It’s the one you don’t see that gets you.
Stevan McAleer and Mike Skeen started the season with consecutive podiums for Team Korthoff Motorsports in the 36 Hours of Florida races and have ridden that momentum for McAleer (Skeen missed a race due to COVID) to lead the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GTD points (2071) with three races left, despite the team not yet scoring a victory.
The Wright Motorsports duo of Ryan Hardwick and Jan Heylen are the only GTD team to score multiple victories in points-paying races – Daytona and WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, and thus are hot on McAleer’s heels for the championship (2031). Heart of Racing’s Roman de Angelis, who hasn’t had a consistent partner this season, is third with 2010, helped by victory in the Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen and three consecutive podium finishes.
Sneaking up on all of them, however, are Bill Auberlen and Robby Foley in the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M4 GT3, just 112 points out of the lead. With the struggles the team, and BMW M Team RLL in GTD PRO, had in the season-opening Rolex 24 at Daytona – “The car drove great at Daytona, we just weren’t fast,” declares Foley – few would have expected Turner and BMW to have a shot at the title with two sprint races at Road America and Virginia International Raceway and Petit Le Mans left in the season. Yet here they are, all while developing a brand-new GT3 machine.
“We’ve done a pretty good job to learn the new car,” says Foley. “We’ve been through many tests, setup iterations, we’ve kind of scanned the whole car, we’ve raced a few times in a window we shouldn’t have raced; we now know that’s not a good place to go. We ran the M6 for so long it was like clockwork; we knew on this temperature, we might have this condition and we change this in the setup. So we’re learning all the time.
“But we’ve just had pretty good execution everywhere. Daytona was an outlier where we weren’t quick enough to compete, but we gained valuable knowledge with the car and did a lot of miles. Fast-forward to Sebring, we had an awesome race, led a lot of it and probably should have finished P2. We had a little miscue, we finished fourth but we were fighting for the lead the whole time, which was a very nice feeling after Daytona. And then from there, Bill, and I just tried to do our thing, we’ve always raced pretty well.”
They finally got the first points-paying victory for the M4 GT3 at Mid-Ohio (Bryan Sellers and Madison Snow won for Paul Miller Racing at Long Beach, but only Sprint Cup points were awarded for that race). Although they didn’t get to celebrate on the podium because the Inception Racing McLaren that finished first on track was found to be underweight in post-race technical inspection, it was a satisfying moment. Three more races where they finished on the podium, and one just off it, have put them in the hunt. Indeed, without the DNF at Daytona and engine trouble at Detroit and Lime Rock, whereas Korthoff, Wright and Heart of Racing have been relatively trouble-free, Turner would be leading the championship handily.
“We’ve had some bad luck, if you can imagine it,” says Auberlen. “But it’s a new car so you would expect little things coming out yet. We’ve been consistent every time we finish, we’re on the podium somewhere if we finish. We’re competitive. The team’s been pretty much perfect all year. It’s a new car, we’re learning; every track we go to is a brand new experience. You’re like, ‘Okay, what’s the setup for this track?’ We’re starting to understand what screws do what to it, and I think we’re getting better at it. And then the neat thing is we race [in Fanatec GT World Challenge America] at the same time, so we’re sort of double-dipping and learning twice as fast.”
While Auberlen races for Bimmerworld with Chandler Hull in GT World Challenge, Turner is Running Foley and Michael Dinan, who has served as the third driver in the WeatherTech Championship endurance races. That’s what Turner’s race engineer, Jay O’Connell, describes as the team’s “secret weapon.” Turner has had four more weekends to learn the car, eight more races run than much of their competition, And while track time is significantly reduced with 90-minute races, every race start provides a learning opportunity.
The other thing that has aided Turner is the lack of any team racking up the victories week in and week out, unlike in GTD PRO where Pfaff Motorsports has four victories. Even Wright, which looked early on like it would run away with the title at the hands of Hardwick and Heylen, hasn’t kept on their early-season form.
“This has been a weird season, because there hasn’t really been one car or team that’s been dominant,” notes team principal Will Turner. “And a lot of stuff, a lot of attrition, has happened. That has put the four teams at the front close to each other with a couple of races to go. So I’m cautiously optimistic because our car either runs flawlessly, or doesn’t – it’s not like it’s in between. So we’re hoping that we’ve shaken out the little gremlins. And one of the gremlins hit us at Lime Rock. If it didn’t, it would put us into a different spot in the championship going into the last couple races. But look, it just shows that anybody can have bad luck and things can change.”
Foley, for one, is enthusiastic about their chances in the final three rounds of the championship.
“I think everybody in the team is proud to have won and been on the podium a few times and compete well against really, really strong teams and driver lineups. I think it’s as competitive in IMSA as it ever has been,” he declares. “And then with the PRO cars coming in, we basically compete directly against our factory friends in the GTD PRO class and, and Paul Miller is also a super strong team. So internally at BMW, there are a lot of people pushing forward.
“So for the last three races, we have a couple of sprint races that tracks that we’ve inherently done well out with BMWs in the past in Road America and VIR, so we know how to get it done there. And then Petit Le Mans, we also kind of have the recipe there, too. So you have to minimize mistakes. And the mistakes this year for us have been out of our hands outside of Sebring, where we could have finished second. When we’ve executed well, we’ve had pretty good results. So I would say collecting points and hoping the other side have a bit of bad luck that we’ve had – had we had a good Lime Rock, we probably would have been in the top two. So we’re back to fourth now, but we’re still in it. So we’re going to keep pushing forward and try to go win a couple of races.”