DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. – Brad Baker is taking the plunge and joining Performance Tech Motorsports for the 2019 season of IMSA Prototype Challenge.
Baker is new to the IMSA paddock but has a long love affair with racing. Baker’s father pursued racing and would spend hours tinkering away on cars with his son in their garage.
Fast forward to today and Baker has made a career in the automotive world with Kerr Industries, while still finding time to spend his weekends at a racetrack.
Baker has garnered most of his racing experience at the track with historic racing series. At these events, Baker races former Le Mans and Formula 1 cars, vintage race cars that were marvels in their own day.
However, in 2019, he has his sights set on something more modern.
“I want to go faster,” Baker said. “The car is new to me. My background is not in this type of racing. But I wanted to try it and go faster. I had done the vintage car racing prior. I was racing old 2 Liter cars. This is actually the first car I’ve driven with a radio in it and all the high-tech stuff, all the gadgets allowed in the P3 car. It’s interesting to drive, and a heck of a lot of fun.”
After testing with Performance Tech Motorsports at Sebring Int’l Raceway, Baker took note of the many differences between the classic and modern sports cars. Racing is well-known for being the stomping grounds for manufacturer car development, but Baker is watching it play out at a rapid pace.
“An old F1 car is simple. It’s a five-speed gearbox, and it’s very straight ahead,” Baker said. “They’re cool with big fat tires but not a lot of downforce or its crude. The P3 has a lot of downforce and is very sophisticated. Just totally different driving styles behind the wheel.
“There are paddle shifters, and the braking is different. Your braking curve is so different due to the downforce. You need your braking done as quick as possible to carry your speed through the turn. With vintage, you want to be very smooth not to upset the balance. You aren’t noticing aerodynamics.”
The race weekends will also look different to Baker. While historic weekends often provide a more casual atmosphere, with IMSA he is racing alongside the top sports car series in North America, and with Performance Tech, he is backed by a championship-winning team.
The level of professionalism is a welcome change for Baker.
“I look forward to the professionalism of IMSA,” Baker said. “The P3 class is a great class. The cars are cool looking. They’ve got all the updates. You get the feeling you’re driving a modern Le Mans car. It is safer than the vintage in some respects of course.
“Also, if you’re a gentleman driver like myself and you’re paying your way you understand the value of your time. Time is more expensive than anything else. So, when you’re away on a race weekend, you want the organizer to be organized. With IMSA and Performance Tech I know I can expect a well-planned weekend.”
Bruno Junqueira, who is Baker’s driving coach, was the first to bring Performance Tech’s success to Baker’s attention. Junqueira is best known for his time in IndyCar and Champ Car, and originally took note of Performance Tech while racing in the IMSA WeatherTech SportCar Championship in the Prototype Challenge class.
Baker credits Junqueira with helping orchestrate the arrangement between Performance Tech and Baker Racing.
“I met Brent for the first time at the track with Bruno,” Baker said. “I don’t have any contacts in the modern race car world so Bruno has been helping me. He is really a terrific coach and has been instrumental in helping me get used to a modern racing car; he is very patient and honest.
“He has helped me and continues to help me develop my racing effort by making sure we spend the right amount of money and get good value for it. He’s managing the whole deal which I think goes above and beyond your typical driver coach. It’s good for me and what I’m trying to do. I am very grateful to Bruno for all his help.”
Baker is already zeroing in on his goals for the upcoming year with the Michelin SportsCar Encore event, Nov. 9-11 at Sebring, as well as the first race of the 2019 season, Jan. 4-6 at Daytona Int’l Speedway.
The Encore is a four-hour race new to the IMSA calendar. The stand-alone race weekend is not factored into championship points but gives drivers like Baker the chance to experience an IMSA weekend without any added pressure.
It also offers Baker more time with his new piece of equipment.
“I’d like to get faster, be more consistent with the car and represent Kerr Industries well,” Baker said. “I want to win the championship, but honestly, I’m out there to have a great experience. I’m focused on dealing with everything going on with this car. I’m getting used to the way the car brakes and the downforce. That’s a steep learning curve for a 55-year-old guy.
“When you’re bad, it’s easy to take big steps forward towards getting better. So, my goal this season is to have made great big leaps at the start and only to need to make small steps by the end.”