As the newest team in IMSA’s WeatherTech SportsCar Championship DPi category, Minnesota’s JDC-Miller Motorsports team has faced the daunting task of taking on big factory programs and factory-affiliated rivals in the manufacturer-driven class.
Pitted against Acura, Mazda, and championship-winning Cadillac stablemates at Wayne Taylor Racing and Action Express Racing, the team owned by John Church and John Miller has risen to impressive heights in the early stages of the 2020 season. A podium to open the year with a third-place finish at the Rolex 24 At Daytona was huge for the No. 5 Mustang sampling Cadillac DPi-V.R, and with full-timers Sebastien Bourdais and Joao Barbosa adding another third-place result last Saturday night at Daytona behind a Mazda 1-2, the JDC-Miller outfit is making itself hard to ignore.
“It’s all to the credit of the team, obviously,” Bourdais said. “John Church put on the best effort that he could. And thanks to Ken at Mustang Sampling and Christian Fittipaldi to put all the pieces together with John Miller and putting Loic Duval (in) for the long races, and myself. It’s just been overachieving so far, sitting second in the championship.
“We had a goal as a team to kind of hopefully score a podium this season and we got two podiums in two races. Definitely going quite well. I think we made some progress.”
In addition to the execution by the team with pit stops and engineering changes to keep the No. 5 car in the hunt, Bourdais credits a visit to a seven-post shaker rig after the Rolex 24, where significant handling improvements were found for the V8-powered Cadillac prototype.
“A big difference between (the Rolex) 24 and this time is we really managed to get the car in a zone where I felt like I could drive,” he said. “I was really on the back foot at the 24, which probably wasn’t such a big, bad deal because it didn’t really matter so much when you look at the race in the end.
“We got the car on the shaker rig and made some damper improvements, and I think we found some mechanical grip thanks to it, which put the car in a window where (it) actually responds now. And that was the key difference. Obviously, all that work had been done towards Sebring.”
By chance, the damping and suspension-tuning improvements originally intended for March on the notoriously rough racing surface at Sebring ended up working rather well on the smooth Daytona circuit.
“So not really knowing any better, we just put whatever we found and threw it at the car for Daytona — really wasn’t much testing or anything.” Bourdais explained. “Thankfully it just woke the car up and I really could challenge it on entry. And we made a couple of changes. Rick Cameron had some good thinking there with John Hayes (JDC-Miller’s race engineers) and we made some small improvements. All of a sudden, the car was really exciting to drive.”
What Barbosa and Bourdais experienced inside the car on July 4 at Daytona should, in theory, continue paying off when IMSA heads to Sebring for the 2h40m Cadillac Grand Prix on July 18.
“We could commit to the corner and brake deep, and it didn’t really increase the understeer all that much,” Bourdais said. “That really allowed us to fight in the race and be on the offense. And it’s a heck of a lot better and nicer when you can do that.”