It’s time to put the anticipation in the rearview mirror and get down to the business of racing again for everyone in the Silver Hare Racing camp as they head to iconic Sebring (Fla.) International Raceway for Saturday’s season-opening event on the Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli’s newly renamed Big Machine Vodka Spiked Coolers TA2 Series tour.
Saturday’s Sebring SpeedTour, the first of 12 events of 2023, has been circled on the Silver Hare calendar for more than three months. Moments after the checkered flag waved on the 2022 season Nov. 6 at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) in Austin, Texas, in fact. That’s when 16-year-old Connor Zilisch was last seen hoisting the runner-up trophy after a race-long battle with series veteran Thomas Merrill and crossing the finish line a mere .881 of a second behind the 2022 series champion. It was the best performance of Zilisch’s rookie season as driver of the No. 5 Silver Hare Racing Chevrolet Camaro and immediately set his sights on this weekend’s festivities in South Central Florida.
Zilisch, who hails from Mooresville, North Carolina, will be joined by another highly touted young driving phenom beginning this weekend, 14-year-old Ben Maier from Chester, Maryland, who will be making his TA2 debut behind the wheel of the No. 75 Gel Blaster/Silver Hare Racing Chevrolet Camaro.
It was a rookie season of mixed results for Zilisch in 2022, first highlighted by a pair of solid top-five finishes on back-to-back weekends in the spring at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca near Monterey, California, and Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway. He added another pair of top-10 finishes – sixth at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, on July 4 weekend, and 10th at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International in early September – before arriving at COTA determined to put together his best race effort of the year and springboard his way into 2023 with some momentum.
Mission accomplished. That momentum helped fuel the team’s intense offseason work in the Silver Hare shop prepping the team’s stable of all-new Howe Racing chassis, as well as upgrading all the necessary parts and pieces and systems, as well as adjustments to the personnel lineup, all expected to set the stage for a laser-focused campaign to not only win races in 2023, but contend for the TA2 championship.
Meanwhile, the addition of Maier gives the Silver Racing driver lineup a youthful one-two punch as it sets sail on the new season. Maier comes to the team and the series as, like Zilisch, one of the most decorated American go-kart racers. He’s shown his penchant for wheeling all varieties of racing machinery during his most recent forays into the Stadium Super Trucks series, where he was 2022 Rookie of the Year, and in Travis Pastrana’s Nitro Rallycross series, among others.
Thus, it’s no surprise that confidence abounds in the Silver Hare camp as it heads to Sebring for Saturday’s 27-lap, 75-minute race around the grueling 3.74-mile, 17-turn Sebring circuit. Race time is 12:45 p.m. EST with live streaming video available via the Trans Am and SpeedTour channels on YouTube. And the series has a new television partner this season in MAVTV, which will rebroadcast each race in a 60-minute format on the Thursday that follows it.
Silver Hare Racing leverages its Trans Am effort to promote its arrive-and-drive program, where aspiring racers and even tenured professionals hone their road-racing skills on some of the most revered tracks in North America. NASCAR Cup Series drivers Daniel Suárez, Christopher Bell, William Byron and Harrison Burton have all wheeled Silver Hare Racing-prepared cars to burnish their road-racing abilities in top-flight equipment.
The team offers six, professionally built and maintained TA2 chassis from Howe Racing for both competition and private testing. Silver Hare Racing has a dedicated, fulltime crew and operates out of a state-of-the-art facility in High Point, North Carolina. At the track, two 53-foot Featherlite transporters serve as the team’s base, each outfitted with a lounge and smart TVs for data and video review, as well as for hospitality.
“With NASCAR having so many more road-course races, it’s our goal for Silver Hare Racing to be the preferred team for drivers to get that road-course experience,” said Laura Hull, Silver Hare Racing co-owner and team manager. “We want to be that important step in the ladder for the young, up-and-coming drivers like Connor and Ben. We want people to know we have an arrive-and-drive program, where for people who want to run this track or another, we provide the opportunity to do that and be successful.”
Connor Zilisch, driver, No. 5 Silver Hare Racing Chevrolet Camaro:
“Obviously, we ended the year well at COTA, so really we’re just trying to build on that momentum and move into this year with the same mindset we had at that race – keep it calm, smooth, finish the race and we’ll get ourselves a good finish. It’s more so about finishing than ever. As long as we finish and have a good car and I do everything I need to do, it will be a good finish if we can just stay up at the front.
“It’s going to be a good year. I’m excited for it. We have a new car. I’m just hoping for a good, clean weekend at Sebring and get out of there with some good points and move on to the next race at NOLA (Motorsports Park outside New Orleans), which is a new race on the schedule.
“I’ve known Ben for a long time, ever since I was a kid karting. I’ve been fortunate to see him grow up as a person and as a driver up through the karting ranks, and even in amateur car racing. I see a lot of myself in him, and I’m super excited to have him join the team as he has a long history of winning. He’s young, so he is going to have a learning curve ahead of him, but I can’t wait to help guide him through it all and hopefully we can end up at the front together as teammates.
“Our goal this season is to run for a championship. So the mindset changes from just going out to and trying to win every single race to trying to get consistent finishes and not have DNFs or bad races because that’s what’ll take you out of a championship. We have new cars, I have a new teammate. A lot of stuff changing but a lot of stuff is the same, too. I’m excited to be back with Maurice and Laura (Hull, co-owners) and working with Gil (Martin) and Jeff (Holley) and all the same core people.
“I learned last year that you don’t need to take those big risks, just let the race come to you, and if I let the race come to me, the results will come. And as long as we have a good car that is capable of running at the front keeping me in the situations where I can stay at the front without having to overwork what the car is capable of, that’s what’ll lead to success for us. We’ve got to get everything dialed in and be good at all these races. As long as we’re able to do all that, I think we are definitely ones to watch for the championship. I feel like we had a lot of speed at COTA at the end of last year. If we’re able to carry that speed into this year, and I’m able to do my part, I think we’ll have a good chance to run at the front all year and contend for the championship.”
Ben Maier, driver, No. 75 Gel Blaster/Silver Hare Racing Chevrolet Camaro: