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

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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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.

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Malcolm Stewart sidelined by knee surgery for ‘extended duration’

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The knee injury that kept Malcolm Stewart from mounting up for Anaheim 2 will require surgery and he will be sidelined for “an extended duration” of the Monster Energy Supercross season, according to the Rockstar Energy Husqvarna team.

“I just wanted to give you guys an update,” Stewart said on Instagram. “It’s not the news you guys want to hear, but I took a spill last week and hurt my knee pretty bad to the point that we’re going to have to get surgery done.

“I’m definitely bummed out about it; I felt we were riding pretty good and were just now starting to get the ball rolling, but it is what it is.”

Stewart’s season started with high expectations until accidents in the first two rounds left him 15th in the standings.

He ended 2022 on a high note, finishing a career high third in the Supercross standings. He then missed the start of the Pro Motocross season with another knee injury.

The 2023 season appeared to live up to his expectations. Despite back-to-back accidents, Stewart contended for podiums at both Anaheim 1 and San Diego. He won his heat at San Diego.

“It was very tough to receive the news that Malcolm will need to undergo knee surgery,” Nathan Ramsey, Team Manager for the Husqvarna team said in a press release. “He has worked so hard to be in a position to win races this year and I truly believe he was ready.

“The Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing program will support him in every way that we can through his recovery and we can’t wait to get him back on track and back at the races.”

Stewart joins 250 rider Jalek Swoll on the sidelines after he broke an arm in a practice session. Swoll will be relieved by Talon Hawkins beginning this week at Houston, Texas.

A replacement rider has not been announced for Stewart, which means the focus shifts to his 450 teammate Christian Craig, who currently sits 12th in the standings with three top-15s in the opening rounds.