Appreciating CORE’s Jon Bennett, the driver

September 24, 2019

Appreciating CORE’s Jon Bennett, the driver

September 24, 2019

Sports car racing is defined not only by the automotive brands that have made it great, but also by the gentlemen racers who compete with those brands and forge legacies.

As Motul Petit Le Mans draws the 2019 IMSA season to a close, it also concludes, for now, the driving career of CORE autosport team principal Jon Bennett.


Bennett’s driving career is inextricably linked to the number 54, and the 5/4 breakdown of elements throughout his career all come full circle this season.

First off, he turned 54 years old on May 4 (5/4) during the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course race weekend.

This year also completed his fourth year racing in four different cars, after the first five years were all in the same car.

The No. 54 Nissan DPi. Photo: Michelin North America

CORE as a team delivered five consecutive team championships in the former Prototype Challenge (PC) class from 2011 to 2015, before four years of growing and adapting its program in new spaces.

Going from an ORECA FLM09 PC car to a Porsche 911 GT3 RSR, then an ORECA 07 LMP2 car and a Nissan DPi in as many seasons tested Bennett and the team’s versatility. But they continued to learn and progress with each car.


In an era where loyalty rarely holds, Bennett has kept Colin Braun on board as his longtime co-driver. The two have carved an identity as IMSA’s most successful pro-am pairing for nearly a decade. Add in Jeff Braun, Colin’s dad, as the team’s longtime engineer and it’s basically been a merging of families.

Add in some of the other pros that have raced alongside in endurance races and Bennett has had an embarrassment of riches in his generally orange-and-white car. The only exception to that traditional CORE livery has come this year; the team opting to run a Nissan-inspired retro red, white and blue scheme with ADT and FLEX-BOX support.

Bennett and Braun, winning together in Monterey… in 2012. Photo: Michelin North America

“I knew instinctively that whenever I’d get restless, Colin would remind me how good we had it in PC,” Bennett reflects back at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.

“We had a platform that was stable. It’s a category that didn’t change its performance along the lines of BoP. It came down to driver and team execution. We were quite lucky there.

“I knew it wouldn’t last forever. It was tricky to maneuver the organization around things that were constantly changing… but that’s normal.”

The inevitable highlight was last year’s near-championship, where “the people’s champs” in their LMP2-spec ORECA 07 Gibson nearly toppled the DPis to win the overall title. Bennett and Braun were a very close second, having exceeded nearly all preseason expectations.

In 2018, a move to LMP2-spec ORECA 07 proved fruitful for Bennett as they nearly won overall Prototype title. Photo: Michelin North America

“It was intimidating in 2018 to move into the top class, with a non-factory supported car,” he says. “But we had modest expectations and focused on the job at hand.

“Midseason, things started clicking. Good fortune breeds good fortune and we had that last year. We were very happy with the ORECA Gibson combination. It was a very good racecar. But competing against 1-2 other cars (in LMP2 in 2019, following IMSA’s class split) didn’t sound very satisfying. We picked up from ESM, from their progress with the Ligier Nissan and followed their path.”

While the results this year haven’t been at the typical level of CORE’s performance – the No. 54 car’s best finish is fourth – Bennett said he still felt the step up to DPi was the right one.

Reflecting on pit wall at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. Photo: Michelin North America

Asked what he thought his best drive or drives were, Bennett took a step back noting that he’s competing against some of the world’s most talented drivers in the class.

“A good drive for me, I think, is a combination of when I have a good day, and when Colin has one of his normal great days with good racing fortune,” he laughs.

“Coming to grips with the pace of faster cars, and learning to look past the reputations of my competitors, i.e. ex and current Formula 1 and IndyCar drivers, has been a challenge. But over the years, I’ve come to grips pretty well.”

But that’s the point. Bennett isn’t an ex-F1 or IndyCar driver, nor purports to be one. He is in the category of a Rob Dyson, a Gianpiero Moretti or a Bob Akin as one of the flagship businessmen-turned-winning racing drivers in the sport, and someone who’s built a legacy with the team’s performance this last decade. The CORE name, of course, comes from a combination of Composite Resources – Bennett’s business based in Rock Hill, S.C.

IMSA 2019: Where a successful businessman-turned-racer and an all-female GT team can both compete and flourish. Photo: Michelin North America

“It’s unique that someone who wasn’t competing at a high level in their pre-teen years makes it to this level,” Bennett says. “That’s rare, and it’s a story I go back to when things are tough. I hope racing doesn’t get to the point where it discourages people that weren’t karting in Europe at 8 to join the series. It is getting harder; it is getting rarer.”

Building a team, growing it methodically and entrusting the right people to run the program – Morgan Brady has served that role for CORE – has allowed Bennett to come to the racetrack and focus more on driving for nearly a decade.

Of course, with the CORE autosport race team also operating the all-conquering Porsche GT Team in GT Le Mans, there’s always been a dual focus. Part of Bennett’s desire to step back from the cockpit comes with a goal of focusing more on the bigger picture side of the sport.

“There are some reasons behind wanting to step back,” Bennett says. “I’m super fortunate to have ultra talented people around, here and the GT Le Mans program.

“Racing is a bit all-encompassing at times. Even my manufacturing companies are run without a lot of direct involvement from me.”

Will that final, for now, green flag at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta be bittersweet? Or will it merely cap off a near decade of great form?

About to roll out for the final time… Photo: Michelin North America

“It’s a good question… it’s not realistic to think it won’t be at least a little bittersweet,” he admits.

“But what’s worse is to spend a lot of time in the sport, a lot of money, personal sacrifice without having success.

“This is a tough passion to have; success is not necessarily guaranteed. But what Colin and I were able to achieve as a pair softens what might be hard at the end for Petit.”

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