This week's driver change at Extreme Speed Motorsports came with little warning, but with Guy Cosmo's move from ESM to ALMS P2 rival Level 5 Motorsports, the Scott Sharp- and Ed Brown-owned team has decided to take a deeper look at how to improve its freshman P2 program.
The hasty departure by GT veteran Cosmo should end up benefiting both parties as a fresh start at Level 5 could be just what Cosmo needs to accelerate his education as a prototype driver. And for ESM, which transitioned from a two-car ALMS GT program into a prototype team fielding a pair of HPD ARX-03bs, the ongoing process of training three of its four GT-bred drivers, including Cosmo, to match the pace of the prototype purebreds has been met with diminished results.
With a seat to fill, Sharp drafted in former open-wheel ace and all-round badass Anthony Lazzaro to share the No. 01 entry after the Georgia native starred in the car during March's 12 Hours of Sebring event. And with the start of the United SportsCar Racing championship right around the corner, Sharp told RACER he and Brown will continue to look for ways to make ESM a stronger and faster contender for 2014.
“There's definitely going to be some changes,” he said. “Right now it's an odd time for it to happen. Guy chose to leave right now, so we're just sort of reacting to that with only a few days to plan for Baltimore and find a replacement. And obviously he has a good opportunity to go do something else he feels is in his best interest, so I'm not worried about it at all. I feel like our program is only going to get better and better, and this change is the start of making ESM even better with everything that's on the horizon in sports car racing.”
Sharp says ESM could audition a few different drivers over the remaining ALMS rounds, but as the Gold-rated driver in the No. 01, he's limited to using Silver-rated co-drivers per the ACO/IMSA rule book which narrows his options.
“Frankly, the problem is the classification system,” Sharp noted. “A number of names flashed in my mind that I'd love to have drive with me in Baltimore, but we can't have two Golds in the car because of the rules. So maybe we'll have some different people in the Patron car for different reasons. But right now we're in a championship battle and we don't want to do a lot of experimenting in crunch time.
“I look at it as we're all immensely competitive and our year is going to be very positive just because we've accomplished so much as a rookie P2 team, we're getting ourselves on the map and learning about the cars and being successful. Invariably you get caught up in the competitiveness of it. We've got a good little rivalry going with Level 5, and they're doing all they can to beat us. With this driver change, it's given us a chance to look at everything and to make sure we're doing all we can to beat them.”
ESM's goal for Baltimore with the No. 01 is to decrease the eight-point lead Level 5's Scott Tucker holds over Sharp in the championship standings. With Lazzaro in the car this weekend—and he could be back for future events—Sharp is confident ESM can weather this week's storm without it affecting his title aspirations.
“At this point in time you want to finish the year as strongly as possible, and it's not the time to focus on long-term solutions for my co-driver,” he added. “Anthony is superfast; I think he was quickest car on the track a lot of the time when he was in it at Sebring, and quickly got up to speed. I'm positive he'll be quick again and we'll get in a rhythm right away. Where we go with things after Baltimore will have to wait until after the race and when we have time to plan things properly. But we're not concerned about being able to maintain the same quality in the team, or even add to it as we go to the other races left this year. We're looking at this as an opportunity instead of a problem.”
Once the ALMS season concludes on Oct. 19 at Petit Le Mans, Sharp and Brown will begin preparing for the inaugural USCR season. Plans to race outside of the USCR, either in limited WEC appearances or as a one-off at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, could also be on ESM's calendar if they can make it work within their budget.
“Certainly, the WEC is always an option if the markets are right for Patron,” said Sharp. “Certainly Le Mans is still something of serious interest to us. First and foremost, we want to be as successful as we possibly can be in our own championship. So if we feel like we're doing a good job here, we're spending our resources wisely, and going to do some of those races wouldn't detract in any way, I could see us adding them in pretty quickly.”