What does it take to create a winning sports-car team? If it's BMW Team PTG, the answer may come from a hit television show.
Tom Milner, president of Winchester, Va.-based Prototype Technology Group, has gathered an impressive group of drivers to race three BMW M3s in GT-class competition.
Hans Stuck of Austria is a two-time winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, three-time winner of the 12 Hours at Sebring and a past champion in numerous European and American series. He is paired in the No. 10 car with versatile veteran Boris Said of Carlsbad, Calif., who has won almost everything he has raced in the past decade.
The No. 6 M3 coupe is driven by two champions who are also team owners. Mark Simo of Carlsbad, who won the 1998 Professional Sports Car Racing driver championship, co-owns Irvan-Simo Racing, which is preparing for a full-time NASCAR Winston Cup effort in 2000. Peter Cunningham of West Bend, Wis., has won 10 widely diverse championships and driven in 25 24-hour races. He owns a four-car SCCA World Challenge Touring Car team.
Team rookies Brian Cunningham of Danville, Ky., and Johannes van Overbeek of Danville, Calif., are racing the No. 7 BMW M3. Cunningham is a world speed and endurance record-holder with a wealth of experience in open-wheel racing; van Overbeek has already notched an impressive string of career victories.
Milner says the six drivers were selected because of their driving skills. "The combination of experience and youth generates a little bit of competition," he smiles. "The young guys want to go as fast as the guys with experience, and the experienced guys want to make sure the young guys don't go faster than them. So all six drivers are within two- or three-tenths of a second [of each other's lap times]."
The drivers credit Milner with fostering a team environment that ensures peak performance.
"Tom has always had a driver roster that's unparallelled. He tends to keep a pretty good mix; it's not just old, experienced guys because he wouldn't have the same synergy. He also mixes it with young, aggressive up-and-coming guys, too. It creates a competitive environment and stimulates everybody," Simo says.
"But a team is a complete package: It's the crew, it's the equipment, it's the drivers, it's the management. A team doesn't have any type of success without all of those things coming together. Tom has managed the crew, the drivers and the relationship with BMW to create a winning package. The team has all of those ingredients in the right proportions."
Although joining a multiple-driver team is a big change for most drivers, all agree the benefits outweigh the initial adjustment. Peter Cunningham understands the dynamic. "You have a larger pool of knowledge to draw from when you've got a multi-driver lineup, which can collectively help the team to do better," he says. "But you have to check your ego at the door. We all have egos, but in this type of a team format, the team needs to have a collective ego."
Van Overbeek says the BMW Team PTG drivers are more open in sharing information with each other than he expected. "We couldn't be more varied -- young, old, tall, short, mixed personalities, outgoing to fairly reserved. But we're all there for the same reason, to win. We may look very different stepping into the cars, but once we're in the cars, we're a group dedicated to winning, not only for ourselves but for the team."
The team is close both on and off the track. The drivers enjoy a camaraderie and friendship that often results in hijinks and hilarity -- and, they say, better performance. Not only does levity restore a crucial emotional balance, it also encourages the drivers to share information, which makes the team as a whole more competitive.
"When I put my helmet on, I don't care if it's my co-driver or my teammate, I still want to beat him. The clock is the measuring stick. But when I get out of the car, I share the information," Simo explains. "We talk a lot and we all go to dinner together, so there isn't much missed. When you're with people that long and you're that close together, the information and knowledge gets transferred pretty rapidly."
"There's nothing we wouldn't do to help each other. We're more a family than a business, but once the race starts, it's all business. Ultimately, racing is about performance. That's the number one goal," Said notes. "We're very competitive, and the friendship just makes it that much better. Who would you rather beat than your best friend?"
Said's co-driver Stuck is enjoying his season in North America, which he says is a welcome change from the politics and formality of European racing. "We're delivering top competition, but everything is more easygoing here. Americans are more clever than Europeans, they see things differently and are very focused on what they're doing. Sometimes, Europeans are over-focussed," he says.
But he notes BMW Team PTG's ability to survive adversity is the true mark of a championship team. "It's important that this team can stand bad results. It's easy to have a good atmosphere when you're winning, but a good team shows its structure and level when it has bad results."
Perhaps the best summary is offered by Brian Cunningham, who likens the team to the acclaimed television series M.A.S.H. "We've got a great mixture of guys and everyone has a great time together. But when it comes down to crunch time, everyone's very serious. When the game faces are on, everyone pulls together and it's like there's one car out there.
"It's like everyone has a different piece of a personality. You've got the hero on one side, you've got the maturity on the other side, you've got youth here. You bring it all together, it all functions as one. Everyone has a little piece of the personality and you put the whole puzzle together, it becomes one person."
Makes sense. BMW Team PTG is staffed by a dedicated group of professionals who want to win. They know the key to victory is teamwork, with a strong respect for each other and the job at hand. Like M.A.S.H., the lighthearted surface belies a powerful core.
It's a potent combination.