One driver eagerly looking ahead to 2017 is Alexander Sims, who was announced in December as a full-season driver in BMW Team RLL’s reshuffled IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship driver lineup.
This will be a whole new experience for the 28-year-old Brit, who enjoyed a breakout year in 2016 highlighted by winning the Total 24 Hours of Spa outright with ROWE Racing.
But while Sims’ racing focus has largely centered on Europe up until now, in 2017 his attention will be on the North American scene, with a full-season GT Le Mans program.
“Roll back, two or three years, and I would have bitten your hand off if you had said this was on the cards,” he told Sportscar365. “So I’m thoroughly excited to go over to the States to do such a high-level program with BMW, with Rahal.
“It’s pretty mad, really. [We’re] adding an art car into the mix as well, at Daytona. It’s just lots of things that I can tick off my list of things achieved, when I hadn’t expected to do those so early in my career. [It’s an] awesome feeling.”
Despite having never actually raced a car on American soil, Sims is feeling confident with the IMSA season fast approaching.
He explains that the BMW M6 GTLM he will be sharing with Bill Auberlen is largely similar to the GT3 variant he has become accustomed to in 2016, and that the transition into a new team is going smoothly.
“So far, it’s been very straightforward to fit in,” he said. “I don’t anticipate any major issues. Knowing the car obviously helps things, because everytime I sit in the race car I feel at home.
“In terms of working with the team, it’s a non-issue in terms of the newness of the people to me. They’re all very professional and go about their job in the right way. It’s pretty non-eventful in that side of things.
“I’ve got on well with Bill. He’s very experienced but very friendly and open as well, which is really helpful for me. We’ve got to work together through the whole season, and I’m sure, with the amount of seasons he’s got, he’s got his head screwed on the right way.
“I guess there won’t be too much going from my side to his side, but anything he can do to help me is going to help him in the process.”
So far, Sims has completed two one-day tests at Sebring and Circuit of The Americas, and soon he will be heading out to Daytona for the Roar Before the 24, to get some track time ahead of the season-opening WeatherTech Championship round on Jan. 26-29.
“I’ve had very little track time,” he admitted. “I’ve only done two days of testing in race cars, so I have very little experience in that regard.
“Obviously I know the M6 very well and the GTLM version is not that much different to the GT3, so I’m looking forward to it, although I’m fully aware that lots of challenges lay ahead.”
As far as the comparison between the GT3 and GTLM versions of the M6, Sims says that there is only really one main difference from the drivers’ point of view.
“The lack of ABS is the biggest difference, I would say, but even so it’s only a matter of a few laps before you get your head around it,” he explained.
“Obviously there are small nuances at every track – different bumps and things – that you maybe have to apply different brake pressure to, because you don’t have the ABS in the background working, but it’s not that you’ve got to learn how to drive the car without ABS.
“I’ve done quite a few years of single-seaters and a season of LMP2 without ABS, so I know the deal in terms of running the car without out.”
Sims’ 2016 season featured appearances in the Nürburgring 24, VLN, Blancpain GT Series and British GT Championship among others.
Only a return to the N24 is confirmed so far in addition to his busy IMSA schedule, but there are chances of more outings, he explains.
“As far as anything else goes, I honestly don’t know at this stage,” he said. “Nothing’s planned. It’s early days still, in terms of some championships and some deals.
“I don’t know where BMW is going to stand, if they’ve got other drives that might pop up during the season, or not. At the moment, IMSA is my main program.”