IMSA: Strong finish to 2018 WeatherTech Championship key to future success for Turner Motorsport

Photo courtesy of IMSA

Courtesy: IMSA Wire Service

The 2018 IMSAWeatherTech SportsCar Championship has been a successful – albeit somewhat unorthodox – season in the GT Daytona (GTD) class for Turner Motorsport.

The longtime BMW program has a win this year – taking GTD honors in the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen with drivers Dillon Machavern, Markus Palttala and Don Yount in the familiar, yellow and blue No. 96 BMM M6 GT3. The team is currently seventh in the overall season standings and will field co-drivers Bill Auberlen and Robby Foley in this Sunday’s two-hour, 40-minute America’s Tire 250 at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.

That’s the unorthodox part. The team’s driver lineup has featured different drivers at different events this season. Foley and Auberlen have been teammates for most of the sprint races, with Palttala, Machavern and Yount focused mostly on the Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup rounds.

In fact, the team’s approach in 2018 somewhat resembles the way other teams might attack the 2019 season in GTD. Three different championships will be on the line next year, between the overall, 10-race WeatherTech Championship, the seven-race WeatherTech Sprint Cup that incorporates all GTD races two-hours and 40-minutes in length or shorter, and the four-race Michelin Endurance Cup.

“I’m all smiles and positive about the approach that’s being taken with the sprint series part of it,” said team owner Will Turner. “It definitely opens up some options for drivers that want to be in the series in GTD that don’t necessarily have the time to do all the races.

“That’s a big factor when people have jobs and families to balance. I think that those classes changes, the championship changes, are big.”

Before we get to next season, though, there’s the final two races of the 2018 WeatherTech Championship to contend with, starting with the America’s Tire 250 this weekend and wrapping up on Oct. 13 with the Motul Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta. And Turner can’t stress enough how important those two races will be for his program.

“As of today, I do not have my program filled for next year,” Turner said. “So, having strong results in the last couple of races does nothing but help me attract drivers who want to drive with the Turner Motorsport team or want to drive the BMW.

“My next year depends on some of these outcomes, not only is it the press you get from doing well, but it’s also just a sign of the car being competitive. I want to get out there and lead the race and win the next two races like everybody does.”

A win this weekend would be extra special because it would be Auberlen’s 59th in IMSA competition, putting him within one of all-time leader Scott Pruett’s total of 60. Helping Auberlen – whose long association with the Turner team was rekindled this year as he shifted from full-time status with the BMW Team RLL GT Le Mans (GTLM) team to Patrón Endurance Cup rounds only this season – break the all-time win record is a team goal.

“It’s interesting with Bill and the Turner Motorsport team because he started driving with us in 2000 or 2001 and he’s done a lot of races with us,” Turner said. “He knows all my crew, and my crew all knows him.

“It’s kind of like he never left. You get him back in the yellow and blue and back in the car and it’s the same old deal on the radio. It’s the same old Bill when he gets back to the transporter, always pushing the team for more. It’s good to have him back because we know what we’re dealing with.

“The crew actually works a little harder when he’s around because he wants to win races and we want to get him that record for sports car wins. It’s obviously a big deal for Bill, but I want to be a part of that. It would be great if we could be the team that he wins that and holds that record with.”

He’ll get another chance to do it this weekend at WeatherTech Raceway.


Ford unveils a new Mustang for 2024 Le Mans in motorsports ‘lifestyle brand’ retooling

Ford Mustang Le Mans
Ford Performance

LE MANS, France — Ford has planned a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans with its iconic Mustang muscle car next year under a massive rebranding of Ford Performance aimed at bringing the automotive manufacturer “into the racing business.”

The Friday unveil of the new Mustang Dark Horse-based race car follows Ford’s announcement in February (and a ballyhooed test at Sebring in March) that it will return to Formula One in 2026 in partnership with reigning world champion Red Bull.

The Mustang will enter the GT3 category next year with at least two cars in both IMSA and the World Endurance Championship, and is hopeful to earn an invitation to next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. The IMSA entries will be a factory Ford Performance program run by Multimatic, and a customer program in WEC with Proton Competition.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, also an amateur sports car racer, told The Associated Press the Mustang will be available to compete in various GT3 series across the globe to customer teams. But more important, Farley said, is the overall rebranding of Ford Performance – done by renowned motorsports designer Troy Lee – that is aimed at making Ford a lifestyle brand with a sporting mindset.

“It’s kind of like the company finding its own, and rediscovering its icons, and doubling down on them,” Farley told the AP. “And then this motorsports activity is getting serious about connecting enthusiast customers with those rediscovered icons. It’s a big switch for the company – this is really about building strong, iconic vehicles with enthusiasts at the center of our marketing.”

Ford last competed in sports car racing in 2019 as part of a three-year program with Chip Ganassi Racing. The team scored the class win at Le Mans in 2016 in a targeted performance aimed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Ford snapping Ferrari’s six-year winning streak.

Ford on Friday displayed a Mustang with a Lee-designed livery that showcased the cleaner, simplified look that will soon be featured on all its racing vehicles. The traditional blue oval with Ford Performance in white lettering underneath will now be branded simply FP.

The new mark will be used across car liveries, merchandise and apparel, display assets, parts and accessories and in advertising.

Farley cited Porsche as an automaker that has successfully figured out how to sell cars to consumers and race cars in various series around the world while creating a culture of brand enthusiasts. He believes Ford’s new direction will help the company sell street cars, race cars, boost interest in driving schools, and create a merchandise line that convinces consumers that a stalwart of American automakers is a hip, cool brand.

“We’re going to build a global motorsports business off road and on road,” Farley told the AP, adding that the design of the Mustang is “unapologetically American.”

He lauded the work of Lee, who is considered the top helmet designer among race car drivers.

“We’re in the first inning of a nine inning game, and going to Le Mans is really important,” Farley said. “But for customer cars, getting the graphics right, designing race cars that win at all different levels, and then designing a racing brand for Ford Performance that gets rebranded and elevated is super important.”

He said he’s kept a close eye on how Porsche and Aston Martin have built their motorsports businesses and said Ford will be better.

“We’re going in the exact same direction. We just want to be better than them, that’s all,” Farley said. “Second is the first loser.”

Farley, an avid amateur racer himself, did not travel to Le Mans for the announcement. The race that begins Saturday features an entry from NASCAR, and Ford is the reigning Cup Series champion with Joey Logano and Team Penske.

The NASCAR “Garage 56” entry is a collaboration between Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear, and is being widely celebrated throughout the industry. Farley did feel left out of the party in France – a sentiment NASCAR tried to avoid by inviting many of its partners to attend the race so that it wouldn’t seem like a Chevrolet-only celebration.

“They’re going right and I’m going left – that NASCAR thing is a one-year deal, right? It’s Garage 56 and they can have their NASCAR party, but that’s a one-year party,” Farley said. “We won Le Mans outright four times, we won in the GT class, and we’re coming back with Mustang and it’s not a one-year deal.

“So they can get all excited about Garage 56. I almost see that as a marketing exercise for NASCAR, but for me, that’s a science project,” Farley continued. “I don’t live in a world of science projects. I live in the world of building a vital company that everyone is excited about. To do that, we’re not going to do a Garage 56 – I’ve got to beat Porsche and Aston Martin and Ferrari year after year after year.”

Ford’s announcement comes on the heels of General Motors changing its GT3 strategy next season and ending its factory Corvette program. GM, which unlike Ford competes in the IMSA Grand Touring Prototype division (with its Cadillac brand), will shift fully to a customer model for Corvettes in 2024 (with some factory support in the IMSA GTD Pro category).