Stephen Simpson heads into this weekend’s Continental Tire Road Race Showcase on the heels of two monumental victories in two IMSA-sanctioned series in two dramatic late-race passes for the win.
Pulling double duty in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge for the third consecutive year, the JDC-Miller Motorsports driver has been on a roll as of late.
To kick off July in the WeatherTech Championship Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen, Simpson, co-driving the No. 99 Oreca 07 Gibson with Misha Goikhberg and Chris Miller, made a thrilling three-wide pass during the final stint of the race to deliver the team’s first Prototype.
“Obviously the Sahlen’s win is special for a number of reasons,” said Simpson, who also celebrated his first Fourth of July as a U.S. citizen at Watkins Glen.
“The fact that we came close last year and to go back this year and do one better and win the race, I think that shows a lot about the character of the team and what we’re capable of doing.
“To get the Red Dragon back into victory lane, that was very special and to have that happen only half a season into our GAINSCO Auto Insurance partnership.
“I shouldn’t say it wasn’t expected because we always go to the racetrack with the goal of winning races, but to do that at such a big race was great.”
Yet his pass at Watkins Glen wouldn’t be the last time Simpson would show off his skill in the month of July.
During the Continental Tire Challenge race at Lime Rock Park last month, Simpson battled door-to-door in the closing minutes of the race with Kenton Koch for the win in the TCR class.
Simpson held second place in the No. 54 JDC-Miller Audi RS 3 LMS TCR, but as the two drivers came down the front straightaway towards the checkered flag, he ducked to the inside and powered past Koch by a nose for the win.
The photo finish was the third-closest margin of victory in Continental Tire Challenge history.
It also was an emotional first professional racing win for Simpson’s co-driver Michael Johnson, who was paralyzed from the waist down in a motorcycle incident at age 12.
Having coached Johnson since 2011 and competing in the Continental Tire Challenge together since 2016, Simpson wanted nothing more than to deliver for his co-driver.
“He definitely deserves it,” Simpson said. “He’s worked very hard both in and out of the race car over the years and especially the last two years when we were racing in the Street Tuner class, it was a challenge.
“I kept on saying to him after so many tough weekends that I can’t wait for him to be in a situation and in a race car where he can really show everybody else what he’s capable of doing.”
And there’s reason to believe the Lime Rock win wasn’t a fluke for Simpson and Johnson, as the team has steadily moved forward throughout the season.
In the three races prior to Lime Rock, the No. 54 team finished fourth at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, then finished third at Watkins Glen and second at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.
With the elusive first win finally captured, Simpson is looking forward with his teammate, not backward.
“I’m very proud of where (Michael’s) at, but at the same time I’m also excited for the future,” said Simpson. “I think this is really a milestone for him, but I think there’s a lot more to come from him as well.”
The wins weren’t only for his JDC-Miller team or his co-drivers, they also were for Simpson himself.
The memory of missed opportunities has lingered for the South African driver and now, he feels he is finally able to let those feelings go.
“I’m proud of my performance,” said Simpson. “I feel like I’ve had some good performances over the last couple of years – and I don’t think I was really at risk of this – but I certainly didn’t want to get any reputation that I could do really well and come close to winning races, but never actually seal the deal.
“The Sahlen’s win was a big one and, I think to a certain degree, just showed that I can actually finish the job. The same can be said for Lime Rock as well.”