A first glance at KMW Motorsports with TMR Engineering might not reveal much to the untrained eye. A closer look, however, will show team members that have been in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge for years.
Going on 30 years as business partners, Louis Milone and Kevin Wheeler are emerging from a supporting role at the racetrack to now competing under their own banner with a new two-car, full-season Alfa Romeo program in the TCR class.
“They don’t know us by name because we haven’t been our own team and entrant yet,” explained team manager Milone. “This is our first year taking control of everything and I think things will change now this year. And we picked the oddest car to put in the series, the Alfa Romeo.”
In 1994, five years after their partnership began, Milone and Wheeler embarked on their first professional race together in the Rolex 24 At Daytona. From 2000 to 2008, they were contracted to run Champion Racing with Audi across multiple series before joining Rebel Rock Racing in the Michelin Pilot Challenge in 2014.
The following three years, Milone supported longtime friend and RS1 team owner Justin Bellinzoni with his Porsche program. This past season, Milone and KMW served as engineers on two of Compass Racing’s Audi RS3 LMS entries in TCR, one of which would go on to win the championship.
Following a long history with Audi, Milone described how he landed the Alfa Romeos for the team’s “first” season.
“There were two of them here in America already,” said Milone. “I knew the guy who had them. They were sitting around doing nothing because he just couldn’t get anybody to rent them. I had a pack of drivers ready to go.
“We brought the cars to the shop, we prepped them, we took them to a couple of test days, we compared the data to the Audis. It looked good. Everything looked like they would be very competitive, so we shook hands on a deal and put a package together and now we’re Alfa Romeo.”
Both Alfa Romeos were onsite at Daytona for the Roar Before the Rolex 24, with drivers Roy Block and Tim Lewis Jr. The line-up for the second car will be revealed in the coming days, but one thing is clear — KMW and Alfa Romeo are serious about their participation in the Michelin Pilot Challenge.
“The level of support that we’ve gotten from Alfa Romeo has been overwhelming and I feel like we’re the full factory team,” said Milone. “The owner of the car (Romeo Ferraris, from Milan, Italy) and his lead engineer have come to every event so far. I’m sure once we’re established in the season they won’t come to every single event.
“But you’ll see them at the race weekend. They were at the two Michelin on-track opportunities we did. They send people and they’ve been great with getting us all the parts we need to make this thing happen. So far, it’s been a really good decision for us.”
Milone also talked about how the TCR class was another good decision for KMW Motorsports with TMR Engineering, especially with his vision for driver line-ups.
“I’ve always enjoyed working with the bronze-level driver, the guy that’s just stepping up from club racing and wants to go pro racing,” said Milone. “I like to work with that guy. I like to see what I can do with him, what we can do as a team to build things.
“Just to pop the two pros in a car and being fast, it’s not really challenging for me. It makes more sense to start with a car that’s a little easier to drive, a little slower, a lot less expensive to repair if you make that mistake here or there.”
With so many new beginnings — team, car, drivers — under one tent, Milone has learned to adjust his expectations and goals for the 2019 IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge season.
“As a whole, what will make me happy, where my goals are for the season, I would like to be competitive in every race,” said Milone. “I would like to be a contender. I like to roll the car out of the truck knowing if things go our way, we can be at the front and we can win knowing there are teams that have better driver line-ups, faster cars, maybe more developed cars, more time on them. But it would be a great season for me if we finish every race, we complete a lot of laps, we’re contenders and we finished somewhere in the championship that’s respectful.
“I’m not expecting to win the championship. I’m not setting it as the ultimate goal. It’s always a goal, but it’s not the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal is to represent the brand well, look professional. We’ve spent a lot of money on team gear and on appearance, but that doesn’t make a car go faster. But we also know that we’re going to be looked at a lot because the car is so different. And with that, I want to know we went the extra distance.”