Gustavo Yacaman closed the 2012 Firestone Indy Lights season with a pole, two fastest laps, and a win to his credit. At 20 years old, and coming off of his fourth straight year of Lights, the Colombian was faced with a troubling reality that has only worsened in recent years: The costs involved with graduating to the IndyCar Series were beyond his means. A switch to sports cars soon beckoned.
Yacaman’s youth and enthusiasm didn’t exactly fit what Michael Shank needed from his new charge last year as the open-wheeler’s cut-and-thrust driving style resulted in plenty of contact with fellow Daytona Prototype drivers.
He drew the ire of the Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates team – and sanctions from Grand-Am – for the roughhouse tactics, yet with a mid-season change of co-drivers by Shank, IndyCar star Justin Wilson helped Gus to settle down and drive within himself.
With the rocky introduction to sports car racing behind him and more mature approach to draw from, Yacaman has turned a successful test with the OAK Racing P2 team and its Morgan-Nissan at the Roar Before The 24 into a full-season TUDOR United SportsCar Championship opportunity. If he accomplishes the goals he’s set out for himself, Gustavo Yacaman 2.0 – the driver who made brief appearances late in 2013 – could make quite an impact with the French team.
“The second half of the season was good for me; I think I led the most laps in two of the last three races and didn’t put any scratches on the car, so I think it was the right preparation for this year and gave me a lot of confidence to know that I can do really, really well,” Yacaman told RACER.
After spending a year driving one of MSR’s DPs, the choice to sign with OAK is an interesting one for Yacaman. The French outfit was the class of the WEC P2 field last year, winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans and taking both the Drivers’ and Teams’ titles, yet has limited experience racing in North America, which will means the squad will have a bigger learning curve to overcome at many of the tracks the TUDOR Championship will visit.
The team’s Morgan chassis and Nissan engine were used to great effect by Conquest Racing during the 2012 American Le Mans Series which should, according to Yacaman, help the team to get up to speed at a much faster rate.
“The OAK team hasn’t been at all the tracks, but Conquest ran this car at most places we’ll go and our main engineer, Thierry Bouvet, was the engineer on that car and has all the setup data for us to use,” he explained. “It’s obviously a different tire, and a different aero package, but the team makes this car and knows it very well and should be very strong this year.”
Yacaman reckons the price of racing in the TUDOR Championship’s top Prototype class is about even, if not slightly less, than what a season of Indy Lights costs, and provided the annual buy-in rate remains stable, sports car racing is where he wants to spend the rest of his career.
“I’m here to stay – I’m here for the long term,” he confirmed. “I do have a long résumé with a lot of experience in the junior formulas, and I do feel like I’m ready to take on the big boys, but I only have one year of endurance racing experience. Against guys like Scott Pruett or Ozz Negri or Lucas Luhr, I’m up against a tough crowd, but that’s the challenge I like.
“I feel really comfortable in the Morgan P2 car; it reminds me of an open-wheel car with how responsive it is and how it handles, so I actually think it’s a more natural fit for me than the DP was. I really loved driving the DP, and I wouldn’t mind driving one again, but the P2 car is like a Lights car with fenders almost. I was able to run the same time as Olivier Pla, who has been in these cars for a long time, and that gave me good confidence about running with them and going for the championship.”
At present, Yacaman’s deal with OAK for the 11-round TUDOR Championship does not include the 24 Hours of Le Mans, but he hopes to find a solution to that problem in the coming months.
“That’s one of my biggest goals for this year, other than winning the [Prototype] championship, so I’m going to keep working with my sponsors to see if we can get something together to race with the team at Le Mans,” he added.
We closed the conversation on a slightly funny note while discussing the perfect fit between the OAK team and one of Yacaman’s faithful sponsors, Crepes & Waffles.
“Yeah, you couldn’t ask for a better sponsor to put on a French car, right?” he said with a laugh. “As long as they don’t expect me to get up and make them crepes every morning, it’ll be OK.”
Tune in for the 52nd Rolex 24 At Daytona at the following times:
Saturday, Jan. 25
Tune in for the Daytona season opener at the following time:
6 p.m. on FOX Sports 2 (Same Day)