IMSA Spotlight: Brian Till
FOX Sports IMSA Broadcaster
Looking back at the 2016 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season, what were the biggest surprises from your point of view?
“Perhaps the biggest surprise was just how close the racing was throughout the four different classes. There was always something going on. In all, I believe there were 55 drivers who celebrated a victory this season in one of the four classes.
“There were five different winning teams in the prototype category in ten races. The points margin in the drivers championship was only in double digits once (a 10-point lead for Derani/van Overbeek/Sharp/Brown after their Sebring win) and remained in single digits for the remainder of the season.
“Four of the five manufactures in GTLM won, with Risi waiting until Petit Le Mans. But when talking about GTLM, maybe the surprise was the lack of a victory for BMW Team RLL. On paper that program looked solid, but in the end, finding a handle on the new car seemed to be an insurmountable challenge.
“It was no surprise to see Scuderia Corsa with another championship, this time with former champion Alessandro Balzan and Christina Nielsen. It wasn’t easy by any means. The No. 23 Alex Job/Heart of Racing Porsche of Alex Riberas and Mario Farnbacher was stunningly quick at times. The only surprise there was the inability to turn the speed into more than just the one win at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
“In Prototype Challenge, perhaps the surprise was the win at the Rolex 24 at Daytona for JDC/Miller Motorsports. It’s not that the team hadn’t shown pace in the past as Stephen Simpson has shown repeatedly that he can get the job done behind the wheel and he seems to bring a sense of cohesiveness to the program. But the Rolex 24 is another animal altogether.”
What are your thoughts heading into next year with the new-look Prototype class? Do you think DPi/LMP2 will deliver closer racing?
“We all know that in life as well as in racing, if you stand still you’re going to get passed by. The series has done an excellent job over the past several seasons in blending two different personalities (The Rolex Series and ALMS) to arrive at where we’re heading in to 2017.
“I think the move to the DPi/LMP2 machinery will do a couple of things. First, it will put the IMSA prototype championship back on the world stage by making it accessible to anyone who owns/runs a LMP2 based prototype (some restrictions apply). That in and of itself will attract renewed global interest in the Rolex 24 as well as the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring.
“Second, I believe the car in the hands of a non-professional/non-fulltime driver is probably a bit more forgiving and a bit ‘easier’ for that driver to close the delta on the professional/full-time driver with. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that it’s an easy car to drive. I’m just saying that with the aerodynamics and the level of technology present, the cars seem to help close the delta a bit to the full-time pro drivers and are consequently more pleasant to drive.
“That alone may attract more non-full-time drivers to the endurance events. More drivers equals more cars equals fuller fields. We will see.
“Will it deliver closer racing? I don’t know if it can be any closer than we saw this year. If it is, I’ll have to up the dosage on my blood pressure medication!”
How did you get your start in broadcasting?
“My entrée into broadcasting came about because of my 1990 Toyota Atlantic Championship. I won the East Coast division and Rookie of the Year in 1990 and at that time, all of the races were televised. Jim Michaelian (of the Long Beach Grand Prix) was heading up production the broadcasts at the time and after winning the championship he asked if I might be interested in doing color-commentary for the broadcasts the following season if they didn’t interfere with my Indy Lights program. I said, ‘sure!’ not knowing a THING about television!
“Wow…what a ride its been! I did a season (maybe two?) of the Atlantic broadcasts and then focused on my driving career. In 1995, I took on a new challenge: competing in the Trans-Am Series. Legendary motorsports producer John Mullin was producing the Trans-Am Series that year and at Road America he took several drivers out (including me), placed them on different corners and had them give a description of a Trans-Am car through that particular corner. After that weekend, he gave me a call and asked if I was interested in doing some more broadcasting.
“I’m not sure how many seasons I worked with John after that, but it has been a lot. He is, to this day, one of the best mentors I have ever had in the business. We’ve done Atlantics, Trans-Am, the SCCA Run-offs, ASA and dirt modifieds together. I worked with him on the Toyota Pro-Celebrity Race at Long Beach for so many years I’ve lost count.
“And because of people like Jim Michaelian, John Mullin and countless others at SPEED, FOX, NBC, ABC, ESPN and CBS, I have literally had the opportunity to travel around the world covering a sport that I love while hopefully entertaining people in the process.”
What made you ultimately give up on your career in professional driving?
“’A man’s got to know his limitations.’ I can’t remember which movie that line comes from but it was appropriate to my racing.
“I started racing in karts as many ‘kids’ do. The problem was, I wasn’t a kid when I started… I was 23 years old and a student at Baylor University. All I ever really wanted to do was drive a Formula Ford like I had seen at the SCCA races throughout the Southwest Division.
“I thought that when I graduated and had a job, perhaps I could eventually parlay my experience at the Heart of Texas Kart Club in Waco, Texas into some wins in a regional SCCA race. The funny thing? I’ve never driven a proper Formula Ford!
“I was, and am, incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to work my way up the racing ladder. I’ve won races in every series I’ve raced in except Trans-Am and CART. I have podium finishes in every series I’ve competed in except CART. What does that mean? It means I was a decent race car driver… not a special/exceptional/extraordinary/damned good racecar driver. I also didn’t have a checkbook.
“At some point you have to take a good hard look. If you have decent talent but the ‘art of the deal’ is not in your bag of skills, motorsports can be an ugly place. If you want to stay involved, its probably not going to be behind the wheel.”
What has been your proudest moment in your racing/broadcasting career?
“I’ve had the good fortune to do/be involved with some pretty special events throughout my time in this business. From competing in the Indianapolis 500 to calling the 24 Hours of Le Mans or racing an IndyCar around the Long Beach circuit to broadcasting an IndyCar race from the same venue some 21 years later, it’s been quite the ride.
“The proudest moment? I can’t single one out either from the driving side or the broadcasting side.
“Maybe the way I look at it is this. Every time I would climb in the cockpit or every time I enter the booth or step in to pit lane I focused/focus on being the best I can be. If I do my job well, someone will want me to do it again. So maybe its that next phone call that makes me proud… proud of what I’ve done before that makes someone want to include me the next time around.”
If you had the chance to cover one race you haven’t done yet, which one would it be?
“Simple. No question. On the bucket list. Beyond a shadow of a doubt… The Indianapolis 500.”