DAYTONA BEACH — Momentum is a valuable commodity in sports.
It’s hard to get and can be even harder to keep. But when you’ve got it, momentum brings great things, like a victory in the Rolex 24 At Daytona.
Such was the case for the No. 25 BMW Team RLL squad and its quartet of co-drivers, Connor De Phillippi, Philipp Eng, Augusto Farfus and Colton Herta. It started last August, when De Phillippi and then-co-driver Alexander Sims – who now drives for BMW’s Formula E program – won the Michelin GT Challenge at VIRginia International Raceway.
That was the first victory anywhere in the world for BMW’s new-for-2018 M8 GTE race car. At the next race, September’s America’s Tire 250 at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, De Phillippi and Sims went back-to-back with another victory.
They closed out the season with a fourth-place run in the 10-hour Motul Petit Le Mans with longtime BMW ace Bill Auberlen sharing the No. 25, finishing one spot behind their teammates in the No. 24 entry, Jesse Krohn, John Edwards and Chaz Mostert.
“The 2018 year for our new M8 GTE car was definitely a success,” De Phillippi said. “We closed out the year strong with a few wins and podiums. I think that was the end goal by the end of the year, which we achieved.”
Last month at Daytona, the spotlight was the brightest on BMW Team RLL’s No. 24 entry, as two-time Champ Car champion Alex Zanardi made his much-heralded debut alongside the same trio that finished on the podium in the 2018 season finale at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta. Zanardi, who lost his legs in a Champ Car crash at Germany’s EuroSpeedway Lausitz in 2001, captivated race fans with his unbridled enthusiasm and positivity.
While the No. 24 team understandably got the attention, the No. 25 team did what it has done best over the past five months. Win.
“There’s certainly a lot of thoughts going through all of our minds,” said De Phillippi after the race. He was referring to the recent passing of Charly Lamm, the team principal of BMW Team Schnitzer and a stalwart of BMW Motorsport.
“It’s an emotional one for all of us,” De Phillippi continued. “If we looked 12 months back, obviously, the program was very new and had a lot of steps that needed to be done. We worked tirelessly for the last 12 months, and here we stand on top of the podium.
“I think that shows the effort that BMW and Team RLL have put in. This is definitely – I’ve won a couple other big races (including both Motul Petit Le Mans and the Nurburgring 24 Hours in 2017) – but this is going to be the one to go to the top of the list for sure.”
It also continues the No. 25 team’s momentum heading into the next race, the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts on March 16, and to the rest of the WeatherTech Championship season.
For the rest of the year, De Phillippi will share the ride with British racer Tom Blomqvist, who had to sit out Daytona due to a visa issue and was replaced by Farfus.
“My new teammate, Tom Blomqvist, and I, we get along really well,” De Phillippi said. “We’re very similar, actually even more similar than Mr. Sims and I were last year, so I think we have a really strong combination. We’re built very similar. We’re both very comfortable in the car with the same seat position. Little things like that count.
“I think he has definitely proven himself in the WEC program as one of the fastest guys. I think him and I will be a strong threat for the championship if we just play our cards smart. To just be on the podium, like the guys last year proved, wins you championships.”
Of course, the team already has done more than “just be on the podium.” But there are 10 more WeatherTech Championship rounds to go and the team’s championship hopes are riding on continued success – and keeping up that momentum.
“I think this year will be equally as competitive as last year, if not more,” De Phillippi said. “Now that everyone has an extra season under their belt, it gets more and more competitive every year. Each team refines the car that little bit more and is that much more reliable, which means you have to push that much harder each and every lap.
“More of the responsibility starts going onto the driver, because we start being able to make the littlest differences. The teams are nearly perfect in every aspect. We’re the space between the steering wheel and the seat, so they call us ‘The spacer.’ We try to be the best spacer we can.”