Watkins Glen GTD winners: ‘Who would have bet on Turner Motorsport to win?’

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Watkins Glen GTD winners: ‘Who would have bet on Turner Motorsport to win?’

IMSA

Watkins Glen GTD winners: ‘Who would have bet on Turner Motorsport to win?’

The headlines from the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen rightfully spoke to the achievement by the JDC-Miller/GAINSCO P2 team as it took down IMSA’s DPi manufacturers for the overall win, but on the day, the biggest surprise was reserved for the GT Daytona class and Turner Motorsport’s stunning victory.

Will Turner’s Massachusetts-based BMW outfit has done plenty of winning in all manner of GT competition, and under normal circumstances, seeing one of his blue and yellow cars atop the podium would not rate as an extraordinary feat. The latest trip to upstate New York, as the team found, added a new dimension to its growing list of achievements.

Factor in the manner Turner’s No. 96 BMW M6 GT3 bested the GTD field, however, with one of the most ‘Am’ driver lineups among Pro-Am entries on the Watkins Glen grid, and the lasting memory from the 2018 event just might be the outcome of the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s entry-level class.

In a Pro-Am category where, for the longer races, a driver roster is normally assembled with two that lean heavily (or fully) in the Pro direction and one that conforms to the Am requirement dictated by IMSA, Turner took the win with one Pro in Markus Palttala and two proper Ams in Dillon Machavern and Don Yount.

Good fortune was a significant player in Turner’s win after the leading Land Motorsport Audi pitted from the lead. Earning a pair of penalties in the final hour of the race while Turner’s big twin-turbo V8 BMW ran second, the Audi surrendered its chance at victory and Palttala held on to capture the win under pressure from the second-place Meyer Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3 of Alvaro Parente.

“I’m not sure myself…but a little bit of luck came into play for us and some bad luck for others helped,” Turner told RACER with a laugh while trying to answer how his team was in a position to capitalize on Land’s mistakes. “We had a good car, but it couldn’t drive to the front by itself. But it’s 100 percent true — we have the real Pro-Am combo with one Pro and two [Ams] who drove great.

“They maximized their in and out laps where, historically, they lose time to the Pros in the field, so we worked on that, and we realized there has been a lack of yellows this season but some went our way to bunch up the pack, our [Ams] didn’t get anything wrong, and I still don’t know the real story of what happened with the Land Audi, but that worked in our favor. It wasn’t how you’d script things, for sure.”

With Palttala, Turner has a driver capable of winning at any time. With Machavern, he has a young prospect whose experience has been gained in Spec Miatas, Trans-Am cars, and in IMSA’s Continental Tire Series tin-top category, but is in the early stages of his career. And in Yount, Turner has a late bloomer whose introduction to IMSA came to define the ‘Am’ driver in its former PC category.

Altogether, if one was assembling a three-driver GTD rotation with an expectation of success, long odds would have been given on Turner’s Sahlen’s Six Hour trio. And that’s where the appreciation for their accomplishment — of defying the odds — made their result at Watkins Glen so rich.

“I was, of course, cautious with Don Yount’s abilities when I first met him because, as he said, admittedly, he’s new to racing and he wanted to try something different after trying PC cars, which were really challenging,” Turner said.

“I guess the PC cars, if they weren’t set up perfectly, were really tough to drive, and until Daytona this year with us, he’d never been in a GT car. What we found is he really took to it and could concentrate on driving and going faster instead of trying to survive like he was before [in PC]. So that was really refreshing, and after Daytona and Sebring, we were confident he could go head-to-head with the other gentleman drivers. Don qualified the car and did great.

“I watched Dillon last year in Conti and was really impressed and was confident he could come through the field, and when I saw him pass Patrick Lindsey, who I consider the best true [Am] driver in GTD, I knew he was good. So I had a better feeling for my [Ams] than maybe some others would from the outside looking in.”

Turner takes pride in seeing drivers like Machavern and Yount join others who’ve grown in stature or improved their craft while competing with his team.

“If you look at our history of up-and-coming drivers, we’ve had Justin Marks who has gone on to great things, we’ve had Matt Bell, we’ve had Dane Cameron — he was further along — but we have had a lot of guys come through and win,” he said. “And I see the same thing with Dillon becoming a WeatherTech Championship race winner, and with Don getting his first win. I’m hoping we can keep bringing new drivers into Turner Motorsport and eventually go from bringing a budget to getting paid to drive.”

The Turner BMW squad won’t have much time to bask in their victory — not with opening practice at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park set to start on Friday — but it didn’t take long for the win to sink in.

“What we didn’t do going into this race was think we had the best car, or the strongest driver lineup, and we knew the odds were against us, so what made this win so sweet is we did it with a good car, did it with a true Pro-Am driver lineup, our crew did great pit stops the entire tire, the strategy was right, but going into that last hour, who would have bet on Turner Motorsport to win?” he asked.

“It was unlikely, so I guess this win is extra sweet because we didn’t see it coming, and when it happened, it made it that much better.”

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