By IMSA Wire Service
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Team owner Paul Miller goes back a long way with Lime Rock Park, which hosts the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GT Le Mans (GTLM) and GT Daytona (GTD) classes in this Saturday’s two-hour, 40-minute Northeast Grand Prix. It’s also pretty close to home.
“Let me put it to you this way, it’s two hours and about 15 minutes from where I’m standing at the moment in my Audi dealership,” said Miller in a telephone interview Monday. “We have 700-something employees and we bought a block of tickets for our employees to go to the race. We gave them out on a first-come, first-served basis and they were gone in less than an hour. That probably should tell you something about the interest level in our race team.”
Miller says he first raced at Lime Rock as a driver in the mid-1960s. During his driving career, he raced there and many other places through the mid-1980s with co-drivers such as his brother, Kenper, Ludwig Heimrath, Bob Akin and Brian Redman, and against competition like Hurley Haywood, George Follmer and Vasek Polak.
It was that stiff competition, in fact, that led Miller into the automobile dealership business. Paul Miller, Inc. now owns and operates 12 dealerships in New Jersey.
“We were getting spanked relatively regularly by the Porsches and one of the reasons I got into the car dealership business – I was actually in the newspaper business,” Miller recalls. “I sent a letter into the distributor and learned that there was a dealership in bankruptcy in Parsippany, New Jersey.
“So, I got involved as a silent partner and my first order of business was to buy a (Porsche) 934 in 1976, which was an incredibly stupid business decision, but it was a lot of fun.”
While fun, Miller realized shortly thereafter that he was better off joining established teams that had infrastructure in place. After doing that for a while, he eventually returned to fielding his own race cars.
“I got into my own 924 Turbo and I raced pretty much full time and was committed to the full series in ’83, ’84 and ’85,” he said. “We had wins at Mosport in ’84 and Lime Rock in ’85. But unfortunately, my car was incredibly unreliable, so I guess that made a lifelong impression on me.”
Reliability and consistency are key pillars to the success of Paul Miller Racing, which heads into this weekend’s race atop the GTD point standings with co-drivers Bryan Sellers and Madison Snow sharing the No. 48 Lamborghini Huracán GT3. They’re three points ahead of second-place Katherine Legge, who drives the No. 86 Meyer Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3.
“Part of what we’re doing pretty well these days is building a car that actually finishes races an incredibly high percentage of the time without major glitches,” Miller says. “That’s had a big impact on why we do pretty well today.”
“Pretty well” actually might be a bit modest. The team has finished fourth or better in every race this season, with a win in March’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts. In all, Sellers and Snow have finished on the podium in five of the season’s six races.
Since the inception of the WeatherTech Championship in 2014 – when the team shifted to the GTD class after running the previous three seasons in the mostly factory-supported American Le Mans Series GT class – Paul Miller Racing finished second in the championship in 2014, and third in both 2015 and 2016.
“The biggest key is continuity and consistency in our people,” Miller says. “Mitchell Simmons came with me back in 2009 as a data person and then over the next couple of years, became the team manager. I have mechanics that have been with me a number of years, including our crew chief, who’s been with me 10 years.
“It’s actually a pretty interesting story all by itself. He started as a mechanic helper at 22 and now he’s 32 and he’s our crew chief, Garrett (Crutchfield). I really think that’s the key to our success. It’s really the consistency of our team and our personnel that’s really made all the difference.”
Miller also credits the team’s driver lineup, which has been together since the start of the 2016 season when the team switched from racing Audis to Lamborghinis. The team originally was built around Paul’s son, Bryce Miller, as its lead driver, but Sellers has been the leader since joining the team full-time in 2016.
“We came in second place in the GT class (in the 2011 Rolex 24 At Daytona) with Bryan, and Bryan was really the lead guy in the car with Bryce,” Miller says. “We got to know each other really well and work with each other, and when the (Team) Falken (Tire) program came to a close and Bryan became available, that was kind of a natural, go-to situation.
“We really wanted somebody that could work with and be a great teacher and instructor and mentor to whoever we had in the seat as a silver (-rated driver). That was kind of the logic behind going with Bryan. He’s turned out to be a huge asset for us, not only in helping develop Madison, but just in terms of his overall relationships in the paddock. He’s great with the press piece of it and he’s a great teacher and coach to Madison.
“And Madison has really, really developed over the last three years. He’s really become a first-class driver, so much so that we had Madison finish Mosport and he did a great job. A lot of teams don’t have that flexibility to be able to go and put their silver driver in to close one of the shorter races. We’re very comfortable doing that.”
Miller knows the team needs any advantage it can get in a tough GTD class, which he considers “the best racing in the world.” Beyond Legge and the No. 86 team, there are a host of other top competitors nipping at their heels, which he expects will make the run to the season-ending Motul Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta on Oct. 13 a nail-biter. But it’s also enjoyable.
“The competition is, candidly, much, much, much tougher than it was two years ago in GTD,” Miller says. “We’ve risen to the occasion and we’ve actually been able to grow our team so that we’ve been able to grow our performance and consistency. It’s very gratifying and it’s really a lot of fun to see if we can really compete head-to-head with some of these teams.”
Saturday’s two-hour, 40-minute Northeast Grand Prix begins at 3 pm ET and will be televised on a delayed basis that afternoon starting at 4 p.m. ET on FS1. The race will be carried live by IMSA Radio on IMSA.com, RadioLeMans.com and SiriusXM Radio (Sirius 138/XM 202/App 972).
Tickets are available now on LimeRock.com.