[Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the May 2021 issue of Grassroots Motorsports.]
Perhaps there’s still room for the true small efforts in IMSA. Gino Manley–by day the used car manager at a dealership in Jacksonville, Florida–and a group of friends made it to this year’s big weekend at Daytona, driving an Audi RS3 in the Michelin Pilot Challenge race this past January.
Gino works with AOA Racing, an Atlanta race rental outfit. “We run a few MX-5 Cup cars–ex-Skippy cars–that we rent for track days and run primarily in WRL,” he explains. Last year, the team had the opportunity to buy a used TCR Audi. They planned to run it with World Racing League.
“Once we had the car,” he continues, “we realized it was still IMSA eligible.” Funded co-drivers allowed the team to run the Audi last year at the Petit Le Mans and season-ending Sebring race.
“This year I really wanted to do Daytona,” Gino continues. “I’m Jacksonville-based, and it’s my home track.” But he couldn’t find any funded co-drivers, so about two weeks before the event, he pulled the plug on the effort.
Two of his friends, driving coaches Patrick Wilmot and Andrew Pinkerton, posed a question: If they raised the bare minimum to cover costs, could the three of them run at Daytona?
Gino Manley, in the balaclava, and his friends had an idea: Why not race their used Audi at Daytona during the big IMSA weekend? So they did. Photography Credits: Motorsport Media
“So last minute, we collected small dollars from sponsors, parents, friends and our savings,” Gino says. “We missed the entry deadline because we didn’t have enough to enter by the Friday before the race.”
John Doonan, president of IMSA, approved the late entry. “He actually came by and introduced himself and said IMSA needs more of this,” Gino notes.
“We had no spares,” he explains, “and could only afford four sets of tires. The tires we did practice on were tires we finished Sebring with last year. We don’t have a hauler; we have a 2005 GMC dually that pulls a plain enclosed trailer.
“We came down knowing we didn’t have enough crew to do it and found volunteers once we got here. By happenstance, we ran into Johnny C., owner of Nine Lives Racing, and he became our fuel guy.
[Shop Visit: Nine Lives Racing]
“We didn’t have an engineer or strategist, so Pinkerton called the strategy. Our engineer was a democracy: We would make a setup change and put it to a vote since none of us really knew what to do.”
The team’s transponder acted up during qualifying, so they started the 4-hour contest last: 17th on grid. By the end of Gino’s stint, they were running fourth in class. “Patrick Wilmot got in and for about an hour battled for P4 and kept us in the top five,” Gino adds. “A fuel pressure issue rained on our parade, and we limped home to P7. Still a great result, but we know we had a podium.
“We did this race probably on a quarter the budget that all the other teams did. But we had a great time and are proud of what we accomplished.”