New Michelin Pilot Challenge Team Boasts Winning Pedigree

By Mark Robinson

IMSA Wire Service

A pair of storied names in racing – Daytona 500 winner Derrike Cope and five-time Rolex 24 At Daytona winner Andy Lally – are teaming to launch an IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge team this week at Sebring International Raceway.

StarCom Racing, owned by Cope, has entered the No. 12 Hyundai Elantra N in the Touring Car (TCR) class for Friday’s Alan Jay Automotive Network 120. Lally makes his return to the Michelin Pilot Challenge and will co-drive the No. 12 with series newcomer Nick Tucker.

Cope, who won the “Great American Race” in 1990, was most recently a NASCAR Cup Series team owner until selling his charter to Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan for what is now 23XI Racing. When Cope and his partners sought out a new series to venture into, the Michelin Pilot Challenge quickly rose to the top of the list.

“I felt like the IMSA side of road racing was maybe something that we should look at,” said Cope, also a two-time starter in the Rolex 24 At Daytona. “It was all about looking for an entry-level thing that had marketplace credibility and I thought that the Michelin Pilot Challenge series was the ticket to the dance.”

Cope also quickly landed on Hyundai as the team’s manufacturer partner, citing the marque’s five straight team and driver TCR championships and four consecutive manufacturer titles, as well as readily available factory support through Bryan Herta Autosport.

“I just looked at every aspect and I felt that the Hyundai from a business model perspective was the best choice,” Cope said. “They’re (BHA) very transparent and very helpful. They offered for us to have technical data and video data as far as all of that access to what they’re doing. … That’s expedited our learning curve.”

Adding a veteran of Lally’s caliber will speed up that learning curve as well. Lally owns 34 career wins in IMSA’s top-level series as well as nine in Michelin Pilot Challenge competition, though he hasn’t driven full-time in the latter for 10 years. Cope and Lally met and became friends when Cope raced in the Rolex 24 in 2002. They nearly struck a deal years later for Lally to drive for Cope on NASCAR road courses.

“That didn’t pan out but when they launched their IMSA program, Derrike gave me a ring and I was all about it,” Lally said. “I’ve always loved Michelin Pilot Challenge; I’ve been in it through so many names starting with Motorola Cup to Grand-Am Cup to Koni Challenge to Michelin Pilot Challenge and all that. It’s where I got my first professional race win in 1999, 25 years ago, so it’s been always a desire to be back in that series as I probably see some of the craziest stuff and smile the most behind the wheel as I do any other series that I ever run.”

Signed on currently for Sebring only, Lally will focus this week on helping Tucker – a former NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and World of Outlaws driver – get up to speed in the much-different Hyundai TCR. He also admits excitement over racing in the class for the first time himself.

“The Touring Car series has always been a bunch of fun,” Lally said, “and every one of my friends that have been running it through the years have always gushed to me about how competitive and how fun those cars are to battle. That’s always what I’m looking for.”

Thirty-nine cars are entered this week, 27 in the Grand Sport (GS) class and 12 in TCR. Robby Foley returns to defend his GS and overall win in the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M4 GT4 (G82), though he has a new co-driver in Francis Selldorff. The same holds true for Tim Lewis in TCR, as he is the reigning class winner but is paired with a new partner in the No. 5 KMW Motorsports with TMR Engineering Alfa Romeo Giulietta Veloce TCR, William Tally.

Riley Dickinson and Michael McCarthy (No. 91 Kellymoss with Riley Posche 718 GT4 RS Clubsport) are the GS points leaders after winning the BMW M Endurance Challenge at Daytona in January. Chris Miller and Mikey Taylor (No. 17 Unitronic/JDC-Miller MotorSports Audi RS3 LMS TCR) head up TCR points after also winning at Daytona.

Following practice and qualifying on Wednesday and Thursday, Friday’s two-hour race streams live at 3:15 p.m. ET on Peacock (in the U.S.) and (internationally).