The Racing Roots of GESS International
Pit Box – Shaun Lee
Words: David Barr
From his roots in auto racing to his current race as Field Manager for Green Energy Sustainable Solutions to lead the world in biogas technology – Lee has a passion that is undeniable.
“I grew up racing,” said CEO of GESS International, Shaun Lee.
GESS, who has offices in the United Sates, United Kingdom and Ukraine along with its partners are now a full season sponsor of Harding Steinbrenner Racing and Colton Herta’s No. 88 GESS Capstone Honda How all of this came to be is a mixture of hope, educated guesses and confidence in a young talented driver and the exposure the NTT IndyCar Series can give a rapidly growing company. Lee’s racing background has laid the foundation for many things in his life including business. His understanding of the value of auto racing sponsorship led to taking a chance on a young team and driver to begin the 2019 INDYCAR season with an even bigger plan for the future.
“Our thought process was to go down to Tampa / St. Petersburg, and let’s see what opportunities there are to work with INDYCAR based on the fact that they would be a good option (for GESS) and maybe they would be interested in lowering their carbon footprint. We understood that there is ethanol in the Indy cars already, but ethanol doesn’t go into their trucks (transports). Our energy space is built on transportation vehicles. So, our conversations in Tampa surrounded wanting to convert the transporters, diesel trucks and tractors to biogas from diesel.”
That introduction to INDYCAR gave way to a conversation in Florida with Harding Steinbrenner about running a few select races so that GESS could bring their partners to races to experience what INDYCAR was all about. The biggest of those partner groups were farmers so the Iowa Corn 300 and Bommarito Automotive Group 500 made the most sense.
“We talked to Harding Steinbrenner about Colton (Herta) and what his availability was and what their situation was in St. Petersburg. After that, we went and talked to our investor groups and our partners and strategic partners discussing the idea of using INDYCAR racing as a business platform. Weeks after the Tampa, St. Petersburg meetings we got nothing but positive response. We got nothing but positive response from all our partners, even the big oil partners were like, wow, that’s really cool and that makes sense. Let’s help promote it.”
No logos on cars for week one but soon after – Austin, Texas and the INDYCAR Classic at the Circuit of the Americas came into play and with full support behind them Lee, GESS and partners were ready to join the INDYCAR and Harding Steinbrenner family.
“I flew back from London and arrived into Austin on Saturday morning for practice. Colton was fourth on the grid and we thought he would do well because he was so good in preseason testing. The funny story is, and this is true – we have photos. One of the things we did is that we set up a meeting with INDYCAR again on Sunday. I thought we should get some stickers ready to put on the car. I just had a feeling about the direction our talks were going. Colton was doing really well and we didn’t want to miss an opportunity to get some exposure. On Sunday, we got more positive feedback from INDYCAR. We should go forward to put our stickers on Colton car, sort of a test, was our thought. It was a pretty good gamble. We have pictures of the guys actually putting the stickers on the car before the start of the race as Colton was getting into the car and sure enough, he went out and won the race!”
GESS had the total buy-in they needed after Herta became the youngest driver to ever win an INDYCAR race. No better way to seal the deal than to be in the winners circle your first time as a sponsor.
“We didn’t have the budget set aside for doing it but then after you won the race then going to Alabama, we knew that you would get a tremendous amount of exposure going into the next race. How can we use this to develop our relationship with our partners, with our investors, with our strategic partners? From there, we brought in our strategic contractors, operations companies, and we slowly brought in different people in the American Council and from there we started a collective group of sponsors to support Colton. The whole concept is starting to grow as was the exposure and momentum. As a matter of fact, we got so many hits on our website at Alabama (Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama), it almost shut down our website! For us, it’s really made a big difference. This propelled us to go ahead and put the leaf on the car for the remainder of the season which is fantastic.”
Now that GESS and partners were on board, continued exposure and growth through the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach meant ramping up all race operations on their end with the INDY Grand Prix and the iconic Indianapolis 500 in their sites for a fully branded livery and major sponsorship and all that comes with it.
“We’ve created a lot of excitement outside of and within our company. We now have one person that works on racing stuff like three quarters of the time. We have another person that works on it half of their time and then another person that works on it as well. We basically have three people in office working on racing related projects every day. So, this was another undertaking in our sponsorship efforts. Now it’s time for Indianapolis – the biggest of them all. This is going to be really cool. Understanding that we have the opportunity to win the greatest race of all, I mean, that’s exciting! We get to watch Colton’s progress through the week and walk through the grid in preparation for race day is absolutely amazing. We have come so far so fast. I mean, reality is, to go to a race and to do a small sponsorship in Austin then to be in the house for the Indy Grand Prix and certainly the Indy 500 that’s so amazing for all of us”