SALINAS, Calif. – Connor De Phillippi is returning to one of his favorite places on Oct. 13-15 for the SRO Intercontinental GT Challenge California 8 Hours race for GT3 and GT4 sports cars.
Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca is like a second home to the San Clemente, Calif. native.
The 25-year-old driver developed his talented motorsports skills around the famed 2.238-mile, 11-turn road circuit as a teenager and De Phillippi was on a path to open-wheel stardom. Like many young American competitors, Connor had set his sights on IndyCar Series racing.
“Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca was like my home track in the Skip Barber Regional Series and I have many laps around there,” said De Phillippi. “I haven’t driven at MRLS since 2012 in Pro Mazda so I am very excited to return for the upcoming SRO GT event. I have many laps in an open-wheel car there. But the GT sports car should be very interesting and fun with more downforce.”
De Phillipi was a champion in karting, Skip Barber open-wheel cars and nearly captured the Pro Mazda Series. He had shown the talent needed to advance to Indy Lights and maybe the Verizon IndyCar Series. He had raced against and defeated the likes of Josef Newgarden and Conor Daly.
But like many talented drivers, De Phillippi was short of funding to get to those coveted levels. So, he looked in a different direction, sports car racing.
Porsche factory driver Patrick Long, the Pirelli World Challenge Overall GT and GT Sprint champion, had seen De Phillippi’s driving ability and recommended Connor for the Porsche Junior Division, a highly-regarded stepping stone to international sports car racing.
“Patrick really reached out and helped me when my open-wheel had stalled,” said De Phillippi. “He has been a huge influence for me and his guidance gave me the confidence to work hard in sports car racing.”
De Phillippi won a spot as a Porsche Junior factory driver, only the second American to accomplish that feat. He spent three years in the Porsche program racing and living in Europe.
In 2016, Connor received an offer from Audi Sport Land Motorsport organization in Germany and quickly proved his worth by scoring four wins, four pole positions and 13 top-five finishes in the No. 29 Audi R8 LMS. He also captured the prestigious ADAC GT Master overall championship, a rare feat for an American racing in Europe. He also won the VLN Nürburgring Speed Trophy title.
“Moving from the Porsche efforts to the Land Racing Audi was a big move for me,” he said. “I had to get used to another team and another car. But we had a great season and won a championship. You can’t ask for more than that. This season, we finished third in the GT Masters but we did win the 24 Hours of Nürburgring which was very exciting.”
In addition, this season’s campaign has given De Phillippi a chance to compete in the United States again with the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring. Teaming with Christopher Mies, Jules Gounon and Jeff Schmidt, Connor built a 25-second lead at one point in the 24-hour endurance classic before losing the win by three-tenths of a second in the GTD class.
“It’s been great to come back to the U.S. and race at Daytona, Sebring, Road Atlanta and now Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca for the California 8 Hours next month,” said De Phillippi. “I have been able to race at some very cool venues around the world in recent years and now I get to return home and drive at one of my favorite tracks. It’s a place that brings back many memories. And I would love to win there again.”
De Phillippi finished fifth most recently in the SRO Intercontinental GT Challenge series in the Total 24 Hours of Spa, round two in the four-race, four-continent series. The California 8 Hours is round three in the campaign with the Motul Sepang 12-Hour classic completing the tour on December 9.