan gave great feedback. The team synced quickly, and the race started well. About halfway through the race, the damper on the right rear shock failed, giving Bryan a wickedly loose racecar. Naturally, we didn’t know about the failure until after the race. A lesser driver would have thrown in the towel, but Bryan did not. We brought him in, added some downforce to the rear, and sent him back out to the track. The car was still loose, so Bryan consciously wore out the front tires, giving him less front grip, in order to bring the balance back to the car. It worked, and for the last 20 laps of the race, Bryan was one of the two fastest cars on the track, passing cars and gaining on others, and driving away from the leader. Effectively, he did all of that on three wheels. Impressive to say the least, and a huge boost for the team heading into the Iowa race weekend, where Bryan has finished 3rd in Indy Lights, where he has run several different types of cars, and where he has won in a sprint car.
We have big plans for this team. Naturally, the immediate goal is to firm up our plans for the balance of the season. We have some things already in place for a couple of the remaining races, which we will be announcing in the near future, but things are a bit up in the air for other races. That’s not where we want to be nor though we’d be, and it’s not a great feeling; but at the same time, there is an excitement about the unknown and there’s a bit of a thrill in working to put something together that will be a source of enthusiasm for our fans, and hopefully a benefit to the series and the sport. Yes, we really do think this way. Beyond that, we would most definitely like a return engagement at Indy. Jean Alesi has talked about making a return, and about doing it with the same group of guys. He told us that the team felt like family, and that he had complete confidence in the team and the car that was given to him. You’d have to imagine that makes us feel pretty good. He feels like he has unfinished business and a point to prove, and it would be a privilege to work with him again at next year’s Indianapolis 500.
However, Indy is just one goal. We want to run the ladder. We want to run a full-season IndyCar program, an Indy Lights program, a Star Mazda program, and a USF2000 program. Not only that, we’d like to run a USAC program as well. We want to be at Indy, on the Road To Indy, and everywhere in-between. We feel like that’s what racing fans want from their favorite teams, so we aim to give it to them. It may take a while, but we plan on being around for a while. Hopefully we’ll help a few fans have an even better experience along the way.
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