Sunoco Whelen Challenge winner Stuart Middleton says he is “really excited” for the opportunity to compete for the overall win in January’s Rolex 24 at Daytona as the competition’s youngest ever winner.
The 18-year-old secured the prize drive with Action Express Racing for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season-opener on the back of his debut year in GT4 competition.
“It’s an amazing opportunity to have so early in my career and I can’t wait for it,” he told Sportscar365. “I should be getting some testing in in December.
“I’ve never really driven a prototype before so I’ll just have to see where I’m at to begin with and just get used to the car. We’ll see where exactly my pace is and what’s doable and comfortable.”
Middleton made his GT4 debut this season after finishing runner-up in the Ginetta Junior Championship in 2016. He won the close-fought British GT GT4 title in HHC Motorsport’s Ginetta G55 GT4 in September.
“With how I’ve proven myself in GT4 this year, I’ve got some confidence and I feel as if I’m quite good at adapting and getting used to different cars and constantly improving myself,” he said.
“I’m just really looking forward to seeing what I can do in one of those machines.
“As the season progressed, we had the realization that we were competitive enough to win the Sunoco Challenge. It was very close between me and my teammate in the end but I just managed to come out on top with a couple more points.”
Recent Sunoco Challenge winners have come from the British GT GT3 class with Jonny Adam and Seb Morris winning the drives in 2016 and 2017.
Middleton says he feels pleased to be able to repeat the success of some of the series’ most successful drivers after just one season competing in it.
“It’s pretty amazing, to be honest,” he said. “Obviously those guys are very experienced, have a good background and are very talented.
“It’s great to be recognized and follow in their footsteps so it’s quite exciting.”
Middleton Planning GT4 Return for 2018
While the Rolex 24 will be a considerable step up for Middleton, he says he still plans to return to GT4 for the remainder of 2018.
“At the moment, we haven’t really got anything confirmed but I want to look at staying in GT4,” he said. “We’ve got to consider possibly [racing in] Europe or potentially staying in British GT and defending the title.
“It’s quite an exciting time to be honest, and there’s a lot happening. I’m looking to stay with HHC, for sure, and they’ve done an amazing job so I can’t see why I shouldn’t consider them.”
Middleton recognizes that a strong result at Daytona could lead to new opportunities in the future, in prototypes and the U.S.
“I’ve got to consider everything, I suppose,” he said. “If I do well enough in the Rolex 24, and I prove myself then maybe it opens up a few more doors. I don’t really mind where I’m competing as long as it’s racing!”