JDC-Miller Believes It’s Leveled the Playing Field in GTP

By John Oreovicz

IMSA Wire Service

JDC-Miller MotorSports has been looking forward to the 2024 Rolex 24 At Daytona for two years. That’s because the Minneapolis-based team was reduced to the role of interested spectator at Daytona last year while awaiting delivery of a new Porsche 963.

And while the bright yellow JDC-Miller Porsche finally made its Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) debut at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in May, the team spent the remainder of the 2023 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship not so much playing catch-up as preparing to compete on a level playing field in 2024.

“We’re in way better shape starting this year than last year, for sure,” says team co-principal John Church. “Last year was kind of a big test session, then we had a test at the end of last year which was somewhat productive. So, we’re definitely starting this year on much better footing, much better prepared and we’re feeling good about where we are today versus a year ago. It’s like anything else in the racing world: You gain knowledge and expertise over time and we’re definitely in a better spot.”

It’s not as though JDC-Miller was just testing last year, witness the fact that Tijmen van der Helm and Mike Rockenfeller finished one place off the podium at Watkins Glen International and Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. Still, Job 1 in 2023 was learning about the car and its complex hybrid system in order to establish a solid platform for the full 2024 campaign.

“From a setup standpoint, we’re a lot smarter than we were last year,” Church says. “We kind of stuck to our guns in terms of treating it as a test year; not getting carried away with too many things. So now we have the benefit of hindsight and a six-race season plus a few test days to go back and put together the greatest hits and bring that to the track and start working from there.”

Although the core personnel are back for another go with the No. 85 JDC-Miller Porsche 963 (a change from running as the No. 5 last season), the driver lineup is at once nearly all new yet familiar, young yet experienced. Van der Helm is the only returning driver this year. Did someone say young? The Dutchman will celebrate his 24th birthday the day before the Rolex 24. He’ll be joined in the IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup races by another 24-year-old, Phil Hanson, who became the youngest FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) champion when he captured the 2020 Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) title.

Familiar? Hugely experienced? Veteran Richard Westbrook, who campaigned the full 2022 season with JDC-Miller in the former Daytona Prototype international (DPi) class, will team with van der Helm for the full schedule. And 52-years-young Ben Keating will rejoin the team for the Rolex 24, an event in which he and Westbrook helped JDC-Miller to a podium finish in 2022.

“They all bring something special and unique to the table,” Church says. “We had them all at a test just before Christmas. They all worked together, got along well. It was awesome to see the camaraderie and how they instantly gelled.

“It’s never easy. It’s never perfect. But I think we’ve got one of our better lineups together for this one.”

Van der Helm qualified ninth on Sunday for the upcoming Rolex 24 in a tightly packed field that saw the top nine clustered within a second of each other and all nine better the previous track record. It’s another sign of how close the GTP competition is and an indicator that JDC-Miller will need one of its better lineups to go toe-to-toe with heavyweights like defending GTP champion Action Express Racing and the likes of Cadillac Racing (Chip Ganassi Racing), Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti, Porsche Penske Motorsport and BMW M Team RLL. It’s a formidable challenge, but one that has seen JDC-Miller punch above its weight in the past, witness wins in the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen (2018) and the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring (2021).

“It’s always a challenge,” Church says. “I enjoy the competition and I think for the most part we all compete fairly and respect each other. For me, that’s the most satisfying part of the whole thing: We’re out there competing against the big boys and we have our successes from time to time. We’re always learning and trying to bring a better package to the next race.

“When the green flag drops, the whole David/Goliath thing goes out the window and we’re all running around as equals. Then it comes down to average pace and how well you execute.

“We’re out there to compete with everybody else and I think we do a pretty good job. We’ve proven that in the past, and I’m looking forward to the challenge ahead. Hopefully one of these days we’re going to be one of those powerhouse teams that people go, ‘Whoa! How do go up against JDC-Miller and all their experience?’ But I’ve got to put in another 20-30 years before I get to that point!”