Following in the footsteps of the likes of Felipe Nasr, Jonny Adam and Phil Keen, the latest winner of the Sunoco Whelen Challenge is Seb Morris, who will make his endurance racing debut at the Rolex 24 at Daytona.
The 21-year-old Brit will join Eric Curran, Dane Cameron and Mike Conway in Action Express Racing’s No. 31 Cadillac DPi-V.R for the Rolex 24 this weekend, in both his first American race and his first endurance outing.
“It’s amazing, and it’s definitely a big step up from what I’m used to, but I’ve been training very hard for it for a good couple months at a training camp out in Wales, just to get my cardio fit enough,” he told Sportscar365 at Autosport International earlier this month.
“It’s a different level. In British GT, we do between half-an-hour and one-and-a-bit-hour stints. We’re doing three-hour stints here in a car that’s four times as physical, so you really have to raise your game, which has been good.
“We’ve done two really successful tests and we’ve had no problems with the car. We’ve done a lot of miles and I’m comfortable where I’m at.”
For Morris, who in 2016 competed in the British GT Championship, fighting for the overall win in a DPi at Daytona is clearly a massive step up, but one that he is confident about.
Before coming to GT3 racing last year, Morris’ previous experience was in single-seater series including the Formula Renault 2.0 series and the BRDC Formula 4 Championship, and so prototype racing is completely different for him.
A rigorous fitness program over the past few months has paid off, and Morris believe he is finally ready to do stints that are much longer than what he is used to.
“Luckily, one of my good strengths as a driver is that I can just get in anything and just run in it basically straight away,” he said.
“In the first test, I wasn’t fit enough to do three hours, and from the first test to the second I increased my fitness. My resting heart rate has gone down ten or 15 beats per minute, and I’ve noticed a difference.
“You realize how important it is when you get into something that top-end. We’re only a couple of seconds off an LMP1 car, so that’s how fast they are. It reaps rewards really, when I got there the second time.
“I was completely in my comfort zone and I didn’t feel like the car was driving me, but that I was driving the car, so I’m looking forward to the race itself.”
As well as the physical fitness, Morris has also focused on preparing for the mental challenge that comes with the Rolex 24.
“I’ve got a simulator at home so I’ve been doing two or three-hour stints on there, just to get your mind used to how long it is,” he said.
“It’s a different mindset, and you don’t drive it 100 percent, you drive it 85, 90 percent, and you never take risks.
“The biggest thing will be [that you’re] overtaking anywhere between ten and 20 cars a lap.
“If you make one mistake in traffic, that’s the whole race over, so the team keeps stressing to me the importance of not overdoing it in traffic, and making clean, decisive and bold moves.
“Especially the Porsches, and the Corvettes, they’ll just block you – they’re not interested. There’s no rules over there as to [having to] let you pass. You get some GT cars even defending into corners so you have to go around the outside. It’s pretty hairy stuff.
“Even though it’s physical, that’s not the hardest bit, it’s the concentration. It takes a lot of mental strength but I’m looking forward to the challenge.
“It’s by far the biggest thing I’ve done on my CV to date.”
In addition to the race itself, Morris is excited for the further opportunities that might come from winning the Sunoco Challenge, especially once he’ll have the experience of completing a 24-hour race.
The Challenge is open to participants in several British series that use Sunoco fuel, and entrants are awarded points based on their performance in their full-season series, and so don’t necessarily directly compete against each other.
The prize for winning the challenge has been the same for the past few years: a drive with the Whelen-sponsored No. 31 Action Express crew at the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season-opener.
“Towards the middle of the [British GT season], I was more focused on winning the Sunoco Challenge than the GT3 Championship,” he admitted.
“You get no prize for winning that, and you get a massive prize for doing this. It is a huge thing to put on your CV.
“Having spoke to manufacturers, one of the main reasons that I couldn’t get drives and deals for the Spa 24 was because they’ll say, ‘you haven’t done an endurance race, we don’t know where you’ll be at.’
“To have that ticked off your list, at such a high level, one of the biggest races in the world now, in the best team, is a prize that I’d never fully appreciated until I get there.
“To be with the best teammates and the best car, I can’t wait to get going really. The main thing is I just want to get a good result, and try and win it.”