When JDC-Miller MotorSports, the first GTP customer team in the iMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, took delivery of its Porsche 963 just prior to the race at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in May, the team knew it had an uphill battle. Every other team had factory support and had been testing their cars for months, and by May had as much as 37 hours of racing under their belts.
Actually, their battle began almost as soon as the program was announced the previous July. Even then, Porsche suspected supply chain issues, and the need to produce four cars for Porsche Penske Motorsport – two each for both IMSA and WEC competition – meant JDC-Miller wouldn’t have its 963 until after the start of the season, and the team would start 2023 at the Rolex 24 at Daytona with an LMP3 car.
Predictably, the team was well off the pace in its first race with the Porsche at Laguna Seca. But the gains came quickly. A second off the next slowest car in qualifying and finishing seventh at Laguna turned into something closer to the pace in the Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen. Tijmen van der Helm and Mike Rockenfeller finished fourth, and the highest-placed Porsche, after the No. 6 PPM 963 was penalized.
“The growth in knowledge is huge since Laguna,” said team principal John Church as the squad prepared for the final race of the season, Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta. “I think the first laps we did, we were all holding our breath and scared to death and waiting for the first big bomb to go off. Now we kind of understand how everything works and how it should work and the expectations are different. I think as a group, everybody’s done a great job.”
Church says some things have been a bit harder than anticipated with the new hybrid 963 LMDh car, but others have been less difficult than predicted as the team adjusted from its previous Cadillac DPi-V.R.
“I think our expectation coming in was, it was going be a lot more complicated,” he said.
“And some areas are not as complicated as we thought; some areas are maybe more so. But the workload isn’t as great as we thought it was going to be. A lot of systems work a lot better. I don’t know if that’s the right word, but we have not had the issues with them that we were anticipating. So I’m very happy with where we are, and where the team’s at, and the car. It’s a great car and we’re really still scratching the surface on some things, and some things we’ve I think we’ve got a pretty good handle on.”
Rockenfeller notes that even Porsche is still learning about the 963, its capabilities and what it likes – just like every other manufacturer – so it’s no surprise that a customer team has its ups and downs. However, he notes, the factory-supported teams are sometimes experiencing the same fluctuations.
As the only privateer Porsche team in GTP, JDC-Miller had a lot to learn about the car in a short time. But strong weekends like Watkins Glen (above) give plenty of reason for optimism ahead of 2024. Jake Galstad/Motorsport Images
“I would say in some races we over-performed, at some under,” Rockenfeller said. “I think we are fighting sometimes with the big boys, where in my opinion, with all the money and testing they have, probably they should have been further ahead.
“But then we came to some other races recently where we were not on pace. So it’s an up and down. It’s not easy. It’s a very complex car. So we still learn. I think what definitely made progress is the way the team operates the car. Just to start it up, it’s a thing; it’s not that easy to be ready on time and so on. And I think the team did an awesome job so far. Also, reliability has been great – that is down to Porsche, but it’s also down to the boys preparing the car at JDC-Miller MotorSports. So I’m very happy from that point of view.”
Rockenfeller has plenty of experience with complex cars, having spent many years racing for Audi, including several generations of DTM machinery and the Audi R18, although he missed the hybrid generations of Audi’s LMP1 contender. Still, the Porsche has a few tricks and adjustments he’s had to learn.
“All the electronics on the car, as a driver, to understand which knob you need to turn to influence the balance of the car and the braking, the diff, the engine brake and so on – that’s complex,” he said.
“For a team to operate the car in terms of doing setup, especially when you don’t go testing… the car has so many opportunities built in to adjust it, that’s quite a thing. And I think it takes a while, and still everybody will continue to understand that more and more. Next year, you start from the beginning in Daytona. So that’s obviously also a different motivation. For us, it was clear, we wanted to learn, we wanted to be on track as much as we can.”
Rockenfeller will be watching JDC-Miller MotorSports from a distance in 2024, as he partners with Harry Tincknell at the Multimatic-run Ford Performance team racing the new Mustang GT3 in GTD PRO. JDC-Miller has yet to announce its driver lineup for next season, but whoever it is, there is still a lot to learn as they try to catch up to the factory team. But JDC-Miller is used to playing the underdog, and will likely be fighting for more than scraps at the GTP table.
“I’m very happy with the progress, the guys, the drivers and the team,” said Church. “Everybody’s done a great job. We’ve had very few issues, which some days surprises me. But it’s been very, very positive. I couldn’t be happier with that, for sure.”