The 2016 racing season has been a whirlwind for WeatherTech Racing’s Gunnar Jeannette, and the team’s recent withdrawal from IMSA and subsequent entrance into Pirelli World Challenge competition for the final two race weekends of the year is just the latest example.
From a one-off ride with the Alex Job Racing-run team for the season-opening Rolex 24 at Daytona to last week’s announcement that he would be campaigning the team’s No. 97 Porsche 911 GT3 R in the top GT class alongside a GTA entry for Cooper MacNeil, coupled with a joint SprintX effort, this season has kept the 34-year-old Floridian on his toes.
“There has been a lot of stuff going on this year,” Jeannette told Sportscar365. “For me personally, it started as just doing Daytona as a one-off with the possibility of doing the rest of the long races, and it has just grown from there.”
Jeannette said the team’s decision to cross over into World Challenge was born out of mounting frustrations with the Porsche’s performance in IMSA GTD trim, as well as a desire to try something new.
“The raceability of the Porsche has gotten worse throughout the year,” he said. “With the way things had fallen this year, we wanted to try doing a couple of World Challenge rounds.
“Over the last couple of years, the grid in World Challenge has definitely grown, and the competition has gotten very good.
“It’s a very different type of racing, and particularly Cooper wanted to go over there and race against the the guys that he’s raced against in the past.
“The opportunity came up to try and do a couple of World Challenge races, and for me personally it’s awesome to go off and run a second car.”
Jeannette said the rancor surrounding the team’s decision has been disappointing given the MacNeil’s commitment to sports car racing both in the cockpit and through the WeatherTech brand, of which David MacNeil is the CEO.
“There was a lot of talk about BoP and this and that and why we’re moving over, and there’s been a lot of negativity,” he said.
“It’s difficult to hear that because the MacNeils, both David and Cooper, have done a lot for sports car racing in the last ten years.
“Obviously with the title sponsorship of IMSA currently, it’s not something that we got into the series this year with the intention of pulling out or doing something else.
“It came to a point where the Porsche in racing terms was very difficult as our restrictor stayed the same and they kept adding weight throughout the year, and it just got more and more frustrating every race weekend.”
Jeannette said the focus now is on adapting quickly to the different regulations and, critically, the Pirelli tires used in World Challenge. That process got started with a brief test at Road Atlanta at the end of June.
“We did one day at Road Atlanta, which was a test that we had originally planned as a pre-Petit [Le Mans] test, and it sort of transformed into just trying to get as much knowledge as possible on the Pirellis,” he said.
“I would say we have by no means figured out exactly what the tire needs from both a setup and a driving standpoint.
“It is very different from the Continental. With Sonoma being an IndyCar weekend and only having the two 30-minute practice sessions, we’re going to need all the help we can get.”
Jeannette, who has one World Challenge start to his name dating back to Sebring in 2004, said he was looking forward to a chance to compete in a series he has mostly followed from afar.
“I definitely follow the series,” he said. “I try to pay as much attention as possible because as a driver you want to race in anything you can and you never know where you’re going to end up going next.
“The level of competition is very high right now. Going to Sonoma, it’s a track that Porsche has done well at.
“EFFORT won one of the races last year, so while it may not be the strongest car in terms of outright power and downforce, as a package it’s definitely capable, although obviously the 991 is going to be different than the 997 that won last year.”
With limited time to come to terms with the change in tires and regulations, the team is keeping its expectations muted for its World Challenge debut at Sonoma, but they remain optimistic.
“It would be wrong to say our expectation is to go out and win straight away because the level of competition is very high and we just don’t have much experience with the tire and don’t know everything we need to in order get the tire working in the best manner yet,” he said.
“The goal is to show well and learn, and getting one team on the podium definitely isn’t out of reach.”