Bechtolsheimer (left) and Miller make one of CTSC's most intriguing pairings. Photo courtesy of IMSA

CJWR’s ‘renaissance man,’ Till Bechtolsheimer, reflects on first CTSC year

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SEBRING, Fla. – CJ Wilson Racing has a lot of cool components occurring at this week’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring race.

The team owner himself is now a driver, with CJ Wilson making his race debut in the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama in his No. 33 Porsche of Fresno entry in that series’ Platinum class.

Meanwhile in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, Wilson – who himself could be considered a “renaissance man” given his post-baseball career features racing, team ownership and photography – has a driver who also is worthy of the designation in Till Bechtolsheimer, who marks one year since his debut in one of the team’s Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsports.

Bechtolsheimer is British by nationality, a CEO/portfolio manager in his day job in New York and arguably one of the more intriguing drivers in IMSA given his background.

He’s long been a vintage racer with a love for cars from the 1930s through 1960s, and a veteran of the Monaco Historics races.

He isn’t on social media, and the running joke that’s occurred as a result of that is a number of fun names created using the same “TB” initials but not actually real names – “Talc BrisketHammer,” “Tool Bubbletasker,” and “Till BoogieMonster” being three of several offbeat examples.

The team has also revealed a number of “facts” about Bechtolsheimer, some of which are more factual than others.

But laughter and jokes aside, he’s now become embedded into a modern racing environment, in his first full season in the Continental Tire Challenge and second overall this year.

Bechtolsheimer made his debut in the team’s No. 35 Porsche last year, which he shared with Tyler McQuarrie at Sebring. It was a massive learning experience, as Bechtolsheimer reflected.

“Last year was a lot of firsts, I’d never even raced a car on slicks!” Bechtolsheimer told NBC Sports. “It was pretty overwhelming. The first session I had an off, and damaged the car a bit so I felt pretty bad. But each day got progressively better. We ended up fifth and it was a really enjoyable weekend. But it was jumping in the deep end, for sure.”

Results improved rather quickly for the two of them, with Bechtolsheimer a key cog in back-to-back podium finishes of third at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and second at Watkins Glen, although the latter result was aided by the team’s sister car of Marc Miller and Danny Burkett getting held up by slower traffic and losing a sure win, ultimately dropping to third.

After a fourth in Lime Rock, McQuarrie had a conflict for the upcoming Road America weekend and ST class veteran Justin Piscitell was brought up to GS for what on paper looked to be a special run ahead in the No. 35 car there. The New Balance/Safecraft car took on a special Chicago Blackhawks livery for the Road America weekend and Bechtolsheimer, in just his fifth weekend with the team, had a bit more experience within the CJWR framework.

He’d also had a dynamic start to the race, before contact triggered from two other cars ultimately left him on his roof after the car had been rolled over at Canada Corner. It ended the race before it even had a chance to get going but for Bechtolsheimer, being OK and moving on after that incident was another positive sign in his adaptation to modern racing and a closed cockpit car.

“It was the second lap, and it was my best opening laps of the season,” he explained. “I got caught up in someone else’s accident. It was disappointing from that standpoint. But no one was hurt, car got fixed, and compared to a vintage car it felt pretty solid. Really, it looked a lot worse than it was.”

The No. 35 car returned for the season finale at Road Atlanta, where Bechtolsheimer banked his fifth top-five finish in class in six starts. All told it was a good groundwork laid for 2017, and now Bechtolsheimer has shifted into the team’s No. 33 car, alongside Miller.

McQuarrie made waves for his “race everything” campaign in 2017 but Bechtolsheimer praised Miller’s coaching and teaching ability, and relishes the opportunity to drive alongside the Michigander in the same car this season.

“I learned a lot from Tyler and I really enjoyed racing with him. Last year I was getting coached by Marc to some extent. This year to have Marc’s undivided attention is pretty nice, as we’ve known each other for a couple years,” he said.

Bechtolsheimer has also been impressed by the North American paddock, in terms of the camaraderie of the drivers and the quality of the race tracks.

“It’s just got a very professional feel to it, which is what I was excited about,” he said. “I do vintage, which has a more club-like feel, so I didn’t want to replicate that. I want to grow as a driver as the team grows, and hopefully steps up in coming years.

“The race tracks are just so awesome,” he added. “I grew up watching Touring Cars, Formula 1, so not really Indy and NASCAR. So I didn’t see a lot of the American tracks. I’m a big fan of the 1950s and 1960s era. Here, they rival the best tracks in Europe.

“I’ve enjoyed it. Huge amount of history. The crowds that these races draw is multiple what we’d get in Europe. All that makes for a great atmosphere. To be honest, the thing modern racing that gave me pause for thought going in was, ‘I thought it’d be a more aggressive paddock, and everyone would try to prove they’re the next Michael Schumacher. It’s been the opposite. Great feel, and great people.”

Another running joke Bechtolsheimer has is that he calls each track he’s driven on his “new favorite,” but hails Watkins Glen as his ultimate favorite because of the nature of the circuit and the history there.

The CTSC podium at Daytona. Photo courtesy of IMSA

That said, he rocked it in his Daytona debut at the season opener. Bechtolsheimer advanced through to the lead in his stint of more than two hours, 20 minutes. He and Miller finished second to a sister Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport, the No. 12 Bodymotion Racing entry driven by Trent Hindman and Cameron Cassels (pictured above), and it was a double CJWR podium with Damien Faulkner and Russell Ward in third in their debuts as teammates in the team’s No. 35 Techemet-backed Porsche.

“It was the most fun I’ve had in the series,” he said. “The fact it was a four-hour race. Doing whatever I did, two hours, 20 or so, it was a lot of time in the car, so I could really settle in. I tried to stay on the back of the McLarens. Then ended up in a position where I could challenge for the lead. Had a great battle with RS1 car. It was surreal… didn’t know what position I was… then my crew said I’m in the lead, so I’d try to stay there!”

The second round of the season takes place Friday afternoon here at Sebring at 3:40 p.m. ET and local time, where Bechtolsheimer is expected to qualify and start the No. 33 car before handing over to Miller for the finish of the two-hour race. Live coverage occurs online at with IMSA Radio audio coverage.

Liveries from veteran designer Andy Blackmore are below for all three cars. Wilson has had a busy week, having also been confirmed with co-driver Andrew Evans for United Autosports for the 2017 Henderson Insurance LMP3 Cup Championship in Europe. The American duo will race a Ligier JS P3 sports prototype in the first full season of the ACO-backed British Championship.

Porsche announces LMP1 withdrawal from FIA WEC

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Porsche has announced its withdrawal from the FIA World Endurance Championship’s LMP1 class, the top class, a year earlier than its current contract called it to.

The move comes after a high-profile meeting in Germany to evaluate the effectiveness of Porsche’s top-tier LMP1 program to the overall Porsche brand.

Additionally, Porsche has confirmed its entry into the FIA Formula E Championship from season six, starting in 2019.

This aligns with the company’s new electric direction focus for its product line, Porsche Strategy 2025, which will see Porsche develop a combination of pure GT vehicles and fully electric sports cars, such as the first fully electric Porsche model, based upon the Mission E concept car.

Porsche released the following statement today about the end of its LMP1 tenure:

“Building up the Le Mans team from scratch was a huge challenge. Over the years, we have developed an incredibly successful and professional team. This will be our basis going forward. I am certain that we will maintain our high level in Formula E. Confidence is high, and we are excited to get started,” said Fritz Enzinger, Vice President in charge of LMP1.

Porsche said it plans to keep the LMP1 team intact, including its factory drivers, elsewhere within the framework of the company. Additionally, the new mid-engined 911 RSR will continue in the GT ranks; the new car won its first race in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship with Dirk Werner and Patrick Pilet at Lime Rock Park this past week.

The Porsche 919 Hybrid won the last three 24 Hours of Le Mans overall, taking its overall win total to a Le Mans record 19 wins. It’s also won the last two FIA World Endurance Championship LMP1 championships, with Mark Webber, Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley in 2015 and with Neel Jani, Romain Dumas and Marc Lieb last year.

The move leaves the FIA WEC’s marquee LMP1 class in a difficult position from 2018 and beyond, as Porsche joins fellow VAG brand Audi as a second manufacturer to withdraw from the top class in as many years.

Toyota is left as the single manufacturer, its contract good through 2019. But while LMP1 privateer has witnessed several announcements of new programs, how many actually materialize beyond the press releases into cars on the grid remains to be seen.

Despite the excitement over manufacturers in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s Daytona Prototype international (DPi) formula, the DPis paired with the 2017-spec LMP2 cars in IMSA’s Prototype class, the Automobile Club de l’Ouest would need to allow DPis to race at Le Mans if they are to make an appearance in Europe. Right now, the cars are ineligible.

The GTE-Pro ranks will be bolstered with BMW’s arrival with the new M8 GTE, joining the existing four manufacturers there, and that will likely emerge as the series’ marquee class.

Porsche announces entry to Formula E for season six

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Porsche has announced that it will be joining the FIA Formula E grid in 2019, taking the 12th and final slot currently available.

In the same announcement that confirmed the closure of its LMP1 program at the end of the season, Porsche revealed that it would be moving into the all-electric series for the 2019/20 campaign with a factory-backed operation.

“Entering Formula E and achieving success in this category are the logical outcomes of our Mission
E road car program,” said Michael Steiner, Member of the Executive Board for Research and
Development at Porsche AG.

“The growing freedom for in-house technology developments makes Formula E attractive to us. Porsche is working with alternative, innovative drive concepts.

“For us, Formula E is the ultimate competitive environment for driving forward the development of high-performance vehicles in areas such as environmental friendliness, efficiency and sustainability.”

Porsche has held an interest in Formula E for some time, with many of its key motorsport bosses venturing to the recent races in Monaco and Berlin in order to undertake research regarding a possible entry.

Following Monday’s news that Mercedes would be taking up its option on an entry to Formula E for season six, Porsche’s arrival acts as another huge boost for the burgeoning electric championship, which already enjoys involvement from manufacturers such as Renault, Audi, BMW and Jaguar.

“I’m delighted to welcome Porsche to the FIA Formula E Championship,” Formula E CEO Alejandro Agag said. “If somebody told me when we started this project five years ago, that we’d be announcing a partnership with a brand like Porsche, I wouldn’t have believed it.

“To have a name like Porsche in Formula E, with all it represents in terms of racing and heritage – and in terms of sport cars – is an inflexion point in our quest to change the public perception about electric cars.

“The electric revolution continues, and Formula E remains the championship for that revolution.”

FIA president Jean Todt added: “Porsche is a brand which has a fantastic history in motorsport, and its intention to join the FIA Formula E Championship alongside so many of the world’s biggest car manufacturers is very positive.

“It’s clear that the hard work done to create a relevant laboratory for developing electric vehicle technologies has been successful, and I look forward to seeing Formula E continue to be a place of great sporting competition as well as innovation.

“I’m very happy that Porsche is coming to Formula E, but I regret their decision to leave the World Endurance Championship.”

The decision to end its LMP1 program and quit the FIA World Endurance Championship with one year still to run on its contract sees Porsche follow in the footsteps of sister Volkswagen Group brand Audi, which pulled a similar move less than 12 months ago.

Audi closed its long-running and hugely-successful LMP1 team at the end of last year in order to shift its focus to Formula E, enjoying works status with the ABT Schaeffler team from season four.

Porsche’s entry to Formula E marks its first foray into single-seater racing with a factory team since the end of its CART program in 1990.

Bottas feels at home at Mercedes as a challenger, not No. 2

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BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) Valtteri Bottas feels like he finally belongs at Mercedes, and that is not as a support driver to Lewis Hamilton.

The Finnish driver has exceeded expectations since joining from Williams as an emergency replacement for Nico Rosberg, who dramatically retired days after winning last year’s Formula One championship.

“I feel very much part of the team, I feel I can definitely perform at my best level,” Bottas said Thursday ahead of this weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix. “(There is) plenty more to come.”

The widely held perception was that Bottas, who had never won a race before this season, was clearly arriving as the No. 2 behind Hamilton, a three-time F1 champion.

Yet at the halfway point of the 20-race season, Bottas is in third place overall, 22 points behind Hamilton and 23 behind four-time F1 champion Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari. That puts him within touching distance.

Bottas won in Russia and Austria, and finished second in Canada, Azerbaijan and Britain. With four straight podium finishes, he has good momentum for the Hungarian GP, the last race before a month-long summer break.

If not for his failure to finish the Spanish GP in May, Bottas could be even closer to Hamilton and Vettel.

“I feel like I am getting up to speed now. In a way I hope there wasn’t a break,” Bottas said Thursday. “I always set targets higher. I didn’t expect myself to be behind (Hamilton) all the time. I’ve shown it is possible to battle and show my skills.”

Asked if he thinks he can win the title, the 27-year-old Bottas says “everything is wide open,” adding “I believe I can fight for the pole (position) here.”

The twisting nature of the 4.4-kilometer (2.7-mile) Hungaroring circuit may favor Ferrari more than Mercedes, however.

Mercedes struggled at this season’s Monaco GP, which is a similarly tight-turning track where overtaking is much harder. Vettel won in Monaco from pole, while Bottas was fourth for Mercedes and Hamilton managed only seventh spot.

“We’ve learnt a lot since Monaco,” Bottas said. “I think it will be a good test for our car, we’re expecting a close battle.”

F1 Paddock Pass: Hungarian Grand Prix (VIDEO)

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Formula 1’s final race before the summer break takes place this weekend with the Hungarian Grand Prix from the Hungaroring in Budapest.

It’s a busy time of year and a highly important weekend on the calendar, with the two championship combatants only separated by one point and all the silly season talk about 2018 heating up – particularly with the two-day young driver test set to run on Tuesday and Wednesday of next week after the race.

And with the confirmation the Halo device is set to be introduced next year, what are the drivers thoughts on that?

All that makes for ideal timing of this weekend’s pre-race edition of the NBC Sports Group original digital series Paddock Pass with Will Buxton checking in from the ground in Hungary.

Here’s the pre-race episode, below.