Photo: Courtesy of IMSA

The Man with the Moves: Stephen Simpson Dazzles in Two IMSA Series

By IMSA Wire Service

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Two series. Two moves. Two monumental victories.

That’s the story of Stephen Simpson throughout the month of July.

Pulling double duty in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge for the third consecutive year, the JDC-Miller Motorsports driver reaped the benefits of his hard work with wins in both series during IMSA’s summer stretch of racing.

To kick off July in the WeatherTech Championship Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen, Simpson – co-driving the No. 99 GAINSCO “Red Dragon” ORECA LMP2 with Misha Goikhberg and Chris Miller – made a thrilling three-wide pass during the final stint of the race to deliver the team’s first Prototype victory since moving from the Prototype Challenge (PC) class to the top Prototype class at the beginning of the 2017 season.

The trio of Simpson, Goikhberg and Miller sent the GAINSCO “Red Dragon” race car to victory lane for the first time in five years, with the win also coming one year after the team finished second at Watkins Glen after leading late in that race.

“Obviously the Sahlen’s win is special for a number of reasons,” said Simpson, who also celebrated his first Fourth of July as a U.S. citizen at Watkins Glen. “The fact that we came close last year and to go back this year and do one better and win the race, I think that shows a lot about the character of the team and what we’re capable of doing.

“To get the Red Dragon back into victory lane, that was very special and to have that happen only half a season into our GAINSCO Auto Insurance partnership. I shouldn’t say it wasn’t expected because we always go to the racetrack with the goal of winning races, but to do that at such a big race was great.”

Yet his pass at Watkins Glen wouldn’t be the last time Simpson would show off his skill in the month of July.

During the Continental Tire Challenge race at Lime Rock Park last Saturday, Simpson battled door-to-door in the closing minutes of the race with Kenton Koch for the win in the TCR class. Simpson held second place in the No. 54 JDC-Miller Audi RS3 LMS, but as the two drivers came down the front straightaway towards the checkered flag, he ducked to the inside and powered past Koch by a nose for the win.

The photo finish was the third-closest margin of victory in Continental Tire Challenge history. It also was an emotional first professional racing win for Simpson’s co-driver Michael Johnson, who was paralyzed from the waist down in a motorcycle incident at age 12.

Having coached Johnson since 2011 and competing in the Continental Tire Challenge together since 2016, Simpson wanted nothing more than to deliver for his co-driver.

“He definitely deserves it,” Simpson said. “He’s worked very hard both in and out of the race car over the years and especially the last two years when we were racing in the Street Tuner class, it was a challenge. I kept on saying to him after so many tough weekends that I can’t wait for him to be in a situation and in a race car where he can really show everybody else what he’s capable of doing.”

And there’s reason to believe the Lime Rock win wasn’t a fluke for Simpson and Johnson, as the team has steadily moved forward throughout the season. In the three races prior to Lime Rock, the No. 54 team finished fourth at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, then finished third at Watkins Glen and second at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.

With the elusive first win finally captured, Simpson is looking forward with his teammate, not backward.

“I’m very proud of where (Michael’s) at, but at the same time I’m also excited for the future,” said Simpson. “I think this is really a milestone for him, but I think there’s a lot more to come from him as well.”

The wins weren’t only for his JDC-Miller team or his co-drivers, they also were for Simpson himself. The memory of missed opportunities has lingered for the South African driver and now, he feels he is finally able to let those feelings go.

“I’m proud of my performance,” said Simpson. “I feel like I’ve had some good performances over the last couple of years – and I don’t think I was really at risk of this – but I certainly didn’t want to get any reputation that I could do really well and come close to winning races, but never actually seal the deal. The Sahlen’s win was a big one and, I think to a certain degree, just showed that I can actually finish the job. The same can be said for Lime Rock as well.”

Simpson’s next opportunity to appear on the highlight reel will be at Road America on Aug. 3-5. The WeatherTech Championship Continental Tire Road Race Showcase will be televised live on FS1 on Sunday, August 5 at 2:30 p.m. ET, while the Continental Tire Challenge Road America 120 can be streamed live on on Saturday, August 4 at 4 p.m. ET.

Additionally, fans can re-watch Simpson and Johnson’s victory at Lime Rock Park this Sunday, July 29 with a televised broadcast on FS1 at 3 p.m. ET.

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