It was ironic, with the conclusion of a 12-hour race last March at Sebring coming down to a late restart and an 11-lap race to the finish. The irony was amplified in one of North America’s endurance racing gems when the JDC-Miller MotorSports Cadillac DPi, the slowest car by median lap time in the premier class of IMSA’s WeatherTech Sports Car Championship, set out on a victory lane, punctuated by a boisterous celebration of its triumvirate of French drivers – holders Loïc Duval and Tristan Vautier and Sébastien Bourdais, its addition for the races of stamina.

But the irony comes as no surprise, and it might not have been an upset victory. The JDC-Miller team, based in the quiet town of Savage, Minnesota, have killed Goliaths before – they won the 6 Hours of Watkins Glen in 2017 and the Rolex 24 At Daytona in 2018, top-level events on the American sports car racing calendar. — so Sebring, although little more than another notch on the belt, was just a continuation of a process designed by financial discipline.

“I always tell guys, ‘Let’s not focus on the things we don’t have, let’s focus on the things we have,'” said John Church, CEO and Managing Partner of JDC-Miller. “We have a car, we have a crew, we have all the money we need to put all the necessary tires on the car. We have the same engine package as everyone else. We have three great drivers.

“We would all like to make more money, but that’s what we have.”

Church’s operation is commonly referred to as a private team, implying that it receives no support from the manufacturer. It is not true; Church confirmed that JDC-Miller receives factory financing and technical support from Cadillac – “When it comes to Cadillacs, we have the same equipment as the other guys” – but that’s about half the largesse of 4 to $6 million from a larger organization like Chip Ganassi Racing receives. These big teams also tend to get additional sponsors, which further increases the budget divide.

This isn’t new to Church, who is used to maximizing his money and his assets.

“You can’t control how much other guys spend,” Church said. “It’s easy for our guys to look and see all the little gadgets that everybody has, like ‘Oh, you know, they’ve got this, they’ve got that’, well, we have I get it – it might not be as shiny or pretty but it works, it does the job.

“Honestly, I don’t feel like we’re more disadvantaged than anyone else. We have a great group of guys and a great group of riders. We may be behind the development curve from time to time, but we get there and it works for us.

The development curve—the path through which research and development culminates—requires resources that Church might not choose to use. Sebring provided such an example: while the 3.74-mile Florida track was a popular proving ground for several of IMSA’s titans before its mid-March event, JDC-Miller opted against the weather. of preparatory track.

Instead, the team used their notes from a race there last November as study material, which helped provide the basic setup information they would need for the 12-hour race. in March.

“We watched Sebring last November,” Church said. “We had a really good run there, we had a fast car. We looked at that and if there’s a place where we do not do must test, it would be Sebring. There are a lot of races on the schedule that we would really like to test and probably should test, but if we don’t have the budget to do it, we won’t.

“We will spend time focusing on the best possible deployment for the first practice and go from there.”

To their credit, the JDC-Miller roster of Duval, Gautier and Bourdais rolls with the hits. In truth, the victory celebration at Sebring was happening precisely because they were budget underdogs.

“If a sponsor wants to join, we will test every weekend,” laughed Bourdais. “We operate to the best of our abilities and we have great partners, but (other) programs cost a lot of money and all the limitations in engineering development and testing come through funding.

“There’s not much we can do, and right now we’re on a tightrope.”

Bourdais, 42, is a star turned journeyman. A former Formula 1 driver with Scuderia Toro Rosso and a four-time Champ Car World Series title winner, he is now an IndyCar stalwart and a sports car moonlighter. The skill is always present; namely, he improbably manhandled the Cadillac during the final laps of Sebring after a rear wing failure – “It was very, very, very difficult,” he said – but his knowledge base is valued by Church and JDC-Miller as a method to close the intelligence gap to larger teams.

His influence on JDC-Miller is greater than previously anticipated. Originally intended to be the team’s addition to endurance racing – his role for the 2021 season – he joined the program full-time for 2020 after an agreed IndyCar deal fell through. Church seized the opportunity to have a bona fide driver as a regular member of the team.

“He brings a lot of experience. He did a lot of development,” said Church, who believes Bourdais’ frequent presence has bolstered the program. “If there’s one thing in motorsport that trumps everything, it’s continuity. You have the same group of people or the same influencers in the program, you’re always building on something.

Bourdais, particularly in the latter half of his career, is no stranger to tough battles, embracing a tough challenge that tends to approach everyone in motor racing at one point or another.

“I’ve been quite used to being the underdog in technical and human resources and budgetary resources in different series,” he said. “When you bring the fight to the big guys, obviously it’s a lot sweeter.”

Duval and Vautier will be without Bourdais this weekend at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for a 2-hour, 40-minute sprint race, the predominant length of a single event on the IMSA calendar despite its endurance racing origins. In these events, JDC-Miller tends to struggle, in part because of the stronger correlation between speed and results.

In endurance competitions like Sebring, team weaknesses matter less because results among enduring participants are random, as evidenced by its negative correlation coefficient of 0.43 between speed ranking and finishing position within of the DPi class. In this kind of every man for himself, JDC-Miller has a fighting chance, as would any team operating under budget constraints and able to go the full distance.

But in sprint races like Mid-Ohio, which saw a positive 0.43 coefficient for last year’s event, there’s less time for gradual improvement and more emphasis on speed. pure. Church said it’s a type of race that JDC-Miller has its work cut out for, a track where the car ranked the slowest in its class last season.

“We’re going to take some of the things that we learned there, some of the things that we worked on in the offseason, and bring them to Mid-Ohio and obviously try to apply as much as we can,” Church said. . “You just have to take what you can figure out and then stick with it and make adjustments as you go.

“That’s the good thing about long runs. You have the chance to feel everyone for a moment and understand where your strengths and weaknesses are. You don’t have that opportunity in short races.

Sunday’s race likely represents a reality check, a challenge Church isn’t necessarily pining for — he would welcome a full factory budget — but he isn’t planning on backing down anytime soon.

“We always say, ‘To be in business, you have to stay in business,'” Church said. “The end game, always, is that you’re trying to attract additional sponsor dollars. You’re trying to get a factory to put more money into the program. And so the end game is you try to be that Penske or Ganassi, one of the great teams, and have more resources.

“You’re chasing dreams, that’s what matters. If you give up, you stop running, then the outcome is 100% known, whereas if you stick with it, you never know.

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