JDC-Miller Motorsports are thrilled to have their shiny, new and very yellow Porsche 963 make its debut in this weekend’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Motul Course de Monterey. Becoming the first customer team in a field of factory efforts is an honor. But at the same time, they arrived at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca with no testing, and no experience with the car other than the crew putting it together with the Porsche engineers in Weissach. Just finishing the race will be an achievement.
“For me, (being the first customer team is) a big accomplishment,” said team principal John Church. “It’s nice to get back to the top class here. Sure, this weekend, we’ll be running around at the back, but use it as a test session, learn how everything works, learn how the tires work, learn how we work with the drivers, the communication…everything is an unknown at this point. I keep saying you’ve got to start somewhere, and we’re starting here at Laguna.”
The team found its first issues early, making only a handful of laps in the first practice session on Friday. Tijmen van der Helm only had his first laps in the car on Saturday morning, but pace kept improving, and in qualifying van der Helm put in a time that — although two seconds off the GTP pace — was in the ballpark of where the other teams had started Friday afternoon in Practice 1. Not bad for being “thrown under the bus,” as the other half of the driving team, Mike Rockenfeller, put it.
“With the experience I have, I have seen a lot of things in my life and racing, for sure. But still, at the end, every project is unique. And it’s definitely not an easy one without any testing. You know, I think if we had two, three days, you feel kind of prepared. Now it’s a bit…we’re a bit thrown under the bus, all of us, but I think we are in the same boat. I try to stay calm and just do it step by step, don’t expect too much. But then we all know once the race comes, the flag drops, you want to do as good as you can. But I see it as a test here for everybody, and then get our hands around this thing,” said Rockenfeller.
Urs Kuratle, Porsche’s director of Factory Racing, LMDh, says Porsche Motorsports will do everything possible to help JDC-Miller get up to speed, even as they try to catch up to their own internal struggles to produce cars and spares amid ongoing supply chain issues.
“We do whatever we can, and we do whatever is necessary,” declared Kuratle. “Obviously, this is still a prototype, it’s still, even for the works team, a new thing. And we are learning a lot every lap we are out there. We transfer all the information straightaway to all of our customers as we do with Jota Sport in WEC, and we will with JDC-Miller motorsports here in the IMSA Series. And we have to communicate very good because we already have two works teams. Now we have two customers, and to bring all the information together, it’s a big effort. But so far, so good. We are really happy (with) how it works so far, and we try to support as much as we can.”
The name of Porsche’s prototype is designed to evoke the 962, the race car of choice for many customer teams in the original era of GTP. IMSA President John Doonan is happy to see a customer car in the series, and says both the car and the team are appropriate.
“You look back at the history of GTP, in its heyday, if you will, the customer teams were really the lifeblood of the series, the category itself, and the growth of the championship,” Doonan said. “For me, this is a perfect model of that. And I think the fact that it’s JDC…I’ve had relationships with John Church and John Miller for some time. They’re a race-winning and, in several divisions, championship-winning team, so they’re not rookies at this. Obviously, these cars are highly technologically advanced compared to other cars in the world, and to have them be the first one, I think it’s pretty fitting for me, personally. But the other part of it is, IMSA’s foundational values are about customer racing and that’s a very stable and sustainable way that we will grow as a series. So to have these guys be the first one is, for me, special, but I think for us as a championship, it’s also quite special.”
JDC-Miller Motorsports has a long road ahead of it to get close the Porsche Penske Motorsports factory effort. This weekend is merely a small first step, but it’s a crucial one. And, so far, so good.
“We want to make every session and run as many laps as we can,” said Church. “It’s a test weekend, just getting a feel for everything. And like I keep telling the guys — we’re here to learn all the stuff we don’t know. There’s a lot of things we don’t know… So we got gotta go and run and figure it out.”