IMSA’s Yellow Giant Killer

How a small team has become a legitimate championship contender in a mostly manufacturer dominated series

Battling for the lead late at Road America. Photo Credit to LAT/JDC Miller Motorsports

There is a team in this year’s IMSA Weathertech Championship that has far exceeded expectations for a new team. Armed with a Gibson powered Oreca 07 LMP2 car, this outfit, affectionately known by fans as the Banana Boat, has become a legitimate threat to not only finish on the podium, but win races. This team is called JDC Motorsports and this is the story of their 2017 season.

JDC Motorsports traces its origins to 1994, starting in USF2000 and expanding to the Mazda Road to Indy ladder series. Among some of the names that have driven for JDC, 2016 IMSA WeatherTech Prototype champion Dane Cameron, Mercedes Benz factory GT driver Adam Christodoulou, Audi factory GT driver Connor DePhillippi and current IndyCar Series driver Tristan Vautier. Their current crop of drivers are the Russian born Canadian 2014 IMSA Prototype Lites champion Mikhail Goikhberg and the very quick South African driver Stephen Simpson. They have raced in the WeatherTech series since 2015, starting off in the Prototype Challenge class.

Their transition into the big prototypes was a big step. You see, Prototype Challenge is, unfortunately, a lame-duck class in which the car counts have dwindled in the years following the Grand Am/American Le Mans Series merger. It is a class that now has three total full season entries. Having won twice in the 2016 season (one being the prestigious Rolex 24 at Daytona), it was time to move up to the Prototype class. IMSA had made it easy for teams to move up by balancing the new manufacturer based Daytona Prototype international (DPi) cars with the global LMP2 spec prototypes. Of the four chassis available, all powered by engines supplied by Gibson Technologies, JDC chose to run an Oreca 07. At Daytona, it paid off handsomely. It was the 2nd quickest in qualifying of the “global” prototypes behind the number 13 Rebellion Oreca 07. They kept their nose clean and, with help from Chris Miller and Mathias Beche, they finished an impressive 5th in class. Making it to the finish of a 24 Hour race is an accomplishment unto itself, but they finished in the top 5 in class and beat some of the bigger teams like Extreme Speed Motorsports, Action Express Racing and even the Mazda factory team in their respective DPi cars. The 12 Hours of Sebring was even more impressive as the Oreca was mixing it up with the frontrunning Cadillac DPi teams of Action Express Racing and Wayne Taylor Racing for a place on the overall podium. Another impressive showing was in the cards as they wound up in 4th place overall, best of the non-DPis and, as in Daytona, beating the Mazda and Nissan-Ligier DPi chassis. It seemed like 4th was their favourite position as they followed up with a 4th at the sprint race at Long Beach and at Circuit of the Americas. A 6th place at Detroit was their worst finish at the time but it was, in fairness, on a track that better suited the more powerful DPi machinery. Once the Le Mans break had come and gone, the series returned for the Sahlen’s Six Hours of Watkins Glen. And was JDC ever prepared? They were fast off the truck and led every session and recorded their first overall podium. Fans were starting to notice the potential of this new outfit, who had raced in PC just one year before. They finished 2nd at The Glen and headed into Canadian Tire Motorsports Park, not as dark horses, but as legitimate contenders. Goikhberg had an amazing first stint, having qualified for his home race on the front row and handed the car to Stephen Simpson. Simpson then proceeded to go on a tear through the field, at one point passing the race leading number 10 Cadillac DPi in the grass on the Mario Andretti Straight for the lead. A ten minute summer rain shower nearly took the car out of contention as the team had, in a rather bold strategy call, switched to wet tires. It would have been the race winning move but unfortunately the rain had stopped and the track had dried up considerably within 10 minutes. Simpson went back to the slicks and charged back. In the chaos that was the final caution, caused by Jordan Taylor colliding with the GTLM class Corvette, the little yellow car slotted itself into 4th on the final restart. Simpson was fastest on slicks and had he had a few more minutes, would have overtaken Dane Cameron’s Whelen Cadillac DPi with ease. The car finished 2nd again. At the last race at Road America, the fastest car was, shocker, the Banana Boat. It led Friday’s combined wet-dry practice sessions and despite qualifying 7th, it flew through the very competitive field. With half an hour left, they took a bold risk and stayed out under the full course yellow while everybody else pitted for fuel. It was another bold call but it didn’t wind up working for them. Stephen Simpson had to pit the car for a splash of fuel with 15 minutes left from the lead. Their finishing position of 8th didn’t reflect how good they ran. They were consistently the fastest car on the track, even setting the fastest lap of the race.

The stats are just as impressive. Excluding the two Florida endurance races, JDC Motorsports has completed every lap in the championship. Think about that for a second. Six of eight races were finishes on the lead lap. They have only failed to complete 17 of the 1,601 laps turned in the eight races in 2017. As a result of their consistency and pace, they find themselves 3rd in the Prototype championship.

There are two races left in season 2017 for the IMSA WeatherTech Series, at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and the ten hour Petit Le Mans. I predict we’ll see them in victory lane either before or at Petit Le Mans.

As for future plans, JDC has actually announced that they will field a second Oreca 07 in 2018 with drivers to be named later. I foresee big things for JDC Motorsports in the future and, if this season is any indication, I would look out for these guys. If anybody sees a banana coloured Oreca 07 coming up behind you, watch out. The Banana Boat is coming quick.

See you at Laguna.

Oh and #JDCBananaBoat

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