To become a champion team, operate like one, says Bennett

Traditionally a new driver must seek out sponsorship from businesses to fund racing efforts, and rookie teams grow into championship teams via experience. One of the newest teams in the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón’s LMPC category, however, approaches things a little differently. Prior to owning and driving for CORE autosport, Jon Bennett started his own business with the hopes of funding a race team. And prior to starting its debut season in the Series, the team plans to operate as though it is the defending champion.

While initially it may sound backward, a closer look reveals that CORE autosport approaches racing much like an entrepreneur would a business. Rather than start a team and hope to find enough investors, Bennett created the investor: Composite Resources, Inc.

“Racing was the motivation for me to start my manufacturing company,” Bennett recalled. “Racing is an expensive endeavor and with a little bit of advice I began to realize in my mid-20s that the only way to go racing at the level I wanted was to make an attempt at owning my own business. Fortunately, it was very successful and I hope to take what I learned making that business successful and put it into making this team successful as well.”

The results came quickly for CORE, which won the 2010 Cooper Tire Prototype Lites Team and Drivers’ championships with Charlie Shears in its debut season. Quickly, the team turned its focus to the next step on the IMSA ladder – the ALMS’ LMPC category – and purchased two ORECA FLM09s. The team arrived at the annual Sebring Winter Test having its cars for little more than a month but instantly topped the time sheets. The key to those instant results, and future ones Bennett hopes, is operating the race team as he would his business. The Composite Resources facility reflects the aerospace nature of the company: clean, organized and professional. CORE autosport strives to embody the same qualities while also investing in quality personnel.

“One of the things I’ve learned in the manufacturing business is that you may have the best equipment and the best facilities and the best ideas, but without really good people it’s very hard to implement them,” Bennett said.

The team’s driver lineup of Gunnar Jeannette, Frankie Montecalvo, Ricardo Gonzalez, Bennett and Ryan Dalziel for the Winter Test and longer races, reflects that. Bennett credits the team’s professionalism in Prototype Lites for attracting high-caliber talent.

“I think one of the effects was that Gunnar Jeannette saw what was going on and was curious,” Bennett said of his team’s 2010 Lites operation. “He did his homework and said ‘Hey guys, I have some funding and we’re looking for a really nice home. You look like you did a good job last year and maybe we should come visit you.’”

The addition of Jeannette was a catalyst for CORE in the important weeks leading up to the Winter Test. A runner-up in last year’s LMPC championship and a veteran with 49 ALMS starts, Jeannette served as a mentor and motivator for the young team. For him, the motivation lies in claiming the LMPC championship that slipped away in the final round of 2010.

“To be involved with what Jon Bennett has started and his goals is really exciting,” Jeannette said. “It’s been kind of a whirlwind, because it all happened so late. Our first meeting was in January, our first test was in January and here we are at the beginning of February, so it’s been a very short time frame.

“Myself and Ricardo raced in LMPC last year and I narrowly missed out on the championship, so that obviously puts a carrot out there to work even harder. With this being only our second time together at the track, the relationships are building quickly and the groundwork for what’s hopefully going to be a championship team.”

All teams will tell you they’re after the championship and nothing less, but Bennett’s answer naturally shows a bit more business sense.

“Honestly, my expectation is that when we get to the end of the season that my clients Frankie and Ricardo believe that whatever our result is, it was an honest effort, and that the things that held us back were out of our control,” concluded Bennett. “I also think that if the stars align a little bit for us, then the championship is completely in the cards, which is a unique situation for a start-up. We have a legitimate shot.”

CORE autosport will face its LMPC challengers for the first time at the 59th Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring presented by Fresh from Florida, set for 10:30 a.m. ET on Saturday, March 19. The race will be shown live and in its entirety on and starting at 10 a.m. ET. ABC will provide coverage from 12:30 to 2 p.m. ET on Sunday, March 20. Visit the American Le Mans Series’ schedule page for information on tickets and area accommodations.

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