MAY 30, 2023
The No. 5 Porsche Customer Team Looks to Build off a Competitive Showing at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca
By John Oreovicz for IMSA.com
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – It’s neither simple nor inexpensive to field a Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. The cars are complex and costly – if you can even get one.
As so happens, Porsche has maintained a longtime tradition by offering the same 963 GTP car fielded by its factory team – Porsche Penske Motorsport – to privateers or customer teams. JDC-Miller MotorSports is the first IMSA team to step up to the challenge.
Last June at Watkins Glen International, JDC-Miller managing partners John Church and John Miller announced that they had committed the necessary $2.9 million to acquire their own 963, complete with Porsche factory engineering support. Thus began what turned into an 11-month wait, exacerbated by a worldwide shortage of key electronic sensors and spare parts.
Porsche factory driver Matt Campbell gave the JDC-Miller 963 a brief shakedown at the marque’s Weissach test track in Germany on April 20, and the team finally received its shiny new toy in Chicago six days after that. By the time JDC-Miller rolled up to WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca two weeks later, the 963 wore a sporty new yellow wrap and the No. 5 for drivers Mike Rockenfeller and Tijmen van der Helm.
Church admitted he and Miller asked themselves, “What have we gotten into?” more than a few times over the last year or so.
“But I’ve been doing that for years,” Church added with a chuckle. “You think that, and then at the same time, you go, ‘Who else has opportunities like this?’ You have to be thankful for the opportunity. But yeah, lately it’s been a lot of, ‘We could have gone boating.’
“This year is a complete learning year for us, and we’re trying to remind the guys of that,” Church continued. “Don’t panic about the pace, don’t panic about where we’re at. Let’s go out and learn, figure it out and understand, and it’ll come. We’ve been successful in everything we’ve ever done. It’s going to take some time with this one, a little longer than normal.”
Church and the JDC-Miller team had realistic expectations for their debut race, the Motul Course de Monterey Powered by Hyundai N on May 14. They treated the three days on track as a test session, something they simply did not have time for prior to the WeatherTech Raceway weekend.
They could have gone testing and delayed their 2023 competition baptism until the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen in late June, but Church saw greater value in putting the operation through the pressure and time constraints of a race weekend.
“It’s a test weekend to get a feel for things,” he said. “I keep telling the guys that we’re here to learn the stuff we don’t know, and there’s a lot of things we don’t know that we don’t know. You don’t know what to expect until you start running the car.
“Now we can go home and analyze what happened at Laguna Seca, and then we really need to go and do a two-day test somewhere and continue learning about the car. The car has a lot of really cool stuff; it’s an awesome car, and we have the goal of upgrading every weekend. It’s just going to take a little while. But that’s part of the fun. Everything is a challenge; you just have to figure it out.”
Driver Lineup Combines Top-Level Experience with Talented Youth
Miller and Church opted for a driver lineup that combines Rockenfeller’s impressive history in a variety of sports cars with the youth and potential of van der Helm, a 19-year-old Dutchman who finished fourth in class in the 2022 24 Hours of Le Mans in a Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) shared with rookie Formula 1 driver Nyck de Vries.
Rockenfeller believes his role is to “calm things down” and use his vast experience to help JDC-Miller get the best out of the most complex car it has ever fielded.
The team has an impressive record of punching over its weight in WeatherTech Championship competition, scoring an overall victory at Watkins Glen in 2018 with its LMP2 over all the cars in the top Prototype class which also featured Daytona Prototype international (DPi) cars. JDC-Miller ran a customer Cadillac DPi for the last four years, claiming victory in the 2021 Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring and 10 other podium finishes.
“It’s a big challenge to learn the car and know the team,” said Rockenfeller. “I think I’ve seen a lot, and there’s a lot of experience in the team. That’s what you need, especially when you have no testing, no preparation. We are maybe a little bit the underdog, but I think not so bad.
“At the end of the day, it’s still a car with four wheels, two pedals and a steering wheel,” he added. “We just need to understand it and get a routine.”
Although the results of JDC-Miller’s WeatherTech Raceway weekend don’t look spectacular on paper, the team came away extremely happy. As expected, van der Helm and the No. 5 car qualified ninth for last in class, 2.2 seconds off the pole-winning time set by Campbell in the No. 7 Porsche. But Rockenfeller was impressed, saying his young co-driver “did a damn good job” and “has great potential.”
“A bit nervous, I didn’t know what to expect,” van der Helm noted. “I’ve never driven Laguna Seca, and a new car.
“Of course, it’s big – this is the highest (level) car that I ever drove,” he added. “Of course, more buttons, more everything, a different type of clutch, but I think I will enjoy it a lot.”
Every goal was also achieved in the race, as van der Helm and Rockenfeller brought the JDC-Miller 963 to the finish on the lead lap and without a scratch in seventh place, besting one of the BMW M Team RLL BMW M Hybrid V8s and the troubled pole-qualifying Porsche. Even more impressive, Rockenfeller’s best race lap was just 0.416 seconds slower than the fastest Porsche, Nick Tandy in the factory No. 6.
The team’s performance impressed Rockenfeller, whose vast resume includes stints with factory racing programs for Porsche, Audi and Corvette and a pair of victories at Le Mans. The 39-year-old German, who has also co-driven to wins at Sebring and the Rolex 24 At Daytona, is delighted to be back in IMSA fulltime.
“It was very tricky to find my way back,” he said. “I’m so thankful to John and his team to give me the trust and the opportunity to come back to IMSA. I’m very happy to be involved, and hopefully throughout the year, we can show the potential of this car.”