Braun, Bennett Show ‘CORE’ Competency in Return to Prototype Racing at Rolex 24
Monday, February 5, 2018

Jon Bennett makes no secret of his longstanding passion for Prototype racing.

“Personally, I’ve always been drawn to those types of cars from the time I was a kid, and then as I was able to begin to afford to pay for my own racing,” said the owner/driver of the No. 54 CORE autosport ORECA LMP2 machine that finished third in last month’s Rolex 24 At Daytona. “I’ve always been in cars that looked a bit like prototypes, and there’s different varieties.

“As I pulled through the tunnel at Daytona, it was pretty awe inspiring to have climbed so high in motorsports – something that means very, very much to me – and not competing for a class win at Daytona, but actually competing for the overall. The opportunity is pretty incredible.”

The move to the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Prototype class is the last step in a process that began in the 1990s in Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) competition for the owner of South Carolina-based Composite Resources. The company is described as “a leading-edge design, prototyping and composite manufacturing facility” in Bennett’s bio on the CORE autosport website.

Bennett progressed through what now is known as the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda and into the Prototype Challenge (PC) class, first in the American Le Mans Series and then the WeatherTech Championship. He and longtime co-driver Colin Braun won back-to-back PC class titles in 2014 and 2015, and raced a Porsche in the GT Daytona (GTD) class last year. Bennett’s team also fields the two-car Porsche GT Team in the GT Le Mans (GTLM) class.

But as the 2017 season wound down, Bennett knew what he wanted to do next, which was to return to Prototype racing. He also knew it would take a significant commitment to take that step.

“I began to create this concept towards the end of the season last year, and I knew that the cars were quite a bit more physical to drive,” he said. “I really began to step up my personal training and getting stronger and building my endurance back in August-September of 2017, and I haven’t stopped.

“I think that plays an important role in terms of staying sharp and quick as the hours progress in these long races. I’m very thankful that I took the time to sort of reimagine my training and step it up. I think that’s really part of the lifestyle going forward. These cars are not for kids. They’re very quick, they’re very, very physically demanding and it’s important that you keep up with the car.”

Braun believes Bennett did a fine job of keeping up with the car in their first outing at Daytona, which clearly played a role in the team finishing on the podium.

“One of the biggest things that impressed me was Jon’s pace in the race,” Braun said. “I mean, he did an amazing job. Not only as a team, we kept up with Penskes and the Joests and all these teams, but Jon as a driver was able to keep up with those pro-level guys as well. That’s what really kept us in the mix and allowed us to contend at the end of the race.”

Bennett pointed out a few other key contributors to the team’s success at Daytona, namely his full-season co-driver, Braun, their Daytona co-drivers, Loic Duval and Romain Dumas, and the team’s overall preparation. In a class that includes teams like Acura Team Penske, Mazda Team Joest, Action Express Racing, Wayne Taylor Racing and many others, preparation is key.

“I’ve been fortunate for several years now to be partnered with Colin in the race car,” Bennett said. “Colin is walk-on-water talented and Rolex-dependable. Adding to that, we have two endurance racing veterans from Europe in Romain Dumas and Loic Duval. We all knew that we were up against stiff competition, and our jobs that I like to joke about is to stay off the TV broadcast until the end of the race. That was our mission.”

“I feel a big component of the whole thing is the fact that – on the outside – I think people really didn’t expect us to be able to do what we did,” Braun added. “Part of what makes CORE who we are is the fact that we all believe that, ‘Hey, if we do our jobs and things go our way, we can be right in there doing the same level of performance and execution as the big-name teams. I think that little underdog mentality sort of propels us along.”

Going into the race, those “big-name teams” that Braun referenced were expected to raise the level of competition in the Prototype class, and they did to some degree. But they both agree that their team was more than capable of competing against them.

“I have to say that I’m not massively surprised by it,” said Braun of the team’s Daytona performance. “I mean, CORE has done such a good job on all aspects of the race team, so to me, it’s no surprise that we’d come back into the Prototype class and have some good success right off the bat.”

“You can only do all that you can do, so we focused on our preparation and being ready for the race,” Bennett adds. “We expected a lot of interesting storylines going into the race at Daytona, but our mission was to try to make our car do as many laps as possible in a 24-hour period and let the results kind of take care of themselves.”

And they did. The team – and the rest of the WeatherTech Championship – now shifts its focus to the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts on March 17. Braun points out that the team has plenty of work ahead, especially considering that to date, they haven’t yet run the car anywhere other than Daytona.

But if they attack Sebring and the rest of the season the same way they did at Daytona, they should be able to build on the momentum from Daytona.

“Momentum can be a bit of a head game,” Bennett said. “Certainly, momentum is a great thing. I think it is encouragement to continue to do the things that are making you successful, and we’ll certainly do that. But at the same time, the mission at Sebring and for the rest of the year won’t change. We’re still in a very, very competitive class and at the top of the category in the WeatherTech Championship.

“The momentum is certainly a wonderful luxury that we get to enjoy right now, but it’s certainly not an invitation to relax and think that the momentum will somehow affect or create a good result at Sebring or Long Beach and on from there.”