Bunker & Marks
ALMS Support Package Breeds Sportscar Talent
package performs several functions but perhaps one of the most important,
as far as front-ranking sportscar racing is concerned, is to expose
teams, backers and drivers to the main event.
ALMS runs alongside a number of series, including the IMSA GT3 Cup
Challenge for Porsche 996 and 997 GT3 Cup cars - which put on a
stunning 44 car show at the opening round of the season at Sebring
- and, at Lime Rock, Mid-Ohio, Road America and Petit Le Mans, the
new IMSA Lites series for ‘baby’ sportscars.
with the newcomer series, there has also been a successful link-up
with a number of other championships, which have drawn talent towards
Mazdas have proved to be an effective nursery for a huge number
of aspiring racing talent, including Marco Andretti, Scott Speed
and Graham Rahal. The 2006 12 Hours of Sebring saw Rahal make his
ALMS debut aboard the Alex Job Porsche, with fellow Star Mazda graduates
Guy Cosmo (2002 Champion) and Jamie Bach joined aboard the B-K Motorsport
Courage C65 Mazda LMP2 car by 2005 Champion Raphael Matos, the young
Brazilian winning his Sebring drive as part of an impressive prize
package for winning the Championship.
year old Rob Bunker is typical of the current breed
of Star Mazda drivers, or is he?
After starting in karts at nine years of age, “It
was scary at first,” the Bridgwater NJ, youngster was on a
fast track (in more ways than one) to a motorsport career.
“I only got my road car driver’s licence
about three months ago and by then I’d been driving Formula
cars for the last three years. “
An ever present throughout the Formula racing part
of Rob’s career has been the guiding hand of a driver coach.
"Without coaching, I don't know where I would be. I think it's
a critical component in just about every sport," he said (at
Sebring). "Everyone imagines driving a car – I do that
every day, I now drive my car to work every day. But it's not really
the same. I like to have every opportunity I can to be the most
efficient driver on and off the track."
After karts the next step was Formula TR Pro racing,
a proper single seater car with a 1600 Renault engine.
that season (2004) I tried the new Formula BMW car and chose to
go that way in 2005. I learned a lot in both series.” Legend
has it that Rob prepared for the Formula BMW standing starts by
watching his hero John Force drag-racing on television!
“I had a good year in the BMW and many of
my contemporaries went on to either Star Mazda or Toyota Atlantic
Rob chose the Mazda route, and the link with the
ALMS package was a major factor: “The ALMS is my dream, it’s
great being on the bill with them, I want to make a career in endurance
racing and I want to get into a prototype as soon as I possibly
can. It’s great to talk to teams here that are already aware
of what I’ve been doing so far.”
If he wins the
Championship this year, there is every possibility that the Mazda-engined
LMP2 car will give him that opportunity early in 2007.
“The Star Mazda car was a real step up, night
and day away from the BMW.”
So how do you stay focused, how does a 17 year old
approach, literally, that first turn in a race, particularly one
as challenging, and as potentially busy as turn one at Sebring?
“It’s about trying to remain an individual.
It would be real easy to let the adrenaline take over. I’m
not interested in being high and mighty about it, just in getting
through the turn in the best shape I possibly can. The best way
to do that is to stay focused and to be aware of what is going on
That’s an extraordinarily insightful answer
from, let’s face it, a teenager. But this is where the coaching
comes in. Rob now uses Speed Secrets coaching to get the best out
of himself and his race performance.
Secrets founder and head coach, ex-Champcar racer Ross Bentley,
believes racing is more than apices and braking zones: "We
don't just focus on the physical technique of driving. A bigger
piece is working on getting the driver's brain switched on so they
perform at their peak on a more consistent basis. There is no magic
formula that works for every single driver, so everything we do
is custom-designed for the driver."
That's the essence of coaching.
"The car itself is able to work at 100 per
cent efficiency right out of the box. All it needs is to warm up
the engine, the tires and things like that," continues Rob
Bunker. “Coaching can help me with every single part of my
performance and I’ve been a bit like a sponge. I like to assume
that some of it is natural though!
"Humans usually start off a bit slower. The
idea is to get me warmed up at the same pace that the car is getting
warmed up. There are certain techniques we use at Speed Secrets
to increase the amount the mind is working, increase heart rate
and keep my vision up and out."
“That’s one area where I really have
made progress. I can now focus further away and my constant peripheral
vision is vastly improved.”
In reality that means that Mr. Bunker can look both
at where he’s going and at whoever it is that might be attempting
to get there before him.
“Technically that means I have 20:10 vision
– better than ideal! I can pick a line to the exit of a turn
and still be aware visually of anything else I have to deal with.”
Ross Bentley is glowing on the subject of Rob’s
abilities and potential: "Rob is very, very gifted. You can
tell that he's played a lot of sports all his life because he picks
things up really quickly. If I tell him to brake two per cent lighter
in a corner, he'll do it. And it won't take him 30 laps –
he'll have it nailed by the second lap."
Rob Bunker had
cause to put theory into practice at Round 1 of the Championship
at Sebring: starting back in 35th place after a steering failure
in qualifying, he stormed through the field to post a top ten finish
in his first ever Star Mazda start.
There is perhaps a more obvious road across to one
of the other mainstays of the ALMS support package. The Speed GT
Championship provides some stunning and close fought, GT3 level,
sprint action to warm up the crowds before the big boys take to
There has always been considerable crossover between
the two series, with Johnny Mowlem and Andy Pilgrim amongst a gaggle
of ALMS talent taking to the Speed GT grid, and a host of drivers
have crossed over in the opposite direction over the past few years.
them is 25 year old Justin Marks, who drove for
PTG Technology at Sebring, at the start of what is due to be a full
season’s attack on the GT2 class of the ALMS
Tom Milner’s PTG Technology squad of course
makes a welcome return, and more welcome still is the fact that
the team is bringing a squad of young talent, to join old hands
Bill Auberlen and Ian James.
Justin Marks was something of late starter to the
motorsport game, as a driver at least:
“I’ve been a fan forever but when our
high school career counsellers asked what it was I wanted to do,
there was really only one answer. I wanted to be a professional
Justin hails from Sacramento, California, but is
about to move to North Carolina and, like so many pumped up teenagers,
he focused on his new mission completely:
“I got into it racing late model stock cars
first and that was great, but things really took off when I met
Johannes van Overbeek, who started to mentor me. Once Johannes had
taken me under his wing, I started to have much more direction to
my efforts and I started to learn very fast indeed.”
The move over to road racing first involved a most
unlikely weapon of choice.
“I did a full season of SCCA racing in a Datsun
510: my first ever road race was in February 2000 and by the November
I was testing a Racers Group / Team Seattle Porsche ahead of the
That meant that
the youngster had completed just a dozen or so road races in total
before taking to the grid of a twice round the clock endurance classic.
It lit the flame for sportscar racing, and the following season
saw the first of what would become a four year spell in the SPEED
World GT Challenge, initially in a Porsche 911 and then in a Turner
Motorsports BMW M3.
began to come quite quickly, a second place in his rookie year,
10th in the overall points standings, a start on the outside of
the front row in Portland and then, in the second season the podium
finishes began to come.
By 2004 the
programme had grown to include PTG’s Grand Am programme, as
well as World Challenge. With the decision to bring PTG back into
the ALMS for the first time since the fabulous M3 GTRs ran in 2001,
and also the decision to give Justin a season-long seat, it gives
the youngster an ideal opportunity to compare the ‘opposition’
with his new home in the ALMS.
a different kind of racing really. Grand Am really doesn’t
place the emphasis on technology: for the best example of that just
look at the differences between the headline classes - the Daytona
Prototypes and the LMP1s. In Grand Am the emphasis is on the racing
and not the cars. In ALMS though the racing is still unbelievably
close and that’s as much a tribute to the rules package equalizing
radically different approaches to the same problems, as it is to
the professionalism of the manufacturers and teams. For BMW it just
makes way more sense to be here, competing on the track against
the manufacturers they compete against in the marketplace.”
Mission established then for BMW. What about for
PTG and the 2006 12 Hours of Sebring and beyond for the remainder
of the season?
our priority is to get to the finish,” said Justin, before
the start of the 12 Hours of Sebring. “I’ve seen before
what it can do to a championship campaign to stumble early, leaving
a huge points hole to dig yourselves out from. If things go our
way here the package we have can be competitive for a podium and
that would be a great way to mark PTG and BMW’s return to
Sadly for PTG though that wasn’t to be. Both
cars retired from a grueling 12 Hours of Sebring after showing fine
pace, particularly from the #21 car.
There will now be an anxious wait for three of PTG’s
Sebring driving squad.
“As for the rest of the season, Bill (Auberlen),
Joey (Hands) and myself are confirmed for the season and the other
three guys are pretty well aware that the decision on who will take
the other full season seat might depend on how well they do here
Beyond that, and the possibility of a new BMW joining
the team later this season, where does Justin see himself, and BMW
looking to for the future?
I am really enjoying this programme and I love the endurance racing
scene. The simple fact is that without the Le Mans 24 Hours, this
series wouldn’t exist. That’s a race that all of us
want to take part in and all of us want to win it too. As for BMW,
well it’s not my place to say!”
Two very different drivers, two very different career
paths, but both with similar ambitions. Next time you’re trackside
at an ALMS race keep an eye on the guys in the support package,
you just might be watching a future ALMS champions amongst them.
to Sylvia Proudfoot and Shane Mahoney.