Following his first career IMSA win at Monterey in only his sixth start in the U.S., Markus Palttala put himself on the map in the North American sports car racing scene.
Now, the flying Finn is looking to continue the momentum this weekend in Detroit, as he and Turner Motorsport co-driver Dane Cameron go for two-in-a-row in the highly competitive GT Daytona class.
“We lost the points in Daytona, which was a shock for the title hopes. Obviously with Laguna, we’re back in the game,” Palttala told Sportscar365.
“But it means that if we have a couple of good weekends, we might be up there with at least with a fighting chance. We want to keep the momentum going.”
Palttala may not yet be a household name to many U.S. sports car racing fans but the 36-year-old brings more than a decade’s worth of GT experience from Europe.
Most recently, he’s played a key role in the success of the BMW Z4 GT3, having helped take the factory-supported Marc VDS Racing outfit to the Blancpain Endurance Series teams’ championship last year.
“I’ve been driving the Z4 for three years now,” Palttala said. “Even though I’m leaning the track I can still test things. I think that’s one of the strong points.
“You need a good lineup to win these kind of races. With my experience with the car, I can do half of the setup work, which is an advantage.
“I think running the Z4 in Europe, even though it’s quite different, it helps here. I’ve been doing a lot of the different championships and races there. All that experience helps.”
Having switched from tube-framed M3s to the FIA GT3-based Z4 for 2014, the Will Turner-owned squad has been able to rely on Palttala’s knowledge, which has helped the steep learning curve.
For Silver-rated Palttala, who has taken the seat of longtime Turner driver Paul Dalla Lana, he remains on a race-to-race schedule, but is hopeful to complete the remainder of the season, particularly given their recent run of success.
“They called me to do the Daytona test and if that went well, I’d do the race. Then it continued in Sebring, Laguna and now here. It’s been a dream come true,” Palttala said.
“The original plan was that after Daytona, I’d be the third driver for the long ones, but with Paul stepping out opened up a seat for me. But it’s up to [Paul] if he wants to come back.
“I’m just race by race and hoping I can do many of them. I think the whole team is hoping to continue and they seem to be happy to me. So if they go on, I’m on the pole for the seat.”
With Cameron having qualified yellow and blue-liveried BMW in fourth, Palttala is optimistic about their chances for today’s 100-minute race, but knowing that things can change in a heartbeat.
“We won at Laguna by not being the fastest but a really great pitstop and awesome strategy calls,” he said. “That’s what you need here. I think overtaking will be pretty tough.”
It’s shaping up to be an extremely busy summer for the Finn, as he travels to Brands Hatch next weekend for his NASCAR EuroSeries debut, followed by a late call-up to do the 24 Hours of Le Mans, filling in for the injured Matthieu Vaxiviere in the No. 75 Prospeed Competition Porsche.
“Of course, it’s really unfortunate what happened to Matthieu,” said Palttala, who will be making his third start at Le Mans. “I’m not enjoying that reason why I got there. But obviously when that happened and I got there, and they needed a driver, it was great that they called me.
“I know they had a lot of other options and I’m grateful that they chose me.”
After Le Mans, it will be off to the Nurburgring 24 in one of the Marc VDS BMWs, followed by the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen with Turner and expected additional TUDOR Championship and VLN rounds that is likely to keep Palttala busy every weekend through mid-August.