“Nice Street Car” No Match for Thrill of Racing in the WeatherTech Championship
By John Oreovicz
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Jon Bennett was always patient about going racing.
Celebrating his 56th birthday on Tuesday, Bennett reflected upon a career path that led him to build a successful business that gave him the platform to start a professional racing career in his early 40s.
Bennett’s “side job” has produced a total of 17 race wins in IMSA competition, as well as a pair of IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Prototype Challenge (PC) championships. CORE autosport, the racing team he formed in 2010, has also achieved two championships in partnership with Porsche in the GT Le Mans (GTLM) category.
Bennett stepped out of the driver’s seat in 2020 as CORE regrouped. But he’s back behind the wheel this year, this time in the No. 54 Ligier JS P320 in the new Le Mans Prototype 3 (LMP3) class, co-driven by Colin Braun and George Kurtz. The trio combined to win the second race of the young season, the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts.
Seeing a stock car race in his home state of Maine at age 6 piqued Bennett’s interest in motorsport, and one of his father’s co-workers at DuPont was an accomplished SCCA club racer in an Austin “Bugeye” Sprite. As a teen, Bennett was enamored by Bob Tulius’ Group 44 Jaguars, and for a while, he lived right down the road from Bob Sharp Racing in a golden era when that team fielded sports cars for the late Paul Newman.
“My passion for racing was pulling me away from the trajectory my parents had planned for me,” Bennett related with a chuckle. “I wanted to skip college and go straight to the Skip Barber Racing School, but that got vetoed. So, we compromised, and I went to college to get a mechanical engineering degree. But only so I could use that degree to go back to racing.”
Bennett worked an internship for Callaway Cars, but figured a job working in the racing industry would torpedo his chances of establishing a driving career. “I decided to go to work and try to make enough money to go racing later in life,” he said. “My father always said, ‘Anytime you want to come back, we can say a nice word for you at DuPont. There’s a cubicle waiting for you.’”
While at DuPont, Bennett became involved in a project that involved an early use of carbon fiber in an industrial application. This was during the era when John Barnard pioneered the use of carbon fiber chassis construction in Formula One racing, and Bennett saw composite development as his bridge back to auto racing. After four years with DuPont and three with BASF, he formed Composite Resources in 1995.
As his company grew, so did Bennett’s desire to move up the racing ladder. He started with autocross, followed by SCCA Club Racing. He formed CORE autosport in 2010 – “essentially a fancy way of having my own mechanics to work on my own cars and prep IMSA Prototype Lites for clients,” he said. He chose to race with the number 54, inspired by his childhood neighbor’s SCCA Bugeye.
Bennett enjoyed the competition, but he wanted more. He set out to buy an IMSA Prototype Challenge car.
“I wanted to race on Sundays, in the main race instead of the support races,” he said. At the same time, former IMSA competitor Scott Tucker was preparing to sell his PC cars and equipment as he moved his team into the Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) category. Using economy of scale as justification, Bennett took the whole package.
“We climbed the ladder,” he said. “We did several seasons in LMPC, successfully.”
That’s an understatement. With co-driver Braun providing an ideal combination of youth and experience, CORE became a championship-caliber team. But Bennett and CORE set their sights even higher. They competed in LMP2 in 2018, with Braun and Bennett claiming overall Weather Tech Championship race victories at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (CTMP) and Road America, where they even beat the Daytona Prototype international (DPi) cars.
“We had a run in 2018!” Bennett exclaimed. “When Colin and I won our first top-class race at Mosport (CTMP), I just couldn’t believe it. Then we backed it up the next week with some really clever strategy from Colin’s dad, Jeff Braun. Winning the championship became a real possibility, and that was super fantastic.”
The team wound up second in the 2018 WeatherTech Championship Prototype class championship in the final year of combined DPi-LMP2 competition.
For 2019, CORE took over the Nissan DPi program from Extreme Speed Motorsport but struggled for results. At the end of the season, Bennett made the decision to get out of prototypes to concentrate on the final year of CORE’s partnership with Porsche, running the manufacturer’s GTLM entries. He also chose to step away from driving.
“Even though 2019 was moderately successful, I looked at the expenses and I just couldn’t foresee racing other full factory programs, essentially as a privateer,” he said. “It was just not sustainable; it didn’t make any sense to me. I had a moment when I realized that I made it to the top level and won races at the top level, and nearly a championship.
“I bought a nice street car, but there’s no place to drive it,” he continued. “I wondered, ‘How am I going to scratch that itch?’ But Colin kept in touch and reminded me that IMSA had incorporated LMP3 into the WeatherTech series. The hook was set, and it made me realize that I could come back to racing and not yearn to be in the top class. Now I can just enjoy the art of driving a racing car and discover what it would be like to just focus on the craft of driving the race car.”
So far, Bennett is delighted with the move to LMP3.
“I’ve enjoyed driving the car at the beginning of this season more than I can remember in a long time,” he said. “Of course, winning at Sebring doesn’t hurt! George Kurtz has been an excellent addition to our team, and it’s just fun right now. The LMP3 class is maturing, and the cars are more or less durable enough to go endurance racing. It’s fun to watch.”
With Composite Resources still going strong and his racing career back in gear, Bennett’s next challenge is to plot CORE’s future in the WeatherTech Championship. With key GT and prototype categories undergoing change for 2022 and 2023, CORE is well-positioned to form a new manufacturer partnership.
“We would certainly welcome supporting and running an LMDh program or any professional factory program,” Bennett noted. “We learned a lot in our experience with Porsche. Factory racing is expensive, a big part of a company’s brand. But we will entertain whatever fits for our company moving forward.”