Swelling to a two-car program for 2018 allowed JDC-Miller Motorsports to strengthen the competitive depth in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s premier Prototype class, but the depth of knowledge held by the team may have been impacted most.
A strong final season competing in Prototype Challenge included victories at Daytona and Long Beach for the Minnesota-based team and was followed by its graduation to Prototype in 2017 with a single ORECA 07. The fourth-place championship result for Misha Goikhberg and Stephen Simpson during the first year of the combined DPi/LMP2 category was matched this past season, all while team owner John Church led his group into new territory.
Doubling the driver lineup is one example of an obvious change involved in acquiring and racing a second car as JDC-Miller did in 2018. Looking further, the new on-track possibilities and strategic considerations afforded by fielding two cars instead of one are not immediately evident to fans and multiply the natural progress a racing team makes in the span of a season.
The JDC-Miller team had come to grips enough with ORECA’s new LMP2 offering in 2017 to have a strong baseline from which to begin again with its pair of machines in 2018.
“At the end of 2017, we were at the stage where we had a good balance and I was happy with the car but then to take a car that you’re happy with with a good balance and try and make it better and faster, it’s not very easy to do that, but I feel like we were able to,” Simpson, who has driven with JDC-Miller since its foray into sports car racing, told The Apex.
A daring move past both Jordan Taylor and Juan Pablo Montoya during the final restart at this year’s Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen put Simpson and the Gibson-powered No. 99 ORECA in position to earn JDC-Miller its first Prototype victory. While Simpson’s outright speed kept him out front through to the checkered flag, it was a critically timed pit stop that made the breakthrough win possible.
The literal growth of the team, as seen on the entry list and in the paddock, had an impact on the racetrack that allowed JDC-Miller to take its next steps as a capable program competing at the height of sports car racing in North America.
“That was also a big change for this year: Having the two cars meant we had two timing stands,” Simpson said. “We had a whole other timing stand of guys — and clever guys. While we don’t really talk too much during the race, it definitely meant some of the ideas evolved in terms of strategy in the race, when are we going to pit, what is our strategy going into the race, what decisions are we going to be making as the race goes on and Scenario A, Scenario B, Scenario C.
“It’s obviously another season under our belts and the guys on the timing stand who are making those decisions, another year under their belts in terms of the wave-bys and the caution periods. It can be a little bit tricky when it goes yellow. Is it a short yellow? Is it a long yellow? Where are we on track? Are we going to get a wave around? Do we qualify for these things? Is it worth pitting if we are at the back of the train, maybe losing one position versus, if we’re at the front of the line, potentially losing seven or eight positions if we were to pit?
“I give the guys on the timing stand — John Church mainly because he’s the one on the radio — a lot of credit for that. They have definitely taken a step forward, another step forward I should say, from a strategic point of view. So that’s been exciting to see how that’s developed as well.”
New names and faces within the team contributed to the reconsidered, refreshed philosophy that made 2018 significant for JDC-Miller.
“One of the big changes from 2017 to 2018 was our engineer,” said Simpson. “We had John Hayes come aboard this year. John, a very, very clever guy as well, has some great ideas. We’ve built up a very strong relationship. It took a few races but we got there and we’ve got a great working relationship. John Hayes brought some new ideas and a new philosophy to the team which ultimately helped us take another step forward.”
Five years after participating in the team’s first sports car race, Simpson will play a key role again in JDC-Miller’s next chapter as he partners with Simon Trummer for the full season in one of the team’s two brand-new Cadillac DPi-V.Rs in 2019.
“The next step, from a team point of view, is for us to be winning more than one race a year and ultimately be contending for a championship,” the South African said.
“The team is going to be around a long time and we want to make sure, looking back in 10 or 15 years’ time, that JDC-Miller Motorsports is one of the top sports car teams in the country and hopefully has been for a number of years.”
The Roar Before the Rolex 24 test set for Jan. 4–6, 2019 will see Simpson and his JDC-Miller co-drivers pedal the team’s new Cadillac DPi cars publicly for the first time. Later in the month, the team will aim for its greatest success yet in the Rolex 24 at Daytona.