If you attended the 2019 NASA Championships Presented by Toyo Tires or watched the livestream broadcast, you might have noticed a particular Élan DP02. Driven by NASA NorCal driver James Paul, this particular DP02 was fitted with a turbocharged Mazda engine, so it was even speedier than the other two DP02 chassis at the Championships, so speedy that Paul set the fastest time in Friday qualifying and by the time the weekend was over, Paul had set the fastest lap of the 2019 NASA Championships.
We caught up with Paul to get a little more detail on his Championships effort at Mid-Ohio and to find out what he’ll be up to in 2020.
Q: So, whether you knew it or not, you ran the fastest lap time at the 2019 NASA Championships Presented by Toyo Tires, a 1:20.595. Was that your goal all along or did it come as a surprise?
A: Yes, we did have the goal of setting the fastest lap time, however we should have been quicker. We ran out of gears and had a taller set shipped in, but even the new set wasn’t quite tall enough. Also, while learning a new track, I left a few seconds on the table in a couple of different corners.
Q: The top two spots in TTU this year were drivers in Élan DP02 sports racers, but yours had been breathed on a bit. Can you tell us what you did to your car?
A: I have been watching Jon Van Caneghem run through the Super Unlimited fields with ease ever since I started racing in 2014. Jon is a very good driver and has some tremendous knowledge with the 7’s Only team in the pits. I knew that if I was going to have a shot against him in either of his cars, we needed to come up with something unique.
My mother and father are the ones who deserve all the credit for what we have built. Without their support, this would have continued to be nothing more than a dream.
While I can’t tell you exactly what we have done, I can tell you that it is as cutting edge as it gets for this style of racing. Lots of F2 and F3 technology made it into this car. When you have a team like Comprent Motorsports in your corner, it makes it really easy.
Q: What’s the difference between an Élan DP02 and an Élan DP02 RSR?
A: The Élan DP02 is a phenomenal racecar. It has taken many drivers from their beginnings in racing to their ultimate goals of becoming a true professional in the field. The DP02 was the face of the IMSA Lites class for many years and has continued showing its dominance over all similar manufacturers. The RSR is a one-off, Record Setting version of the DP02, built from the ground up by the amazing people at Comprent Motorsports, with the support of Élan.
Q: What kinds of speeds can that car hit on the back straight at Mid-Ohio?
A: Although I can’t tell you exactly what its capability is, because we haven’t found it yet, I can tell you that we were hitting 171 with the tallest gear stack we had in our possession at the race. The car certainly has more, however that was only its second outing. We will be faster. That you can be assured of.
Q: You won TTU, but you didn’t race in Super Unlimited. We know you had some clutch problems on Thursday. Why didn’t you take the grid in SU?
A: We were chasing the clutch and finally got it figured out and fixed. Unfortunately, I was only able to use it to get started and then it would fall away. If I had to come to a stop on track I was dead in the water. However, the clutch isn’t what kept us from the final race grid.
I made a mistake on Saturday going off track in the Keyhole briefly and scooped up a bunch of grass into the radiator. The DP02s are like lawn mowers in that situation. The motor got hot and we cracked the head gasket. As we continued to chase the coolant issue in the car after the incident, we decided to take it out for a test the morning of the race to see if she would hold temp. Unfortunately, as soon as I started leaning on it, she started climbing temp again so I had to shut her off. We knew that we would only cause more harm if we would have continued.
I really would have enjoyed the SU race, because I believe Brian and I would have had a great time out there together. I don’t think he is used to seeing many cars that can hang with that monster of theirs down a straightaway, and it would have been a really fun contest. I give him a tremendous amount of credit wheeling that large of a car around a technical track the way he does. He’s a true champion, comes from an amazing family, and deserved it.
Q: Due to the long front straight and the complexity of the rear of the course, your car could be really good at Utah Motorsports Campus. What are your plans for the 2020 Championships?
A: I have never been to Utah, but my good buddy Ken Kurtz absolutely loves it, and says we will be damn near impossible to beat there, so it’s certainly on the schedule for next year. However, as we all know, work and family always come first, so, lord willing, everything works out and we are able to make it out.
I will be out at various tracks around the country this coming season. NASA is an awesome racing series, with some of the greatest people in the industry, and the Super Unlimited class is one of the most exciting and real racing opportunities you can experience. No politics, no BS … just builders, balls, and an attempt to manage the adrenaline. There were quite a few people looking at what we have created and that’s one of the real benefits of this class. We know we got people thinking. Build it, bring it, and lets race! See you out there!