The WeatherTech Championship and Ferrari Challenge Driver Is Now Also a Pilot
By Holly Cain
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Cooper MacNeil laughs at the suggestion that he may be one of “most interesting men” in the IMSA paddock but acknowledges he’s definitely got a lot going on. All good.
The 28-year-old is a nine-time winner in IMSA’s top-level series, including a storybook victory in his most recent IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race, the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts in March for the underdog WeatherTech Racing Porsche team in the GT Le Mans (GTLM) class. With GTLM officially idle in WeatherTech Championship competition until late June, MacNeil has raced a similar Porsche 911 RSR in the European Le Mans Series, in preparation for his seventh stint at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
On top of that, he is chasing a fourth straight Ferrari Challenge North America championship in the top Trofeo Pirelli class. And if that’s not enough, MacNeil earned his fixed-wing airplane pilot’s license and is working toward his instrument rating. Last year during the COVID pause in racing, he got his helicopter license.
MacNeil has an economics degree from the University of Colorado-Boulder and, primarily because of his fondness for hiking and the mountains, he earned a minor in geology as well.
His Instagram feed is full of photos of him atop podiums celebrating wins. He does that a lot. Life is robust for MacNeil, and yet it seems for every achievement, there is a goal for more.
“Life is too short to focus on one thing,” MacNeil said. “I’m young now, I might as well race in all the racing series I can. I like the diversification.”
Diverse is a good way to describe the young driver. Since his very first foray into racing, MacNeil has pursued multiple genres. For example, in 2011 at the age of 19, he competed in and won in both the IMSA-sanctioned Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA and Ferrari Challenge North America.
Each year he has competed and excelled in multiple series. It’s the manner of racing he most prefers.
“At the end of the day, in racing, it’s all about seat time so the more you do it, the better you’ll be. And the more diverse the cars are you drive, the more unlimited as a driver you’ll be,” MacNeil insists.
“Driving all these different cars, you get a really good idea, a full-scale idea as to how the evolution of motorsports and sports cars came about – the early cars to the modern cars,” he continues. “When I get out of the (Ferrari) Challenge car and get into the GT3 car, the Challenge car being so loose and difficult to drive, really ups my game for driving the GT3 or GTE cars at Le Mans because I’m tuned up and my car control skills are fresh.
“I get in these modern, proper GTLM or GTE cars and I’m so fresh and ready to go because I’ve had so much seat time in so many other cars. I like doing all the different series.”
Being so busy on track certainly made the COVID-induced time off track a larger hurdle to handle. Instead of being frustrated by such a stark setback in his normally full schedule, MacNeil used the time to learn something new by getting his helicopter and airplane licenses.
“My dad has been flying for 20 years, so I kind of built a passion for it through him,” MacNeil said. “During COVID, I really had an open schedule at that point because there was no racing, so I focused on learning how to fly the helicopter.
“I wanted to start with the helicopter because everybody does the airplanes, and the helicopter, for me, there’s a lot more freedom with it, you can do a lot more things. You can land a lot more places, just more options. So I wanted to learn that first, followed by the airplane. If it takes me to a racetrack, that’s great, but it’s more of a hobby, just fun as opposed to strict mode of transportation.
“I’m fortunate enough to be in a position where I have the opportunity, so why not.”
Until WeatherTech Championship GTLM competition resumes with the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen next month, MacNeil will be fine-tuning his skills – competing in the Ferrari Challenge or driving Aston Martins and Ferraris in historic races.
He has podiumed twice at Le Mans (2017 and 2019 in GTE Am) and sits second in the WeatherTech Championship’s GTLM class thanks to his No. 79 WeatherTech Racing Porsche team’s victory at Sebring. There is particular great pride in that, considering MacNeil is a Silver-rated driver going against all Platinum- and Gold-rated competition, and it was a privateer effort racing against factory team efforts.
“Absolutely, the biggest win of my career,” MacNeil said, his voice full of excitement. “I’ve won Sebring before (2013) and Petit Le Mans twice now, but to win Sebring again in the GTLM class against full-factory support efforts from GM and BMW as well as racing all Platinum drivers in the cars with me being a Silver in a privateer effort with one single-car entry.
“It made everything that much sweeter. Pretty much amazing to get that win.”
Far from filling the bucket, the positive results have only fueled MacNeil’s desire. He’s got big plans and high expectations. And he’s not taking any opportunity for granted.
“The last couple on my list are Daytona, I’ve come so close before and been second – and everywhere else it feels, but that top step, so that’s one of the last ones I want to get,” MacNeil said of the historic Rolex 24 At Daytona. “I’ve finished on the podium twice at Le Mans and I’d like to finish on the top step. Both my finishes there were third place, so I’d like to win Le Mans and Daytona.
“My goals are to go to the racetrack and win races, and if I can win championships while doing that, that’s great,” MacNeil said. “But as far as goals and accomplishments, do I want to race in just one series? No. That’s why I’m racing in three or four. I like the diversification and I like to race these different cars and try my talent in other talent pools.
“Anytime I go to the racetrack, I want to win. And I’m hungry for more.”
The WeatherTech Championship returns to action in the Chevrolet Sports Car Classic at Detroit for the Daytona Prototype international (DPi) and GT Daytona (GTD) classes on Saturday, June 11. The Corvette Racing C8.Rs of the GTLM class will also participate in a non-points role. The full GTLM class will be in action two weeks later at Watkins Glen.
Ferrari Challenge North America is next on track June 10-12 on the Homestead-Miami Speedway road course in South Florida.