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

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

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 IMSA.tv 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.

New Chip Ganassi driver Marcus Armstrong will team with boyhood idol Scott Dixon

Marcus Armstrong Scott Dixon
Joe Portlock - Formula 1/Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images
2 Comments

Marcus Armstrong was a Scott Dixon fan his entire life, and when he was 8, the aspiring young racer asked his fellow New Zealander to autograph a helmet visor that he hung on his bedroom wall.

Next year, Armstrong will be Dixon’s teammate.

Armstrong was named Friday as the fourth IndyCar driver in the Chip Ganassi Racing lineup and will pilot the No. 11 next season on road and street courses.

A driver for the five oval races on the 17-race schedule will be named later.

The No. 11 is essentially the No. 48 that seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson drove the last two seasons, with Chip Ganassi making the change to run four cars numbered in sequential order. Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson drives the No. 8, six-time champion Dixon drives the No. 9, and 2020 IndyCar champion Alex Palou drives the No. 10.

So just who is the second Kiwi in the Ganassi lineup?

A 22-year-old who spent the past three seasons in Formula One feeder series F2, a Ferrari development driver in 2021, and former roommate of Callum Illot and former teammate of Christian Lundgaard – both of whom just completed their rookie IndyCar seasons.

“I’ve always been attracted to the IndyCar championship because it’s one of those championships that’s been really well televised in New Zealand since I was young, mainly because of Scott and his success,” Armstrong told The Associated Press. “As time progressed, as I got closer to F1 and single-seaters, the attraction to IndyCar grew just because of how competitive the championship is – I like to challenge myself and the level of competition in IndyCar is remarkably high.”

Armstrong, from Christchurch, New Zealand, was set to travel from his current home in London to Indianapolis this weekend to meet his new team. He won’t need an introduction to Dixon, the 42-year-old considered the best IndyCar driver of his generation and Armstrong’s unequivocal childhood hero.

Last season, Dixon earned his 53rd career victory to pass Mario Andretti for second on the all-time list. Dixon has driven for Ganassi in all but 23 of his 345 career starts.

“For a long time I’ve been a Scott Dixon fan. I don’t want to make him cringe with our age difference,” Armstrong told the AP.

Despite the two-decade age difference, Armstrong never considered someday racing with Dixon a fantasy.

He convinced his father after winning five national karting championships to allow him to leave New Zealand for Italy at age 14, where he moved by himself to pursue a racing career. Armstrong said as soon as he’d received parental permission, he’d never look back.

Armstrong was in Formula 4 two years after his move to Italy and won that title in his first season. He won four races and four poles in F3 in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, then collected four wins and eight podiums in three seasons of F2.

“Maybe it’s a strength, or maybe it’s a weakness, but I always thought I was capable of doing great in the sport,” Armstrong told the AP. “I think you probably have to succeed in the sport, you need to believe in yourself. I always pictured myself being in IndyCar.

“As Scott’s teammate? I can’t specifically say I saw that. It’s an extraordinary chain of events.”

Armstrong becomes just the latest driver to leave Europe, where F1 is the pinnacle but has only 20 seats each year. Alexander Rossi began the trend in 2016 when the American left F1 and won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie. He’s been followed by Ericsson, last season’s Indy 500 winner, Romain Grosjean, Illot, Lundgaard, and on Thursday three-time W Series champion and Williams F1 reserve driver Jamie Chadwick was announced as driver for Andretti Autosport in IndyCar’s second-tier development series.

Armstrong said he could have remained in F2 for a fourth season, but he’d been watching IndyCar for so long, and after conversations with Illot and Lundgaard, he decided to make the move to what he believes is the most balanced racing series in the world. He tested for Dale Coyne Racing at Sebring in October.

He doesn’t know if European racing is done for good, just that he wants to be in IndyCar right now.

“I don’t want to think too far into the future, I’m just grateful for this opportunity that is standing right in front of me,” Armstrong said. “I want to perform as well as I can in the near future and just consolidate myself in the fantastic chance that is IndyCar and just do my best.

“I’m not looking at F1 as a landing spot – I am looking at IndyCar, and that’s exactly why I am here.”