DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Spirits remain high with the drivers and crew of the No. 5 Mustang Sampling/JDC-Miller Motorsports Cadillac DPi, despite disappointing finishes in the last two IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship races.
That’s because the No. 5 Cadillac has shown a renewed competitiveness and is now set with a stable lineup of all French drivers for the 2021 season.
Tristan Vautier and Loic Duval are the full-season pilots of the No. 5, with Sebastien Bourdais going from a full-time driver last season to endurance-race addition this year as he returns to a full-season gig in the NTT IndyCar Series. The trio ran strong throughout the 2020 finale, the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts, but finished fifth after forced into a late pit stop to replace a damaged rear wing section.
Then in last month’s season opener, the Rolex 24 At Daytona, the No. 5 was in the hunt again, leading 106 of the first 226 laps. Just under nine hours into the 24-hour marathon, however, Vautier was the innocent victim when two other cars made contact and one careened into him. Lengthy repairs in the garage ensued, relegating the No. 5 to a seventh-place finish in the Daytona Prototype international (DPi) class and 34th overall.
“We’ve been feeling good with the car since Sebring last November,” Vautier said. “It seems like we made a big step forward there and we were hoping it was not just luck and we could conserve it at Daytona.”
It appeared that way as well. Vautier and Duval drove the car to a third-place finish in the Motul Pole Award 100 qualifying race a week before the Rolex 24. Along with Bourdais, they were running strong and biding their time in the Rolex 24, until a pair of cars collided on the frontstretch and the No. 16 Wright Motorsports Porsche hit the No. 5 in the aftermath.
“It seemed like since the moment we unloaded (at Daytona), we were very competitive, during the qualifying race in both mixed and dry conditions and for the first part of the (Rolex 24) race,” Vautier recalled. “Yeah, it’s just unfortunate the way it happened. There was nothing we could do because it was actually not even the (No.) 16. He got hit in the back by another Porsche and sent into me spinning.”
Despite the depressing result, the JDC-Miller team is finding a silver lining. The newfound pace has John Church, JDC’s CEO and managing partner, excited. It wasn’t necessarily the case earlier last season, even when the No. 5 opened the year with a trio of third-place finishes. Those results, Church said, were accomplished more on “perseverance and strategy” than outright speed.
“We definitely didn’t ultimately have the fastest car or one of the faster cars,” Church admitted. “Now we’ve got, I think, one of the faster cars. We just need to convert it into results. I’d rather be where we’re at today than always hanging on, waiting for everybody else to have some bad luck or misfortune for us to have the results.”
After spending the first half of 2020 in JDC-Miller’s second DPi entry, the No. 85 Cadillac, Vautier joined Bourdais and Duval in the No. 5 for the latter half of the campaign. With the team running a single entry this year, all focus can be on optimizing the No. 5 Cadillac for each race. Competing against some of the WeatherTech Championship’s powerhouse teams in its premier category sometimes makes for JDC-Miller to an afterthought, but Vautier is fine with that.
“Yes, some people tend to overlook us because maybe you have teams with big names and also huge resources and huge support behind them that we don’t necessarily have,” he said. “We need to make each dollar go a longer way than many others, but the team is run really well.
“We showed that we can do it in Daytona. As I said, if we keep doing what we’ve been doing, it’s going to click.”
Church agreed, especially since the next race is a return to Sebring International Raceway for the 69th Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring.
“I’m encouraged by our pace. Our pace was good, the team is working really well together right now,” Church said. “We just hit two kind of heartbreaking races in a row. We were in good position at Sebring when we got hit late in the race (in November), which did a fair bit more bodywork damage than it looked like. We’re putting ourselves in position to have good results, we just need to be there at the end.
“We just keep going with what we’ve been doing and eventually the luck is going to go our way. It’s going to come to us eventually.”