New team Gradient Racing has emerged as CJ Wilson exits the team structure that bore his name, most recently in CTSC and IMSA competition.
Former CJ Wilson Racing Team Manager, Andris Laivins (pictured above right with CJ Wilson), announced the formation of his new operation, Gradient Racing which will continue to operate out of its base in Austin, Texas and it is making plans to enter its home event, the CoTA 24 in November with its Acura NSX GT3. The team is currently evaluating a number of race programmes both domestic and international and is in active discussion with a number of partners regarding GT3, GT4 and TCR options for 2019.
“I’ve formed Gradient Racing, with a new partner, to expand on our current platform and push forward on some new fronts,” Laivins explained. “Acura and HPD have been a joy to work with, so our intent for next year is to do more GT3 racing with the NSX, while also entertaining some wider customer programs if we find the right fit. Our experience racing and testing the NSX this year has been really positive, just eye-opening. Acura has built a solid car, and HPD’s support, transparency, and attitude made our progression into GT3 this season (as CJWR) quite smooth. Obviously, the success Shank had this year demonstrated it’s a top choice for the class, and the communication with MSR, Realtime, and HART was very welcome.”
“The last handful of months have been quite an adventure working on a new path forward. With my partner, we are building on the structure created at Laivins Race Cars, and then CJ Wilson Racing to establish ourselves as a serious GT3 competitor. Although Gradient Racing is a new company, the people, infrastructure, and our 15+ years experience racing at a professional level are being carried forward in the new venture.”
“Getting the new team off the ground took a little longer than we hoped, so we are looking at some opportunities to enter another race this fall before we get into the 2019 season. For next year, the SRO’s Intercontinental GT series, and IMSA GTD are two places we are looking seriously. Obviously Daytona and Bathurst are both very soon and mutually exclusive, so we have a lot of decisions to make quickly. Separately, there has been some interest in IMSA GT4 where we had a lot of fun the last two years. I think it’s a really competitive class, a solid value, and we have the infrastructure and experience to run more than one program, so it’s on the table alongside GT3. The customer-facing business in Austin will grow as well, as we’ve renewed our focus on regional race client support and serving as a COTA logistics hub.”
The driving duo of Marc Miller and Till Bechtolsheimer will once again form part of the roster for both the upcoming events and next year’s program while talks continue with a number of interested parties regarding domestic and international opportunities for 2019.
CJ Wilson meanwhile is relocating his racing activities to run CJ Wilson Racing from his automotive retail HQ in Fresno, Northern California.
“In less than a decade, CJ Wilson Racing has grown from a single-car MX-5 team to a Sebring 12 Hour entrant and that has been very exciting,” he explained. “However, with my retirement from baseball and my desire to race myself, Andris [Laivins] and I agreed that I should focus the operations out of Fresno so I can have a closer alignment with my retail franchise brands and my personal goals as a competitor.”
“We have won multiple championships at different levels and every year we have competed for podiums, wins, and Championships in whichever category we have raced. A lot of that has to do with the three people who have been here throughout this period of success: Andris Laivins, Marc Miller, and Declan Brennan along with the entire crew in Austin.”
Wilson recognizes that although there is now a divergence of business goals, neither team is ruling out a joint effort in the future. “My racing programs have to reflect my automotive retail interests and Andris’ new organization will have significantly less restraints from that perspective. With that said, I have no doubt we will work together again at some point down the road.”
“Together, CJ and I have had great time tackling the challenges of building a proper race program. The team has grown from Mazda MX-5 Cup to a credible GT competitor, and that’s something we are all extremely proud of,” explained Andris Laivins. “We reached a stage where we needed separate strategies, allowing the CJ Wilson Racing brand to be more tightly integrated in CJ’s dealer structure in California, and allowing my new program with Gradient to double down on our racing and customer activities.”
Wilson expects to announce more details of his and his team’s 2019 programs in the coming weeks.