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.


Cadillac confirms WEC driver lineup with Chip Ganassi Racing that will race Le Mans in 2023

Cadillac Ganassi Le Mans
Cadillac Racing

Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing announced their driver lineup for a 2023 entry in the FIA World Endurance Championship, the sports car series that includes the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The Cadillac V-LMDh entry will be driven by Earl Bamber and Alex Lynn, who were teamed on the No. 02 Cadillac that competed in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship DPi class this season and won the Twelve Hours of Sebring. The third driver will be Richard Westbrook, who will return to Ganassi after helping the team to a GT class win at Le Mans in 2018.

The team also will compete in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in the rebranded Grand Touring Prototype premier category, which is designed for crossover between the top prototypes in IMSA and WEC. Ganassi will field a second entry at Daytona with its No. 01 Cadillac that will compete full time in IMSA with Sebastien Bourdais and Renger van der Zande.

A Ganassi spokesman said the team hopes to run its second entry in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans but only its WEC team is confirmed (an AOC invitation would be required for the IMSA team). The team also is exploring options but currently plans to have the WEC’s team base of operations in Indianapolis.

Ganassi is the first American-based prototype team to confirm its entry in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans. It’s expected that Team Penske, which raced this year’s Le Mans with a full-time WEC entry in LMP2, also will race Le Mans with Porsche’s new LMDh car that is set for IMSA, but the manufacturer has yet to confirm its driver and team lineup.

Next year will mark the return of Cadillac to Le Mans for the first time since 2002.

Before joining Ganassi last year, Lynn made 28 WEC starts since 2016, winning the LMGTE Pro class at Le Mans in 2020.

“I’m absolutely thrilled to continue with Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing,” Lynn said in a release. “It’s a huge honor to drive for Chip in any capacity but certainly on a full factory sports car program, it’s seriously cool. Cadillac has so much heritage as a luxury North American sports car brand, so to be able to represent them is a huge privilege. I’ve had a lot of fun in my first year doing it and to continue that onto the World Endurance Championship stage is fantastic.

“For me, returning to WEC is sort of what I’ve always known and it’s a bit like going into my wheelhouse. This year in IMSA was a bit different with getting to know all-new circuits and a new style of racing so 2023 will be filled with a bit more of what I’m used to with more of a European focus. I think what’s significant about WEC is without a doubt Le Mans. As a sports car race, Le Mans is the crown jewel and everything that we want to win. To be able to take Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac back to Le Mans to fight for overall honors is a huge honor and that’s something that I’m going to work tirelessly to make sure we achieve.”

Bamber won the Le Mans overall in 2015 and ’17 with Porsche teams and also was a 2019 GTLM champion in IMSA.

“I am really happy to continue at Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac,” Bamber said in a release. “I’ve loved my first season in DPi and now to continue over into the LMDh era and WEC is super exciting. Looking forward to fighting for a world championship and another Le Mans victory.

“The World Endurance Championships gives us the opportunity to race at the world’s biggest race, which is Le Mans, the crown jewel of sports car racing. I’ve been lucky enough to win it before and it’s obviously a huge goal for Cadillac and everyone at Chip Ganassi Racing. To have that goal in sight is really exciting. It’s been great to have Alex as a teammate in 2022. We’ve been able to learn and grow together in the DPi, and we have a really good partnership going into WEC. We know each other really well and believe adding Richard will be a seamless transition.”

Said Westbrook: “After four really good years at Chip Ganassi Racing, I’ve got so many friends there and I’ve always dreamt to come back one day. It just worked so well between 2016 and 2019, and I’m delighted we found a route to come together again. I can’t wait, it’s an exciting era in sports car racing right now.

“I feel like I know Alex and Earl really well. I did Le Mans with Alex in 2020 and I’ve known him for years. It feels like I’m going back with an ex-teammate and exactly the same with Earl. Although I’ve never shared a car with Earl, we’ve always done the same sort of racing be it in WEC or in IMSA. We’ve had lots of battles, including this year in our dueling Cadillacs. We’ve always gotten along quite well, and I can say we’re going to have a great year together.”

The seven-race WEC season, which also includes a stop at Spa, will begin March 17 with the 1,000 Miles of Sebring at Sebring International Raceway in Florida.