The dominant force in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Prototype Challenge class has, for the last five years, been CORE autosport.
And while others such as Starworks Motorsport, PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports and RSR Racing have occasionally taken them on and edged ahead at certain races, none has yet enjoyed the full-season consistency to beat CORE for the title.
It’s PC’s newest full-time team though, the John Church-led JDC/Miller Motorsports, that has finally arrived within the class in its third season – thanks to a dynamic start to its 2016 season – and is upsetting the CORE domination.
Church has always run a quality operation in the Mazda Road to Indy and provided a launching pad for young drivers. The crew includes Rick Cameron and Barry Mumm as engineers – Mumm primarily on the sports car side with Cameron’s expertise in open-wheel – and a wealth of talent further down the order. But its sports car acclimation has taken a bit of time.
JDC/Miller missed Daytona in 2014 and debuted at Sebring the second round of the year. But while it was another car on the grid, consistency was sorely lacking in the driver lineup; it was pushing double digits in terms of number of drivers between 2014 and 2015.
Last year, Misha Goikhberg moved into PC full-time after capturing the 2014 Mazda Prototype Lites championship, but he had a revolving door of co-drivers. At any point, it was Stephen Simpson, Chris Miller, Rusty Mitchell, Zach Veach or Matt McMurry alongside in the No. 85 Oreca FLM09.
This year though things are more stable within the team with Goikhberg and Simpson set for the full-season, with Miller and Kenton Koch, last year’s Prototype Lites champion, having joined at the first two endurance races at the Rolex 24 at Daytona and Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring.
JDC/Miller won Daytona to secure its first PC win, despite a rare mistake overnight from Koch in his PC race debut, but the superstar-in-waiting was entrusted enough to bring the car home to the finish.
Simpson told me pre-race at Daytona that wins were to be expected this year, and the South African who now lives in Indianapolis proved prescient with that prediction.
Long Beach, earlier this month, served as the site of the team’s second win – and in a rarity, at a new venue for racing veteran Church.
The pair now head to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca this weekend, where the PC and GT Daytona class will be split into one two-hour race with the Prototype and GT Le Mans classes in a second, with an eight-point lead on Starworks’ pair of Alex Popow and Renger van der Zande and nine on PR1’s Robert Alon and Tom Kimber-Smith.
The CORE pair of Colin Braun and Jon Bennett, the defending class champions, have a mountain to climb at 39 points back with two DNFs from the first three races.
“The win at Daytona was a dominant win; Sebring was a little bit different. But now, after Long Beach, we’re ready to challenge for the championship, and that’s what we’re here to do,” Goikhberg said following the team’s most recent win.
Added Simpson, who will pull double duty this weekend in a new modified BMW 228i in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge ST class, “It means a lot. From my point of view, this one is really done by JDC/Miller Motorsports. Misha and I did the easy part. As Misha said from last year, we’re building up to where we are now. It all goes to the team. They’ve been fantastic.
“When we started first practice on Friday, we had a lot of time to find. To end up at the end of the weekend from where we started first practice to win the race, it shows the teamwork we have and chemistry we have as a unit. It’s one race at a time at the moment.
“We’re going to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and we want another win. These wins get addictive.”
Simpson was also thrilled to have got the chance to race at Long Beach again – he’d made his Formula Atlantic debut there in 2006 but hadn’t raced there since.
“I hadn’t raced there since 2006 and I never thought I would race there again, and in 2010, I wasn’t sure if I’d race at all again,” said Simpson, who’s enjoyed a bit of a career renaissance the last few years driving besides coaching.
“Winning with this team as we get stronger makes it even more special.”
JDC/Miller Motorsports seeks its third win in four races as part of a seven-car class, with the winner here going to be an overall winner.