By IMSA Wire Service
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 co-driven to the 2018 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GT Daytona (GTD) title by Bryan Sellers and Madison Snow finished on the podium eight times in 11 races, including a run of five straight podiums to start the season.
It won twice, at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts and the Northeast Grand Prix at Lime Rock Park. It finished inside the top five 10 times. And it needed every single one of those results to win a closely contested championship battle over the No. 86 Meyer Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3 and its lead driver, Katherine Legge.
“I had a number of people say to us, ‘You know, with all the points you guys have accumulated, you should have put this thing away two races ago,’” said Team Owner Paul Miller. “The reality is that the 86 guys just did a great job. They just did not let up. They had a great car and they just kept coming at us.”
Going into the 10-hour Motul Petit Le Mans season finale at Road Atlanta on Oct. 13, the No. 48 team had a six-point lead over Legge. However, two races earlier following the eighth round of the season, the margin was 18 points, before Legge and her co-driver, Alvaro Parente, whittled down the lead with a third-place performance in the Michelin GT Challenge at VIRginia International Raceway and a victory in the America’s Tire 250 at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
“I was kidding with people that I didn’t know whether I was going to have a heart attack or a stroke the weekend of Petit, because there was so much pressure,” Miller said. “You knew you had to be on the podium to really protect the championship lead; the little, slim lead we had. It was a real nail-biter.”
But their performance in the race put the team’s mind at ease. In the end, they finished third in the race, one position behind the No. 86. That gave them the championship by four points.
“We had an increasingly better car over the course of the race, so we had good pace and we were competitive and able to run really good times,” Miller said. “So, the last couple of hours when we were just following Parente, we could have pushed harder, we could have even tried to pass them, but there was no point in doing that. We just had to keep focused on the objective.
“It made it all that much more exciting, but it also took a few days to even have it sink in because there was just so much pressure. I think our whole team, it literally took until the middle of that week following the race for people to start to really be able to breathe and feel like, ‘Wow, we can actually enjoy this. We’ve actually come away with this thing.’”
It marked the culmination of several years of strong performance in the WeatherTech Championship GTD class. The team had finished “on the podium” in the GTD standings in each of the first three years of the WeatherTech Championship with a runner-up performance in 2014, followed by back-to-back third-place finishes in the 2015 and 2016 championship standings.
After an uncharacteristic eighth-place showing in the 2017 final standings, the team came back with a vengeance right out of the gate in 2018 with a third-place showing in the Rolex 24 At Daytona ahead of their victory at Sebring.
“A big key to this year was doing so well at Daytona and Sebring,” Miller said. “I mean, coming out of the box with the first two critical races really set the tone for the whole season. Usually, if you go back and you look at our record, we’ll have a seventh or ninth in there and we’ll have some issues or we’ll have some unfortunate incident that will set us back and then we just won’t have the points accumulations that we had this year.
“That was a huge, huge factor in our season, coming out of Daytona with a third. Then, to be able to win at Sebring, really, really put us in a great position to make a real run at it.”
The team took the GTD points lead after Sebring. While the margin got close a few times – all the way down to one point coming out of the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen – the No. 48 squad never relinquished the lead for the rest of the year.
“Once we came out of Daytona and we went on to win Sebring, our team just stepped it up to a whole different level than I think we have before, because we could see that we had a real shot to win the championship,” Miller said. “I think that motivated everybody that much more. The early advantage really put everybody’s mindset in the right place to be that much more competitive.
“I was really happy with so many aspects of not just lap times and pole positions and high placings and podiums, but our pit-stop performance was excellent, our driver-change performance was excellent. We worked on so many of the details that really converted. You could see that they would make a tangible difference in our overall performance. Strategically, we’re in a much better place than we have been in the past.
“It’s a whole number of things that came together that really propelled us to eke out that little margin over the Shank guys.”