Despite being a rookie team, the AIM Autosport squad surprised many with its performance in the recent Rolex 24 at Daytona, as the team secured a fine fifth place finish in the round the clock race that kicked off the Grand Am season.
Mark Wilkins qualified the #61 Lexus Riley 17th in the top Daytona Prototype class, but started 27th after the car's starter balked at the green flag. He and his co-drivers David Empringham, Brian Frisselle and Burt Frisselle then logged consistent laps and the AIM crew executed smooth, penalty-free pitstops to finish fifth.
It was a result that put the team ahead of more established outfits near the front of the field and Andrew Bodin, who co-owns the team with Ian and Keith Willis said that one thing had been key to the teams success.
"It's definitely preparation," he reflected. "The team has to be calm, they have to be confident. To be up there, you need quite a bit of experience because things have to flow so smoothly. Ian and Keith are so meticulous in the way they do things that you see it in the result of the car."
AIM has 12 years of experience fielding multi-car teams in Formula BMW USA and the Star Mazda Championship, but the Rolex 24 was the team's first endurance race – meaning that the team was suddenly faced with an event as long as nearly 50 Formula BMW races.
However the team was ready for the challenge and hired experienced personnel to get the job done. Team manager Don Sobering, chief mechanic Kevin O'Reilly and data engineer Craig English quickly gelled into a cohesive force with race engineer Ian Willis. The drivers were equally impressive, flashing the car's striking gold-and-black livery around the 3.56-mile Daytona track for sponsors Exchange Traded Gold, Barrick Gold Corporation, RBC Royal Bank and Telus' Mike Network.
"The drivers did a fantastic job; they were consistently quick in their lap times. They couldn't do that without a good car that the crew put together," Bordin noted. "Everything went really smoothly. A lot of that was the experience of the guys who were hired into this programme. We come from the world of sprint races. These guys spent a lot of their time and energy explaining things. Communication was a big factor in getting us off to the right start.”
AIM is already tackling the next set of lessons, changing strategy to match the two-hour 30-minute format of the upcoming Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series races.
"We found a setup that was comfortable to run a certain pace for a long time,” Bordin explained. “It wasn't very knife-edge and it wasn't the fastest, but it was very consistent. When you have a safe car underneath you, it feels good, it's really comforting. But when you get to a sprint race, a safe car isn't the one that wins. So it's a different idea now. Looking ahead, we definitely have to focus on outright speed and taking the car to its maximum limit."