After five years climbing up the European sports car ladder, Connor De Phillippi says he’s looking forward to returning to home soil with BMW Team RLL next season.
The Californian will race the new BMW M8 GTE for the full IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season after having been signed as a BMW North America factory driver.
“It’s obviously a huge opportunity and I’m really thrilled to be coming back to the U.S. and have a chance to be at ‘home’ and race at tracks that I’ve always raced on, growing up here in the States and driving formula cars,” he told Sportscar365.
De Phillippi made the move to Europe in 2013 and has spent the majority of his time racing on the other side of the Atlantic, first as a Porsche Junior before joining Land Motorsport last year.
“I’ve just been going wherever I can go to and put myself in a position to show what I can do,” he said. “It took five years to get my name to this level and I had a really good year this year with endurance racing.
“As far as BMW, they approached me from the Munich side originally. I was on their radar and that was only possible by being in Europe and living there.
“I almost fell off the U.S. radar but I knew that if you wanted to get involved with a big manufacturer, that’s where you had to be. That’s where all the U.S. guys who have ever gotten an opportunity have gone.
“When it comes to earning the respect of the big manufacturers, they want to see how you perform in their environment, which I’ve been able to do the last couple of years.”
He raced in the Porsche Carrera Cup Germany and Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup before winning the ADAC GT Masters title last year and the Nürburgring 24 in May, both with the Land squad.
“It’s been a lot of hard work the last five years, and especially the last two, with a lot of digging deep and trying to make the most of opportunities,” De Phillippi said.
“I won a championship, I won my first big 24-hour race, and I’m fluent in German, so I think that adds a little cherry on top as an American driving for a German brand.
“Being a factory driver is every sports car guy’s dream, to have that little bit of security and that support.
“I had some good options coming into this next year but I was just trying to figure out what would put me in the best position and what would allow me to come and race here in the States.
“BMW has given me a great opportunity, that’s why I’m here, and I’m looking forward to making the most of it.”
De Phillippi Excited to Work with Auberlen
De Phillippi joins the Bobby Rahal-led RLL squad at the same time as veteran Bill Auberlen steps back to an endurance-only program while taking up a role as a BMW North America brand ambassador.
The 24-year-old said he’s looking forward to working with Auberlen, who picked up his 151st race win with the German manufacturer at Motul Petit Le Mans, a race that De Phillippi claimed GT Daytona class honors in, and stresses that he isn’t replacing the veteran BMW driver.
“It’s going to be great to drive with guys like Bill still in the team for the endurance races,” De Phillippi said. “He has tons of experience.
“I know some people have said I’m replacing Bill Auberlen but that’s definitely not the case. A guy like Bill is not being replaced, and you can’t replace him!
“In my opinion, they’re actually trying to leverage him even more and he’s more involved with the customer side and still involved with the GTLM side. This is something I’m really excited about, especially because he’s from California.
“A long, long time ago, he and I had a conversation, because we have some mutual friends, about trying to get into the sports car side. To come back this many years later and be his teammate in some way is a pretty small world.
“If you look at his career and the longevity and success of it, what more could a driver want?
“If I can be with them for the next 20 years, win lots of races, and hopefully some day go to Le Mans, that would be my big bucket list.”
John Dagys contributed to this report