MLB player enjoys success as driver

Christopher John Wilson (left), Major League Baseball player and race car driver, and his new co-driver, Danny Burkett.

Christopher John Wilson (left), Major League Baseball player and race car driver, and his new co-driver, Danny Burkett.

The recent Roar Before the Rolex 24 proved to be a breakout weekend for CJ Wilson Racing, owned by Major League Baseball player Christopher John Wilson.

Making a full-time move to the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge Grand Sport (GS) class, the 2015 Street Tuner (ST) champions rolled out a brand new Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport – and turned in the fastest lap of the weekend. New team driver Danny Burkett led the GS competitors with a lap of 1:57.430 (109.137 miles per hour/174.62 kilometers per hour) in the No. 33 One Capital Management Clubsport co-driven by Marc Miller.

“We had a good start to our season,” said Burkett, who is making his sports car debut after racing in karts and open-wheel cars. “It was great to set the fastest lap with a new car and a new team, in a new atmosphere overall. I wasn’t sure it would happen that quickly. We were happy with how well we worked together as a team, and I think we will be a force to be reckoned with this year.”

Having his car atop the speed chart wasn’t the only reason car owner Wilson was smiling, though. The MLB star lefty pitcher for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim turned his first official laps in a professional series.

“Now that I have my IMSA [International Motor Sports Association] license, I’m officially a two-sport athlete,” Wilson said.

After helping the team set up the new car, Wilson buckled in with 15 minutes remaining on the second day practice and ran a few laps.

“Driving at Daytona is really cool, and the banking is really intense,” said Wilson, who also participated in a pair of promotional photo shoots with the new car. “It’s not something you can simulate at any other track. It’s pretty stiff up there.”

During the weekend practice, Wilson drove in both sessions, steadily dropping his times down to the two-minute mark. The team brought both of its news Cayman GT4 Clubsport to the test. The second was available if needed as a parts car. Fortunately for the team, it was not needed in that capacity.

“It’s a really cool car,” Wilson said of the Cayman GT4 Clubsport. “The brakes are really good, and the transmission is absolutely fantastic. It’s going to be fun to race a mid-engine car. Mid-engine cars typically handle the best over the stint of a tire. We’re working to try to get to know it. This is our first time having the car on the track, so we’ve got a lot of room to go, and a lot of adjustments to try to make.”

Gelling as teammates
While Wilson stepped up in his first race as a pro driver, Burkett was quick in adapting to an unfamiliar roof over his head. He was the 2014 Atlantic Challenge champion – winning seven of 10 races among nine podiums – in addition to competing in USF2000 and the Pro Mazda Championship. He drove in two IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Prototype Challenge races last year for BAR1 Motorsports, finishing third at Watkins Glen International and fifth at Road America.

“This was only my second day ever in a close-cockpit car,” Burkett said. “It’s been a huge learning curve, and I was quite nervous when I first got in the car. It took some time to get up to speed. My best lap in my first session was 2:01, and then we found four seconds in the car setup and my overall comfort level.” The main goal for the test was to get me comfortable in the car, so that on race time I could be aggressive making moves and give the car to Marc in a race-winning position.”

Burkett quickly hit it off with his new co-driver. They met at the team headquarters in Austin, on what turned out to be the eve of the premier of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Both drivers proved to be Star Wars nerds. With the local showings sold out, they found tickets on Craigslist for $30 each and drove 30 minutes to a midnight showing.

“We’re going to be great teammates,” Burkett said. “Coming from the open-wheel side – where it’s every man for himself – in sports cars, if you make your teammate quicker, ultimately, you’re going to win races as well. Based on our chemistry to start things off, I think we’re going to have a great year together. Marc’s like the older brother I’ve never had.”

Last year, CJ Wilson Racing had Chad McCumbee and Stevan McAleer win the ST title, winning at Watkins Glen International and Lime Rock Park among four podium finishes in a Mazda MX-5. Miller joined Tyler McQuarrie in a pair of GS races in a Porsche 911, with their best finish seventh at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.


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