MARCH 7, 2024

Dillon Machavern’s Return and Francis Selldorff’s Promotion Lead to High Hopes in Michelin Pilot Challenge

By David Phillips, IMSA

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The more things change, the more they stay the same. At least Will Turner and Turner Motorsport hope that holds true with their 2024 IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge program; the one that sees them defending 2023 driver and team championships with a pair of BMW M4 GT4s.

As any racing champion will attest, winning back-to-back championships can be tougher than winning the first one. You arrive at every race with a target on your back (or backs in the case of the Turner BMWs), with everyone looking to dethrone the reigning champions. That task will be all the more formidable this year, given the team reshuffled its driver lineup in both cars.

In what amounts to a micro-ladder system, veterans Robby Foley and Dillon Machavern are now the squad’s Michelin Pilot Challenge graybeards. Foley, who won the Grand Sport (GS) class championship last year with co-driver Vin Barletta, is teamed this season in the No. 96 BMW with phenom Francis Selldorff, who won the GSX class title in a Turner BMW in 2023’s inaugural season of the VP Racing SportsCar Challenge.

Machavern returns to Turner after sitting out all IMSA competition in 2023. The 29-year-old from Vermont finished second in the GS standings in 2021 and third in 2022, winning a pair of races both years when paired with the legendary Bill Auberlen. Machavern also contributed to Turner’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship victories in endurance races at Watkins Glen (2018) and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta (2019). His Michelin Pilot Challenge co-driver this year in the No. 95 BMW is Robert Megennis, who joined Turner last season and finished 13th in GS with co-driver Cameron Lawrence.

Team owner Turner says the team’s driver pipeline is “a tribute to IMSA’s ladder system” that allows talent to develop in sprint series like the VP Racing Challenge before moving to the Michelin Pilot Challenge and eventually the WeatherTech Championship.

“There’s a ton of extremely talented young drivers out there and the VP Racing series is a great place for them to learn,” Turner said. “Fundamentally, they’re racing the same cars that compete in the Michelin Pilot series, with two 45-minute races a weekend. That prepares them for Michelin Pilot which in turn prepares them for GTD (Grand Touring Daytona class) in the WeatherTech Championship.”

Making those transitions smoother if not exactly easy is that, within the Turner Motorsport universe, there is little or no difference between the operational practices among the IMSA series programs. There’s a decided sense of deja vu for Turner drivers moving between series when it comes to engineering debriefs, practice, qualifying and even testing routines.

What’s more, as well as having learned the proverbial ropes at the feet of IMSA’s all-time wins leader Auberlen, Foley and Machavern went to school on the delicate and to a degree self-sacrificing art of mentoring young drivers.

“It’s kind of odd to be one of the oldest and most experienced guys on the team,” said Foley, who also returns as lead driver for Turner’s WeatherTech Championship GTD entry, “although Dillon and I are similar ages. I worked with Bill for many years and learned from his expertise, which helped me. It’s all about learning what you don’t know and trying to minimize the time it takes you to learn all the nuances. So, if I can teach those nuances to Francis and Dillon can do the same with Robert as Bill did with me, that’s a recipe for success.”

Some measure of success was achieved in January’s season opener, the BMW M Endurance Challenge at Daytona International Speedway. Machavern and Megennis finished fourth, one spot ahead of Foley and Selldorff – the latter making his series debut in the defending champion car.

“I was lucky enough to drive with Vin Barletta in GS for a long time,” Foley said. “This (past) year following the championship, Vin is going to take somewhat of a sabbatical, but it’s a great opportunity for Francis to move up from the VP Challenge to Pilot. He’s also a champion. He knows the car, knows the team. It’s kind of now my job to show him what he doesn’t know. He’s super talented and already a good race car driver. It’s about teaching him what he doesn’t know about this series that’s new to him. He did a great job at Daytona. He led or ran in the top three his whole stint; we had a good car and fourth and fifth is a great way to start the season.

“So yes, there’s some new drivers and some shuffling on the drivers’ side, but we have the same core group of people we had from last year, and we’re going to try to keep that momentum going.”

The scene shifts next week to Sebring International Raceway for the Alan Jay Automotive Network 120 on March 15. And if there’s one track where the team’s Michelin Pilot Challenge program has momentum, it’s Sebring. A year ago, Turner cars finished 1-2 with Foley in the winner and Megennis in the runner-up.

“Sebring is another unique racetrack,” Turner said. “Daytona is unique because of the high speed and Sebring is unique because of the bumps. We’ve tested there in the last month, so the cars are ready and the drivers are ready. Last year finishing 1-2 there was definitely awesome, but it’s not going to come that easy this year. There’s a lot of fast cars and drivers so, again, looking for a solid finish from both cars.”