Turner (middle) and his teams have reigned in a number of categories.
Will Turner made a name for his BMW aftermarket business by blitzing the SCCA World Challenge series in the first half of the 2000s, winning numerous races and pair of championships with driver Bill Auberlen.
The Massachusetts-based Turner Motorsport program would eventually turn its attention to Grand-Am's Rolex Series and also its Continental Tire Series, becoming one of the most formidable entrants in both championships. But with the upcoming changes to the Rolex GT class – one where teams are required to have at least one non-professional driver in the car, Turner tells RACER he's had to take a step back and evaluate which direction to take his team.
“Normally, when you don't have any major change in the series layout, this time of year everybody is like, 'What are you doing this year?'” said the owner/driver. “Until it's written and signed off on I kind of mind my own business and look out for myself. I've always run a Pro-Am type of race team. So that's been my business model. Before I was a Pro-Am team in Grand-Am, it was Pro-Am in the World Challenge in the sense that I had a pro and I'd team him with a teammate that's not in the same car but could learn from him and learn from data and everything like that as a tool. I've always been fond of that business model and it works for me, so I'm excited that Grand-Am is continuing a Pro-Am model.
“What I don't like is running basically the third or fourth tier in a combined race. I look at Road America and DP and GT, there was some good TV time for GT and DP. Normally it's obviously a majority of DP. Having three or four classes next year [in United SportsCar Racing], if you're at the bottom of the class and there's a lot of cars and a lot of manufacturers, I think that GT Daytona (the current Rolex GT class) is going to be hurting for coverage. Now, that's not the most important thing but in a Pro-Am model it is important because the Am (amateur driver), who's writing the check, wants to have some coverage or they just kind of disappear in the series and it's not as rewarding after the race.”
Turner isn't the first Rolex GT/GT Daytona team owner to express concerns about the diminished television presence his program will receive next year. With the number of classes doubling when the ALMS and Grand-Am come together under the new USCR series, GTD teams will have a much smaller slice of the two-hour and 45-minute broadcast as four classes vie for the same amount air time.
It's one of the concessions being made in order to combine the ALMS and Grand-Am and something that every USCR team will have to deal with. Turner's concern, which has kept him from casting his lot with the USCR, stems from the potential impact the reduced GTD television presence could have on retaining his Am clientele who fund major portions of the program.
Turner believes that if the USCR can balance the GTD class to create great opportunities for Am drivers to come in and win, the lack of TV time for those drivers and their sponsors might be overlooked.
“When it comes down to it, everybody wants to race, to start the race and realize that they have a shot of winning,” he declared. “So if United SportsCar Series can assure that or show that in GTD any team can potentially win and the competition is good, I think that will keep people engaged and it will be a great class. Because, remember, there's some classes disappearing from ALMS and there's combining weekends and they are taking 22 or whatever race weekends and combining them into 11, and I think there'll be a bunch of drivers, funded drivers, looking for new places to go.
“So I think the demand will be pretty high. Again, as long as the competition is right – I'm not saying they're going to get it right the first two races. but if they can react quicker, if they can react quickly and balance things out – I think it'll be a good place to race and it's really going to be the only place for [amateurs] to race that has a big sanctioning body behind it.”
Turner's optimism for where GTD could be headed has been tempered by the unknowns that await the class. Until he has clients lined up to drive – a formality for a race-winning Rolex GT team like Turner Motorsport in recent years – Turner says he's preparing two different plans for 2014 which includes possibly returning to the series where his company made its name.
“I am counting on GTD to be the place for us,” Turner noted. “But I am also coming up with a backup plan if it's not. So it wouldn't be a different class in United SportsCar, it would be a competing series. If the things don't work out for GTD, World Challenge is certainly a place to go. Because they'll basically take anything, right? They'll take any cars. Again, I'm in the business to go racing so that's what we do, we race and I couldn't think of staying home so we're going to race somewhere and we're going to race where it's competitive and where it makes sense.”
Turner's aftermarket performance business is built around the BMW brand, as is its racing program, but with a customer-driven team like Turner Motorsport, he says his clients will not only dictate where the team competes, but also the cars the team will enter.
“I think more than anything, where we race depends on the vehicle because I am in the business of selling BMW parts,” Turner continued. “I own the BMWs we race, I tend to drive only BMWs and that's where the passion is, right? So my focus is going to be to try to make it work out with some type of BMW product. If that doesn't happen, then that's where my decision has to be made. Am I going to a different manufacturer? I have backup plans to do that. I'm looking at them right on my desk here.
“It only takes a couple phone calls and somebody writing a check. I can run something other than the BMW in either series. So there's a combination of things to consider. I'll be racing wherever my customers want to race. But right now, I can't say where that will be next year.”
According to Turner, the direction his team follows in 2014 will likely be a path they stay on for the foreseeable future.
“Right now, fortunately, my customers want to just go racing,” he said. “They want to race in the most competitive car that they can be in and something that has a multi-year future. So they don't want to go down a path for one year and then switch. We're making our decisions and thinking of what we do next as a multi-year thing.”