The top four in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Grand Touring Prototype points include a representative of each of the four marques competing in the category in 2023, all within the spread of 100 points. That’s a matter of five positions in a single race. And, remarkably given the way the season started, the higher-placed of the two BMW M Team RLL M Hybrid V8s – the No. 25 for full-season drivers Connor De Phillippi and Nick Yelloly – isn’t even the last of that top four.
With two races left, Yelloly and De Phillippi are 73 points out of first, despite a disastrous last outing at Road America. Given the way things have gone this season so far for all the contenders, who knows what the points will look like after this coming weekend at Indianapolis? At any rate, late in the season, the BMW pair are real contenders for the first title of the new GTP era.
“We’ve definitely done the best job as a driver pairing to keep clean, make no mistakes and maximize each weekend with the package that we’ve got,” said Yelloly prior to the Road America race. “And that clearly shows. I think if you take away qualifying points, and just count race points, we would be the leader in the championship. So that’s something that we can both be proud of, and obviously, also something that we need to continue for the remaining three races.”
Road America was the lowlight to the highlight of Watkins Glen, where the team was declared the winner after finishing second on track to the No. 6 Porsche Penske Motorsports 963, which was found to have excessive wear on the skidblock in post-race inspection. De Phillippi crashed the No. 25 early at Road America, and when Yelloly returned the car to the track after a lengthy repair, it rolled to a stop only a few laps later. Last-place points didn’t do them any good. In fact, it cost them 90 points to the third-place finishers and championship leaders, Filipe Albuquerque and Ricky Taylor in the No.10 WTR/Andretti Acura ARX-06. And with a 73-point deficit… well, do the math.
After getting the latest start of all the manufacturers, it was no surprise that the season-opening Rolex 24 at Daytona was rough go for BMW. The cars showed a real gap in pace during practice, and spent much of the race in the garage. But the way BMW and BMW M Team RLL bounced back from Daytona was notable. At Sebring they were hanging on the lead lap with the No. 25 and ended up second when the top three ended up wrecked. At Long Beach they were absolutely competitive on pace, stayed out of trouble, and had the race played out slightly differently, BMW could have been a winner the third time out.
A win at Watkins Glen gave the Noi.25 team’s title hopes a shot in the arm, although they head to IMS looking to rebound from a rough weekend at Road America. Michael Levitt/Motorsport Images
“We knew it was going to be a rough go after Daytona,” said De Phillippi. “I knew we had the people to do it, 10,000,000 percent. I think we have some of the best crew and engineering on the grid. I think that’s a reason why we’ve been able to achieve what we have and close the gap to where it is now. Now it’s just about continuing to gain that experience that we still lack with this car compared to the others that have DPi experience. I think Nick and I, we continue to execute and extract as much as we can, and our communication with the team and building on that kind of base and elevating our platform forward, I think that has allowed us to close the gap. And now we’ve just got to make that next step, to be the one that everyone’s chasing.”
Indianapolis Motor Speedway may not be the best track for the BMW; De Phillippi and Yelloly feel the M Hybrid V8’s advantage lies in the medium- to high-speed corners, and much of the infield course at the Brickyard is pretty tight. But they know the slow-speed stuff is an area of concern, and the team are working on it. Wherever they are, they know they just have to do the best with what they’ve got.
“It’s refreshing to be at the sharp end of the championship fight,” said De Phillippi. “That’s from continuing to do what we do, which is focus on one race at a time, focus on executing our best across every area of discipline, whether it’s driving strategy or something else, and that’s all you can ask for. If other people beat us on that day in performance, then that’s just how it goes. So we’ll keep collecting as many points as we can and be smart, and wait to take the fight to the very last race.”
While the cars are new for everyone this year, it’s all different for De Phillippi and Yelloly. It would be easy to forget that they are both in their first year of racing prototypes – they’ve been primarily GT specialists since their single-seater days. And Yelloly has never done a full season in the U.S.; he’s racing many of the tracks for the first time this year. That makes their position in the championship all that much more remarkable.
They’re still in the hunt late in the season. And despite being handed the victory in the Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen after the fact, they’re still very hungry to celebrate a win properly on the podium, champagne and all.