DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – They say you never get a second chance to make a first impression.
The two-car JDC-Miller MotorSports team took those words to heart at last month’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona and made the most of the opportunity.
“This is the first time for me in six years of doing this that we’ve started the season with a whole new group of drivers, and we rolled out at the Roar [Before the Rolex 24 At Daytona on the first weekend of January] for the first time,” said team CEO and Managing Partner, John Church. “There was a lot of learning for us during the race – especially for me, learning what each of them needs to know or wants to know during the race. We all executed, did our jobs and had a pretty good result.”
Two pretty good results, actually.
The team’s No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac DPi-V.R co-driven by Joao Barbosa, Sebastien Bourdais and Loic Duval battled for the lead and wound up third. The No. 85 JDC-Miller Cadillac shared by Juan Piedrahita, Matheus Leist, Chris Miller and Tristan Vautier finished fifth.
“I think the goal of the team was to score a podium this year,” said Bourdais. “We scored in our Super Bowl, the first race out, so that’s checked.”
Perhaps even more importantly, the double top-five performance gives the team two valuable commodities in motorsports: confidence and momentum.
“I think when you can start the season with both cars in the top five, it’s a fantastic start,” Church said. “It gives you a little bit of momentum, makes everybody feel good about what they’re doing and gives us something to build on as the season goes on.”
The next stop on the WeatherTech Championship schedule is the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts on March 21. The last time Barbosa and Bourdais raced together at that event back in 2015, they dominated in what was then a No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac DP to win.
That fact wasn’t lost on them when they were testing the No. 5 Cadillac DPi last week at Sebring.
“We have great history together,” Barbosa said. “We won a race here in a big way, so we’re looking forward to coming back for the Sebring 12-hour race and have a great race. We started good at Daytona, so we’re looking forward to continuing that momentum.”
“Obviously, 2015 was a bit of a highlight,” Bourdais added. “It was a pretty amazing race when we managed to lap the field and come out on top. I’ve got a bunch of really, really good memories with a bunch of the guys that are revolving around that program. I’m looking forward to a great season and more races.”
Bourdais has nine more WeatherTech Championship races on his schedule. The four-time IndyCar champion is running the entire season alongside Barbosa in the No. 5 Cadillac for the first time in addition to selected IndyCar starts.
“It’s going to be different for me this year, for sure, doing the whole 10 races in IMSA,” he said. “So far, it feels like the same, except I’ve got more responsibilities because I’m one of the two drivers that are going to be relied on. It’s strange because I’m still doing some IndyCar testing, I’m still doing some IMSA testing, and I always do Daytona and Sebring.
“So, I guess it’s going to start to kind of hit me a little bit when we get to Long Beach, but even then, I’ll still be racing IndyCar, so I don’t know when it actually is going to sink in that I’m going to do this full time this year. But it’s a great feeling, and it’s a really cool program.”
In addition to driving the full WeatherTech Championship schedule, Bourdais is scheduled to drive the No. 14 Chevrolet IndyCar for A.J. Foyt Racing in St. Petersburg, Barber Motorsports Park, Long Beach and Portland.
“He’ll be really busy,” Barbosa said. “But he’s a great driver. He has a lot of experience, and it’s really good to have his experience and help the team develop the car as well.”
In addition to helping the development of the No. 5 Cadillac, Bourdais is also helping his new teammate, Leist – who also is transitioning from IndyCars to sports cars – to get acclimated to the DPi.
“The first time I was at Daytona testing the car at the Roar, I did my first six laps, and I got out of the car and I was like, ‘Man, this thing is hard,’” Leist recalled. “I jumped out of the car, and I saw Sebastien and I went and talked to him. I was like, ‘Hey Sebastien, what do you think about the car?’
“He was like, ‘Man, this thing is so hard to drive. It turns in so quick.’ I had exactly the same feeling because, in IndyCar, we don’t have power steering. So, I feel like the same issues that I have with the car, he has the same. So, it was the same thing when we got to Sebring. We went out and the first outing that I did, I was like, ‘Man, this car is hard.’
“But then you start to get used to it, and it’s actually a pretty nice and fun car to drive. It’s nice to have him in the team. Of course, we shared the track in IndyCar, and now we’re sharing the track here in IMSA and we are having fun together.”
They’ll continue to have fun together – at least for the four IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup races. Church noted that while the No. 5 team is set for full-time duty, the No. 85 is only committed for the four endurance events with an eye toward expanding the program if possible as the season continues.
That’s another reason why the top-five at Daytona was so important.
“Yeah, having a top-five at Daytona is a great start to the season and momentum-booster,” Church said. “Once you get another result or two or whatnot, then that makes the whole program go a little further.”