Edwards Is A Pilot In More Ways Than One

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John Edwards. (IMSA photo)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Unlike most of his counterparts in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, BMW Team RLL driver John Edwards doesn’t have many frequent flyer miles on any commercial airline.

When it comes time to head to the race track – or head for home after a race weekend – he’s not taking off his shoes, nor is he removing electronics from his backpack in the airport. He’s not navigating the TSA Precheck line or jockeying for position at the gate.

Instead of waiting for his zone number to be called, he’s awaiting clearance to take off from air traffic control.

That’s because the driver of the No. 24 BMW M8 GTE – who will celebrate his 28th birthday a week before the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring presented by Advance Auto Parts – doesn’t do much flying on commercial aircrafts.

Instead, Edwards gets himself to most races and test sessions such as last week’s test at Sebring International Raceway aboard his own Cirrus Aircraft.

“I’ve been in love with flying for a few years now,” Edwards said. “I’ve got my pilot’s license, so I actually have a little Cirrus that I fly myself to all the races (with).”

Edwards estimated that he’s been flying for approximately five years, although he hasn’t been flying himself to races for quite that long.

“I spent a year just flying VFR (Visual Flight Rules – which require the pilot to maintain constant visibility with references like landmarks, highways and bodies of water and also are dependent on clear weather), so renting planes and doing that to get some more hours,” Edwards said. “Then, I got my instrument rating about a year later. Once I did that, I realized there’s potential to really get places.”

The places Edwards gets are usually IMSA race tracks, particularly in the Eastern half of the United States, but not always.

“Last year I did complete kind of a dream trip of mine, which was to fly across the country,” he said. “So, I flew to Long Beach and then my fiancée met me there and we did some stops along the way. Saw Zion National Park, saw some really cool places in the U.S. across the country as we made our way back home.”

Home is the Charlotte area for Edwards, as it is for several others in the IMSA community. One such individual is Edwards’ BMW Team RLL teammate, Connor De Phillippi, who moved to Charlotte fairly recently and co-drove the No. 25 BMW to the GT Le Mans (GTLM) class victory in last month’s Rolex 24 At Daytona.

Edwards thought he might have a consistent passenger in De Phillippi, but it hasn’t quite turned out that way just yet.

“I thought I had a lock and he was going to be with me every time,” Edwards said. “I told him we could split costs, and he said he’d rather drive his new company car to most of the races.

“Connor’s come with me a couple of times, but I’ve got a couple friends that work for other teams who come with me to most of the races and we all split the cost.”

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John Edwards in action during the Rolex 24 at Daytona in late January. (IMSA photo)

On the racetrack, the BMW M8s have been flying lately as well.

Starting when De Phillippi and then-co-driver Alexander Sims scored the first victory for the M8 GTE last August at Virginia Int’l Raceway, the No. 25 BMW has won three out of the past four races, winning also in the penultimate round of last season at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.

At the Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta last October, Edwards and the No. 24 team finished third in the GTLM class, one spot ahead of the No. 25 squad.

Edwards feels like the team and the race car – which debuted last year in the Rolex 24 – is hitting its stride.

“The first year for a car is always interesting,” Edwards said. “Because every time you go to a new track, there’s things you have to learn. Sebring is a very unique place. So, even though we had learned some stuff at Daytona, we came to Sebring and all that doesn’t necessarily apply.

“But as we got through the season and figured out the ins and outs of the car, we obviously were a lot quicker towards the end. BMW has now won three of the last four races and we were on the podium in the other race, so we’ve got a lot of momentum with the team.

“I think, more importantly, we understand a lot more about the car than we did at this time last year, so that’s going to help us moving forward. I think we have a good shot to be competitive for the championship this year.”