It doesn’t always take winning races to be in the hunt for a championship at the end of a season.
For the No. 33 CJ Wilson Racing team, sitting third in the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge GS class standings just eight points out of the lead, the 2017 season has been about consistency and making the most of every race.
Winless so far this year, co-drivers Marc Miller and Till Bechtolsheimer have recorded two podium finishes in seven races, and have yet to finish below eighth. The No. 33 Porsche Cayman GT4 also is the only car to finish on the lead lap in every race this year.
“We have a championship-caliber team and I’m very thankful, as they have the type of drive to make a run at this,” said Miller. “Without that, it’d be very easy for them to have thrown in the towel when we were struggling for speed the first half of the season.
“I don’t think a win is out of the question this year. I’m sure as hell trying and I know they are too. If we can get a little bit of luck, it would go a long way for us in the championship to be able to get a win.”
For Miller, a Continental Tire Challenge veteran who made his 50th series start at Lime Rock Park last month, the best place to get that first win of the season might just be at next week’s Biscuitville Grand Prix at VIRginia International Raceway. He won the event in 2016 with then co-driver Danny Burkett.
Between Miller and Bechtolsheimer, the series veteran brings all the experience to the table at VIR. The circuit is the last of four tracks on the schedule this year where Bechtolsheimer, in the midst of his first full Continental Tire Challenge season, has not competed previously.
“It’s been hugely helpful having Marc as my co-driver this year with all the experience that he brings, especially because it’s been one of those seasons where we’re really having to play the long game,” said Bechtolsheimer, a UK native whose racing experience prior to 2016 consisted only of vintage car racing with zero starts in modern sports car competition.
“That’s been the name of the game for us and I think that takes a level of maturity and a level of experience to be able to deliver on that type of a season. I think having Marc continuing to point that out, it’s been really useful and it’s been really helpful for me.”
Four Continental Tire Challenge teams make up the top five slots in the GS championship standings, the top three of which are all a variation of a Porsche Cayman. And while the Caymans haven’t consistently been the fastest cars this season compared with the new GT4 models from McLaren, the Ford Mustang and the Chevrolet Camaro, the Porsches have demonstrated reliability and durability to get its teams to the finish.
“Obviously, Porsche has been known to build a very solid, reliable car and their customer program is top notch as far as support at the track and support away from the track,” said Miller. “But really, I believe the championship battle is the way it is with the three teams because it’s on the weight of the team’s shoulders more than anything.
“These are the three teams that haven’t been the fastest teams and that haven’t been in contention to win races as much as teams that have put their drivers in a position to finish well week after week and make the least amount of mistakes.
“I think as a brand, Porsche has developed a car that is a bit more reliable than some of the new GT4s have been this year and that’s translated well into giving some of the Porsche teams a shot at having this championship.”
And maybe the best is yet to come for the No. 33 CJ Wilson Racing team.
“I think the good news for us is that if we were to rank all 10 races… I think the final three would certainly be in the top half of that in terms of the track,” said Bechtolsheimer. “If the final three races of the year are all three races where we can do well, we can podium on, if we are consistent and the other guys make any kind of mistakes, then it’s ours for the taking.”
“I believe our team has learned a lot from last year,” Miller added. “We had a car we didn’t know 100 percent, but on race pace, it was typically one of the fastest cars on track. But we had a myriad of mistakes that took us out of the chance to win but we still put it on the podium.
“This year, you can’t have any of those mistakes and one of the offseason discussions was regardless of where our car’s pace is, any mistake in pit road is something that we cannot stand for. So far this season, the team has been just a perfect example of what pit stops should be like.
“It’s even more important when you don’t have a car that can set fast laps, lap after lap, that you need to be able to put yourself in a position to come in the pits and out of the pits in a place that you can race for a podium. We’ve been able to do that a handful of times this year and because of that, we find ourselves kind of in the thick of the championship fight.”