The formation of new prototype teams in IMSA’s WeatherTech SportsCar Championship has been an infrequent occurrence in recent years, which makes the arrival of Era Motorsport and its LMP2 effort an especially welcome addition to the paddock.
Led by team principal and driver Kyle Tilley, the team’s No. 18 ORECA 07-Gibson has been quickly assembled, along with Era’s endurance racing crew, during IMSA’s short offseason. Where most of their LMP2 rivals enter the Rolex 24 At Daytona with years of hardened endurance racing experience to draw from as a unit, Era’s story is charmingly different.
How did a British driver come to meet an American businessman who loved vintage racing, wanted to go faster and, in less than two years, find themselves in the WeatherTech Championship?
We’ll let Tilly uncork that tale.
“I’ve been racing for as long as I can remember, and fortunate enough to race professionally throughout the last 10 years,” he told RACER. “The last thing that I did was Pirelli World Challenge in 2017 with TRG. I’ve always spent a lot of time with vintage race cars, always had a big crush on everything Formula 1-related from the ’70s and Group C sports cars. And I was doing a lot of driver coaching work with a client who at the time had a Formula 5000 car.
“He was wanting me to spend more and more time driving it, and the more I looked at it, the less I was OK with driving it based on some of the prep work on it. When I mentioned it to him, he then said, ‘Well, you should set up your own prep shop.’ So I did, and that’s really what led me to this. I was working as a driving coach in 2018 with Dwight Merriman in TCR and he had a vintage Alfa Romeo which we were doing some historic racing with; we were taking care of it, which then progressed into a Nissan NPT-90 GTP car.
“That car’s a monster — absolutely love it too. Dwight loves driving it also. And then we ended up putting Dwight in an LMPC car at Monterey for the Rolex Reunion. And what kind of followed from there, our engineers said, ‘What about putting him in an LMP2 car?’ I jumped at the opportunity but I needed to make sure that Dwight was up for it as well.”
Merriman, the successful tech company founder, welcomed each increase in speed. With the chance to move beyond vintage racing and pro-level touring cars, the leap to LMP2 was formalized with Tilley’s ambitious Era Motorsport team.
“After going backwards and forwards for a few months, we ended up making the decision. I think it was only eight weeks ago that we were going to do this and here we are,” Tilley added. “So it’s been all hands on deck, pull it all together. In some ways, it might seem like a really big jump. To me, it’s not that different to what we’ve been doing. For example, we’re looking after a Pescarolo LMP1; we’ve got the Nissan GTP car, which is far more complicated than the current LMP2s. And I think last count, we’ve got 20 other cars in the workshops all ranging from historic F1 through to recent LMP1s. And we’ve been fortunate enough to put together a really good group of guys for the P2 program.
“We have [strategist] Jeff Braun on board. We have Scott Besst as our race engineer, who might not be as well-known as Jeff, but certainly Scott’s done a lot in Australia with V8 Supercars and he was Ohlin’s IndyCar suspension guy. I brought Ross Needham from Porsche, who is our team manager. And between the three of us, we’ve been flat out. Sleep has been on hold since Christmas.”
With Tilly and Merriman set for the full LMP2 championship calendar, the team has drafted in renowned French ace Nic Minassian as its top-rated driver, and prototype veteran Ryan Lewis to complete the rotation. Despite all that’s new and unproven with Era, the quality driving squad and the winning history of the ORECA 07 could allow the team to make its presence known during the 24-hour race.
“Ultimately, with testing at the Roar Before The 24, we focused on full-fuel runs and keeping some of our powder dry just because we didn’t see the value in doing a low-fuel, new-tire run just to set a better lap time,” Tilley explained. “Because in the Rolex 24, we’re never going to be on low fuel with new tires, so it didn’t make any sense.
“We were pretty methodical on just working through the balance of the car on full tanks and placing all our energies on setting up the car for the race. I think a podium in Daytona is the goal, but honestly, there’s so many outside factors which we can’t account for. So I’ll be happy just to get to the end of the race, with the car in one piece and having been competitive. But obviously, the ultimate goal for us is the podium.”