Budget outsider JDC-Miller MotorSports has a habit of killing sports car racing Goliaths
It was ironic, the conclusion of a 12-hour race last March at Sebring boiling down to a late restart and an 11-lap race to the finish. The irony was amplified at one of the finest endurance racing events in North America when JDC-Miller MotorSports’ Cadillac DPi, the slowest car based on median lap time in the class queen of the IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship, stepped into the victory lane, punctuated by a boisterous celebration of her triumvirate of French drivers – incumbents Loïc Duval and Tristan Vautier and Sébastien Bourdais, her addition to the races endurance.
But the irony comes as no surprise, and it may not have been an upset victory. The JDC-Miller team, based in the quiet town of Savage, Minnesota, have already killed Goliaths – they won the 6 Hours of Watkins Glen in 2017 and the Rolex 24 At Daytona in 2018, top events on the American sports car racing calendar. – if Sebring, although little more than another notch on the belt, was only the continuation of a process designed by financial discipline.
“I always say to guys, ‘Don’t focus on the things we don’t have, let’s focus on the things we have,” said John Church, CEO and Managing Partner of JDC-Miller. “We have a car, we have a crew, we have all the money we need to put all the necessary tires on the car. We have the same engine pack as everyone else. We have three great pilots.
“We would all like to make more money, but that’s what we have.”
Church’s operation is commonly referred to as a privateer squad, which implies that she receives no support from the manufacturer. This is not true; Church has confirmed that JDC-Miller receives factory funding and technical support from Cadillac – “As far as Cadillacs go, we have the same equipment as the other guys” – but that’s about half of 4’s largesse. to $ 6 million from a larger organization like Chip Ganassi Racing receives. These larger teams also tend to garner additional sponsorships, further widening the budget gap.
This is nothing new for Church, who is used to maximizing her dollar and her assets.
“You can’t control how much other guys are spending,” Church said. “It’s easy for our guys to look and see all the little gadgets that everybody has, like, ‘Oh, you know, they’ve got this, they’ve got that,’ well, we got this – it might not be as bright or pretty, but it works, it gets the job done.
“Honestly, I don’t feel like we’re at a greater disadvantage than anyone. We have a great group of guys and a great group of pilots. We might be behind the development curve every now and then, but we’re getting there and it’s working for us. “
The development curve – the path on which research and development ends – requires resources that the Church might not choose to use. Sebring gave such an example: While the 3.74 mile Florida track was a popular proving ground for several of the IMSA titans ahead of its mid-March event, JDC-Miller opted against pre-run track time. .
Instead, the team used their notes from a run there last November as study fodder, which helped provide the basic setup information they would need for the 12-hour run. in March.
“We watched last November at Sebring,” Church said. “We had a very good race there, we had a fast car. We watched this and if there is a place where we born need to test, that would be Sebring. There are a lot of races on the upcoming schedule that we would really like to test and probably should test, but if we don’t have the budget to do it, we’re not going to do it.
“We’ll spend some time focusing on presenting the best possible deployment for the first practice session and going from there.”
To their credit, the list of JDC-Miller drivers of Duval, Gautier and Bourdais rolls with the punches. In truth, the victory celebration at Sebring was taking place precisely because they were budget outsiders.
“If a sponsor wants to join us, we’ll do some testing every weekend,” Bourdais said with a laugh. “We are operating to the best of our ability and we have great partners, but (other) programs cost a lot of money and all the limits on technical development and testing come from funding.
“There’s not much we can do, and at the moment we’re on a tightrope.”
Bourdais, 42, is a star turned companion. Former Formula 1 driver with Scuderia Toro Rosso and four-time Champ Car World Series title winner, he is now an IndyCar mainstay and sports car moon hunter. Competence is always present; namely, he improbably roughed up the Cadillac on Sebring’s final laps after a rear wing failure – “It was very, very, very difficult,” he said – but his knowledge base is appreciated by Church and JDC-Miller as a method to close the lack of intelligence compared to larger teams.
His influence on JDC-Miller is greater than previously expected. Originally intended to be the addition of the team’s endurance racing – his role for the 2021 season – he joined the full-time program for 2020 after breaking an agreed IndyCar deal. Church took the opportunity to have a pilot with his good faith as a regular member of the team.
“He brings a lot of experience. He’s been a big contributor to development, ”said Church, who believes Bourdais’ frequent presence made the program stronger. “If there’s one thing about motorsport that trumps everything, it’s continuity. You have the same group of people or the same influencers in the program, you’re still building on something. “
Bourdais, especially in the latter half of his career, is no stranger to tough battles, embracing a tough challenge that tends to approach everyone in motor racing at one point or another.
“I’ve been quite used to being the underdog of technical and human resources and budgetary resources in different rounds,” he said. “When you take the fight to the big guys, obviously it’s so much sweeter.”
Duval and Vautier will be sans Bourdais this weekend at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for a 2 hour 40 minute sprint race, the predominant length in a single event on the IMSA calendar despite its origins in endurance racing. In these events, JDC-Miller tends to have difficulty, in part because of the stronger correlation between speed and results.
In endurance competitions like Sebring, the weaknesses of the team matter less because the results among lasting participants are random, which is reflected in its negative correlation coefficient of 0.43 between speed ranking and final position in the race. the DPi class. In this kind of free-for-alls, JDC-Miller has a fighting chance, as any team operating on budget and able to go the entire distance would.
But in sprint races like Mid-Ohio, which saw a positive coefficient of 0.43 for last year’s event, there is less time for gradual improvement and more emphasis on speed. pure. Church confessed it’s a type of racing JDC-Miller has his work cut out for, a track the car ranked the slowest in its class on last season.
“We’re going to take some of the things that we learned there, some of the things that we worked on in the offseason, and bring them to Mid-Ohio and obviously try to apply as much as we can,” said Church. . “You just have to take what you can figure out and then go in there and make adjustments as you go.
“That’s the great thing about long races. You get to feel everyone’s out there for a while and understand where your strengths and weaknesses lie. You don’t have this opportunity in the short races. “
Sunday’s race is likely a throwback, a challenge Church doesn’t necessarily care about – he would host a full factory budget – but he doesn’t plan to give in anytime soon.
“We always say, ‘To be in business you have to stay in business,’” Church said. “The end game, always, is that you’re trying to attract extra dollars from sponsors. You are trying to attract a factory to invest more money in the program. And so the end game is you try to be that Penske or Ganassi, one of the great teams, and have more resources.
“You are chasing dreams, that’s what it comes down to. If you give up you stop chasing, then the result is 100% known, whereas if you stick with it you never know. “