Race Weekend Central

Beyond the Cockpit: Ryan Eversley on Balance of Power, Kenzie Ruston and Introducing Fans to Sports Cars

At age 30, Ryan Eversley is a mainstay in sports car racing here in the United States. While he has never raced full-time at the top level of sports car racing (either TUSC,ALMS, or Grand-Am’s Rolex Sports Car Series), Eversley has been a regular competitor in all three series. Eversley currently races full-time in the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge for Compass360 Racing, an Ontario-based team that primarily races Honda Civic Si’s in the Street Tuner class. However, at Lime Rock Park, host of the most recent round of the CTSC, Eversley and co-driver Kyle Gimple did double duty, driving their Civic Si in the ST race and a Subaru Impreza WRX-Sti in the Grand Sport (GS) race as well.

Prior to those races, Eversley took time out of his busy schedule to sit down with Frontstretch and discuss a number of topics.

Phil Allaway, Frontstretch.com: We’re back at Lime Rock. Last year, you and co-driver Kyle Gimple had a chance to win the ST Championship. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out for you. Do you feel that you have unfinished business here?

Ryan Eversley, No. 75 Compass360 Racing Honda Civic Si/No. 77 Compass360 Racing Subaru Impreza WRX-Sti: You know, it’s going to be the same as last year here. [IMSA] haven’t made any rule adjustments in the class as far as balance of performance.

Last year, what happened was that we got lucky with some strategy. We were able to get to the front of the field, but we didn’t have the actual pace to compete. So, we changed tires. The top two cars (the No. 27 of Tristan Nunez and Joel Miller for Freedom Autosport and the No. 81 BMW 328i of Tyler Cooke and Greg Liefooghe for BimmerWorld) didn’t change any tires at all.

It’ll be the same thing here this weekend. We’ll get the front tires hot eventually, then they’ll fade away. We’ll just be trying to get whatever we can out of it. It’s a bit of a shame. It’s actually overcast and it’s supposed to rain. If it rains, then we have a chance to win. If it doesn’t rain and it stays dry; we’ll have long green-flag runs, (and hopefully get) a top-10 or a top-7 at best, sort of like at [Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca]. I’d love to say, “Yeah, we’re here to fight for a win,” but honestly, if [IMSA] don’t give us a chance by the rules, it’s going to be very difficult. Just too much weight.

Ryan Eversley is a star of the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge. Photo courtesy of Eric Meyer.
Ryan Eversley is a star of the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge. Photo courtesy of Eric Meyer.

Allaway: Is it just the Civic Si in this situation?

Eversley: It’s not just the Civic, but all the front-wheel drive cars. Not only do we have the heat coming from the normal tire degradation that you get, but also our brakes get very hot. The front tires that are powering the car are also steering the car. It’s not just the Hondas, it’s also the Mazdaspeed3’s, which are almost gone now. The Nissan Altima has a similar issue too. Anyone who brings a front wheel drive out suffers a little bit compared to the other cars. Anytime you look at a class where one team has to change tires mandatorily and the other team doesn’t and can still go on to win, there’s clearly a mismatch in the performance there. It’s just one of those things that we can’t control. We’re doing everything we can to get the best results possible, but we’re hoping to get to some of the better tracks for us. Last year, Kansas was good for us, Elkhart Lake, tracks where we can stretch our legs a little bit on the straightaway to get away from the MX-5 advantage.

Allaway:Your Civic has roughly a 50 horsepower advantage on the MX-5’s. The advantage they have is mainly weight?

Eversley: Exactly. The cornering speeds that they are able to carry are a bit better than ours, but also way more consistent. They can do the same thing over and over and over again.

I’ve driven those cars. I tested for CJ Wilson Racing two years ago. I drove the car and said, “You guys have the best brakes in the world! And your cornering speeds are fantastic.” Some of those cars have figured out some straight line speed as well. I hate to bag on it since those guys are doing what we would be doing if we were in their position, which is win every race that we can. But, it’s getting to be a bit of a repetitive situation where we know the outcome before we even show up for the weekend.

Allaway: Sounds quite demoralizing.

Eversley: Think about it. Imagine watching a Sprint Cup Series race and half of the racetracks you went to, only the Toyotas were winning. Only the Toyotas could win. It would never stand. The series would immediately say, “No no no no no, this can’t stand.”

Everybody needs to show up with a chance to win and a chance to race. Even some of the Mazda drivers, they’ll tell you the same thing. We should all weigh the same and all have the same amount of horsepower, because we’ll all do the same lap time.

So, if you go to Daytona, the MX-5 in theory is very slow in a straight line and we’re very fast. Then, the MX-5 can out brake me into the corner by 100 feet, which is not an exaggeration. It’s a great way to set up a crash to have a car that can’t stop very well and a car that can stop very well, but doesn’t go well in a straight line.

If you look at series like the V8 Supercar Championship Series and DTM, where they have great on-track products, that’s because all the cars weigh the exact same and all the cars have the same power. From there, it would be the series’ job to define what would make a front-wheel drive car equal to a rear-wheel drive car and etc. Now, we’re just watching which cars have a massive straight line advantage, and which cars don’t. I feel like [IMSA] is making it harder on themselves with the balance because there’s so many different equations. It shouldn’t be, “Oh, this is a Mazda track and this is a Honda track and this is a Porsche track.” It should be, “This is a race car track.” Everybody has a chance every weekend.

Allaway: Speaking of Sprint Cup, you just described Sprint Cup around 1994.

Eversley: They changed that pretty quickly, did they?

Allaway: At that time, you had near weekly rule changes. We’ll give you more spoiler, extra air dam, etc. They didn’t mess around with weight (that was already locked down), but they did give the Pontiac Grand Prix’s four extra inches of length because they were five inches shorter than the Ford Thunderbirds and Chevrolet Luminas.

IMSA’s idea is that they don’t want to make a bunch of rule changes every week.

Eversley: That, I totally understand. You can hold off on making a bunch of changes, but only if you have a product that everyone is somewhat happy with. Right now, I can tell you that everybody on this team is not happy. The other Honda teams are not happy. The Mazdaspeed3’s are now extinct, and that’s a newer car than the MX-5. They won the championship two years ago (with Jayson Clunie and Pierre Kleinubing). I guarantee that if you brought one here now, it wouldn’t do so well, because again, they have a lot of power (Note: The stock Mazdaspeed3 came with a 263 horsepower engine) and they burn the front tires off quickly,

What is upsetting to me is that we saw the speed out of the Mazdas at Sebring that we could not even get close to. They were two seconds a lap faster than us. We expected right there that [IMSA] would either slow them down, or bring us up to speed. Sebring is a very good track to balance a class because it’s got a bit of everything. For us to be two seconds off the pace to other top pros in those cars is very disappointing.

Allaway: Sebring being a good place to balance classes is not only true in this series but also in TUSC. We saw some great racing between the DP’s and P2 cars there as well.

Eversley: To their credit, that’s a brand-new series. They’ve merged two different products together, and they have made changes almost every single weekend. There are a couple of weekends where they didn’t make a change, whereas we haven’t had a change since Sebring. This class has been around for ten years. It shouldn’t be this hard, you know? I know that they’ve added more people to the job and supposedly, that’s going to make it better, but I know that coming into this weekend, unless it rains, we have no chance to win. That’s not how you go racing. I don’t drive for like a middle-marker team, or a back row team. I drive for one of the best teams in series history, so we shouldn’t have to fight so hard for seventh or eighth.

Allaway: Speaking of rain, two years ago, the ST race here (at Lime Rock) was run in the rain. What’s it like to drive the Civic in the wet?

Eversley: That weekend two years ago was horrible, but only because our windshield fogged up and we could not get it to unfog. So literally, we were driving around blind. It was the worst race I’d ever had in the rain, and I love driving in the rain. We got the ventilation figured out on the windshield after that. It was the first time it had ever run in the rain.

When we went to Watkins Glen last year, we led something like 45 minutes of the race in the rain and ended up finishing second. On the last lap, I took the lead back from Stevan McAleer, then we got held up by a GS car. [McAleer] made a great pass around the outside of the Carousel and got the lead back. We finished nose to tail.

[The Civic] is actually very good in the rain. I never thought about it, but the front wheel drive cars in general are very easy to drive in the rain. It’s, like, the one time we have an advantage being front wheel drive. This series has some really good rain racers and the Continental Tires. At Watkins Glen, we stayed on the slick. Even in the rain on the slick, the tire was good. Their rain tire is one of the best rain tires I’ve ever run, so it makes us look like pros, even when some of us are doing dumb things and running off the road.

Allaway: The race here was actually relatively clean. The entire first hour was green, then leader Jesse Combs (No. 56 BMW 328i for Race Epic/Murillo Racing) got taken out by a lapped car and got stuck in the mud.

Eversley: I think, honestly, that it was clean because we couldn’t see where we were going. So, we were all driving around really slowly.

Allaway: Didn’t look that slow to me. It was amazing how hard it was raining during that race.

Eversley: I’ve done a lot of races in the rain. 2007 was the first year I did the [Rolex 24 at Daytona] for FarnbacherLoles Racing, and it rained for 18 hours of the race. I drove a lot, like 12 hours of the race. I loved it because I could see where I was going.

Allaway: Speaking of TUSC, you were going to make your debut in the PC class at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, but your teammate had a crash in practice, forcing your team to withdraw. How did that deal come together for you with BAR1 Motorsports?

Eversley: Funny enough, I’ve known one of the ladies that works on that team that handles their logistics and some of their media stuff. She’s one of their team representatives. She knew that they were looking for a driver for [Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca], and also that I work with the Children’s Tumor Foundation (CTF) and help a lot of families. They needed a driver, I was available, and they wanted to help my cause. They’re good people over there that really care about it and immediately adapted to the CTF brand.

So, they called and asked if I’d like to drive at [Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca] if I was available, I said “absolutely,” and it was a great deal.

Got to drive for about 15 minutes in practice, which was awesome because I’d never gotten to drive a PC car before, and I’d also never driven a prototype car at [Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca]. That’s basically how it came together. I just knew somebody; I was in the right place at the right time, and fortunately, my reputation was good enough that they didn’t say “absolutely not.”

It was a brief stint in the car, but I had a really good time. The team and I gelled really quickly, so if I feel like there’s an opportunity in the future and they have an open seat, I would probably get a nod in that direction.

Allaway: What ultimately happened with [Doug] Bielefeld to put you guys out for the weekend?

Eversley: Doug went out on his first lap, and I think he did one of the fastest laps he’s ever done in the PC car, so he was really charging pretty hard. I think he saw how fast I went and thought, “Ok, the car’s good, let’s get up there and go.” So, on his second or third lap, he was going into Turn 6 and just got in too hot, which I did a couple of times and I was just luckier than he was. He took a trip through the gravel and the way he hit the tire barrier was kind of strange. Normally, you hit the tire barrier and bounce back, but he actually hit it right in the middle of the bundles. It split the tires apart, so he was actually able to do more damage than what would normally be the case.

The Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge uses stock-style cars similar to ones you can buy in the showroom.
The Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge uses stock-style cars similar to ones you can buy in the showroom.

Allaway: So, the tires separated and the car ended up in the actual wall behind it?

Eversley: Yeah, exactly. He was fine, but a little knocked up. A couple of days later, he figured out that he had a concussion, which isn’t good. They didn’t use the bundle that you usually see at Sebring and some other tracks where they wrap them around so that you can’t split the tire barrier. So, that hurt the car more than normal because [theORECA FLM09] is a pretty safe car. It’s got a good history of being able to take a decent hit and not being destroyed.

Allaway: Sebring was a testament to that.

Eversley: Definitely. [Bielefeld] was trying a little bit too hard for how quickly he got in the car. He’s only been at [Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca] I think two times prior, but the place where he got caught out, Turn 6, is very fast. He got in too fast and paid the price.

He’ll be back. I just talked to him the other day for about two hours on the phone. We’re working on trying to do some more races later this year, but it’s just one of those racing things.

Allaway: Are you going to be back in the PC race at Kansas?

Eversley: I will be there in the CTSC. I’m working on a deal with BAR1 for that race, but just like any other team, they need sponsorship. I’ve got some personal sponsorship lined up for some stuff later in the year, but I don’t want to waste it at Kansas, where it’s not going to be on TV. That’s not big enough of an event. Hopefully, I’ll do something with those guys later on, maybe at Petit le Mans.

Allaway: Speaking of the TV issue, this is the first of two race weekends that won’t be televised. Admittedly, it bites. What are your thoughts about it, knowing that the Kansas weekend is also a TUSC weekend that isn’t televised?

Eversley: I understand logistics are logistics, and everything isn’t going to be perfect, but it’s not ok. We have sponsors in this series. Look at the team next door to us, CJ Wilson Racing. They have brought actual sponsorship to the race weekends because CJ Wilson is a professional baseball player, and he’s leveraging his celebrity status to help his race team go out and go racing.

So, those teams need to be on TV. I have a partnership with the Children’s Tumor Foundation and I’m trying to raise awareness and funds for them, and we can’t do that if we’re not on TV. From that standpoint, it’s not ok. From the fans’ standpoint, we put up TV numbers that rival [TUSC] right now, and we have for years prior. So, we have fans that want to see the show, so we have to bring it to them, especially with Continental Tire sponsoring us. They’re sponsoring us for a reason; to get their name out there. From that standpoint, I want to see it better for next year, but at the same time, I completely understand the realities of logistics and of being in the same place at the same time.

When we’re all together, it makes the TV affordable. Split up like this, it makes TV hard, but figure it out. It’s 2014, put some GoPros on the corners. Give the fans something.

Allaway: IMSA’s a partner in the new FansChoice.tv website, and they’re streaming qualifying for TUSC races on there. CTSC races are being streamed at imsa.com. Practice sessions are on FansChoice as well, but they only use stationary cameras. It’s a start.

Eversley: I’m not going to bellyache about it because I understand. Trucks can’t be in two places at once. But, think about that before you go down the road because teams like CJ Wilson Racing might say, “Where can I go to get my product on TV that’s there all the time.” That’s what you don’t want. Teams and sponsors say, “We do this for a reason. We’ve got a message to put out; a product to try to sell. If we can’t get on TV, we’re going to go somewhere where we can.”

Allaway: I think this is why a couple of teams may have left for Pirelli World Challenge.

Eversley: Yeah, I can see that. They’ve got the TV thing worked out a little better for the GT and GTS classes?

Allaway: They stream all their races online, then air delayed versions on the NBCSports Network.

Eversley: Our races are tape delayed by one week, generally. Even with the delay, our ratings are still almost as good as [TUSC], and in years’ past, it’s been that way.

The reason that’s so is that there isn’t a series like the CTSC. The cars are basically the same as the cars you can buy off the street. Nothing on that car you see isn’t stock. There’s no crazy wings or whatever. It’s literally the same car you would see parked in the parking lot.

The Subaru and the Mustang, those are the true everyday sports cars that you can buy without breaking the bank. Of course, fans are going to want to see that because a lot of people own those cars. I understanding why we have that following, and it’s awesome. It adds a real quality to our product and we want to do better now that we know we have an audience.

We have a great on-track product and great fan appreciation as well. You can come to the track, sit down, and talk to us. You can walk right up and sit in the cars and take pictures and all that. You can’t do that at a DTM race, a V8 Supercar race, or even an F1 race.

I’ve got fans from Twitter that are coming this weekend that have never been to a sports car race. They’re NASCAR fans that follow me on Twitter, and they’re like, “so, how do I get in the pits.” Just buy your normal ticket. They’re like, “What?”

Allaway: How well have those “fan conversion” things gone in the past?

Eversley: I have a lot of friends in NASCAR; my girlfriend is a mechanic in the Camping World Truck Series, so I pick up a lot of followers from that side of the sport, and I love NASCAR.

I just love racing in general. Formula One, Monster trucks, you name it, I’d watch anything. I’ve had a really great time tweeting with fans in general about NASCARand that has helped carry some fans over to our series. I’ve had a couple of people, like at Watkins Glen for example, ask me to come to events as their guest because I’ve done such a good job at making average NASCAR fans interested in our sport. If I can help them with that and introduce their brand, it’s a good thing.

It’s been fun. I love the interaction; I love talking about racing. I can talk about racing until my face turns blue. I met a couple of my Twitter followers here today. The best part about sports car racing is that one ticket gets you in the paddock, while other series would make you buy something extra, if you can gain access at all.

Allaway: This is the first time that Compass360 Racing’s second Impreza has raced in CTSC. Is the car going to be full-time for the rest of the year?

Eversley: I don’t know. I think my boss’s goal is to rent the car for the rest of the season, so I’m not sure what’s going to happen. I know they were talking about running me in World Challenge again at Toronto, since that’s a hometown race for the team. As of right now, I think this is a one-off just to see what we’ve got. If we do well and people want to rent it, then it’ll be at the rest of the races.

Allaway: How does the WRX drive out there?

Eversley: It’s actually a very good car for this track. The car doesn’t have a lot of top end; it’s all about bottom end. Here, it’s going to be pretty good, but when we go to Road America, it will have a deficit because of the lack of speed.

Allaway: Is the car also heavier because of the all-wheel-drive?

Eversley: No, it’s actually one of the lightest cars in the class. I think it’s only heavier than the Porsche. It’s actually not too bad on the weight; they got it down pretty light. It’s pretty surprising. I didn’t expect that. [The low weight] makes it really good on the brakes.

Allaway: Have you ever received interest from NASCAR teams for one-off road races?

Eversley: Not to drive. I’ve been coaching a girl named Kenzie Ruston, who races in the K&N Pro Series East. I coached her on the road courses since she’s new to that stuff. Had a couple of offers from truck teams that want me to come help them out at [Canadian Tire Motorsports Park], help them with setup and things like that. I’ve also done some spotting for a couple of NASCAR deals, so I’m everywhere.

It’s something that I’d love to do. I’d like to transition over and do road courses. I’d love to do ovals. I’d love to drive IndyCars. I’d literally race anything that someone puts in front of me.

Allaway: The driver coaching with Ruston, was that for Road Atlanta?

Eversley: I coached her first at VIR, which was their first road course race (the Biscuitville 125). We had a good time, she got a great result (a 12th-place finish after starting ninth) and made good laps. She asked me to come back and do Road Atlanta (where she finished 11th after starting seventh) and I’ll be back with her this year, not only at VIR, but also at Watkins Glen for the first time.

Allaway: It’s a Friday evening race during the Sprint Cup weekend.

Eversley: Exactly, so it’s a big weekend for those guys. That track’s fast, so they’re going to be really crankin’ around there.

Allaway: Watkins Glen International has not announced the race length as of yet, but it will likely be somewhere between 125-150 miles.

Eversley: Yeah, I’m pretty sure. NASCAR tries to not have them change tires so that they can learn how to run on old tires, which is something that Ruston is really good at.

The coaching is another one of those things. Get to see a different world. It’s a lot of fun; those guys are racers.

Allaway: What kind of things do you do away from the race track?

Eversley: I do a lot of things away from the track. I train in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu for a couple of gyms in Atlanta, Creighton MMA and Buckhead Jiu-Jitsu.

Allaway: Do you do that with Andy Lally?

Eversley: Andy actually got me involved. He and I are very good friends, and now we’ve got our friend, Spencer Pumpelly (driver for Flying Lizard Motorsports in TUSC) in it as well. Andy’s a purple belt, I’m a blue belt and Spencer’s a white belt. It’s a very good workout. It’s a very fun thing to do and it’s a great stress reliever.

For Eversley and Gimple, Lime Rock was a mixed affair. The duo are racing for points in the ST class, and that race went pretty badly. Being gridded on points resulted in starting mid-pack. Gimple was able to move up the order, but contact with Mike LaMarra’s No. 23BMW 128i resulted in a broken left front tie rod. A pit stop to fix the tie rod cost the No. 75 three laps (“For Dale,” as Eversley stated on Twitter). Despite a wave around later in the race, the team still ended up three laps down in 19th. Eversley and Gimple are now tied for 17th in points, 60 points out of the lead.

The GS race worked out a lot better. Starting on points put Eversley at the rear of the field, but he charged all the way up to the top-5 from 26th in the first hour of the race. Proper pit strategy after the driver change put Gimple in second. Light rain that began falling in the last half-hour nearly played right into the team’s hands, but lapped traffic prevented Gimple from getting past the No. 13 Porsche 911 from Rum Bum Racing.

Regardless, the team was very happy to finish second the first time out with their second Subaru.

“It was awesome. The car was so good,” Eversley said in a crowded transporter after the race. “This is a perfect track for the Subaru and the all-wheel-drive. It was real easy to go from 26th up to third. The car never faded and I was just picking people off left and right.

“I can’t take all the credit,” Gimple said. “Ryan did a lot of hard work getting up to third. All I had to do is go out there and keep the position. We moved up to second during our pit stop for fuel and left-side tires. As the run went on, I knew we were good on the long run as long as it stayed green and the Rum Bum Porsche could run off their tires. We [just] caught lapped traffic too soon.”

Eversley and Gimple will be back in action Saturday afternoon at Kansas Speedway for their fifth race of the season. There, the duo will only race their Honda Civic Si. Also, Doug Bielefeld, Eversley’s teammate from BAR1 Motorsport at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, has been cleared to return to the seat and will drive the No. 88 in both legs of the Prototype Challenge/Prototype Lites doubleheader on Saturday.

About the author

Phil Allaway has three primary roles at Frontstretch. He's the manager of the site's FREE e-mail newsletter that publishes Monday-Friday and occasionally on weekends. He keeps TV broadcasters honest with weekly editions of Couch Potato Tuesday and serves as the site's Sports Car racing editor.

Outside of Frontstretch, Phil is the press officer for Lebanon Valley Speedway in West Lebanon, N.Y. He covers all the action on the high-banked dirt track from regular DIRTcar Modified racing to occasional visits from touring series such as the Super DIRTcar Series.

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