When Max Root was introduced as the 2018 recipient of the IMSA Hurley Haywood GT3 Scholarship recipient in January at Daytona International Speedway, expectations were fairly high for the teenager from Rancho Santa Fe, California.
After all, the previous year’s scholarship winner, Jake Eidson, put together a tremendous season in the 2017 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama season that culminated in him taking the Platinum Cup championship for current-generation Porsche 911 GT3 Cup race cars. But on closer inspection, while he was a newcomer to GT3 Cup Challenge competition – just as Root was and as the scholarship requires – Eidson had much more road racing experience in single seaters.
“Coming into this season, I had a very limited on-road motorsports background,” Root says. “I have a very experienced off-road motorsports background, but had a lot of things to learn, especially with a new car, new team and all completely new tracks.”
Indeed, Root’s road racing experience was limited to one season of Pirelli GT3 Cup Trophy West competition last year, a season in which he won the season-opening race at Thunderhill Raceway and ended with him second in his class championship. That was impressive enough to land him the prestigious scholarship, which he used to help fund his full-season program as driver of the No. 7 Wright Motorsports Porsche GT3 Cup machine in the Platinum Cup class of the 2018 GT3 Cup Challenge USA.
“The Hurley Haywood Scholarship gave me the grounds to do what we’re doing,” Root says. “Having Hurley and having all the support from IMSA and all the sponsors has been phenomenal.”
Root admitted his learning curve this season has been steep. However, he’s shown flashes of brilliance throughout the year, with a third-place showing in his series debut at Sebring International Raceway in March and a total of four podium results from the first 12 races this season.
He’s finished second twice this year, in the second race of a doubleheader at Watkins Glen International in June and in Race #1 last month at VIRginia International Raceway last month. His performance in Race #2 at VIR was impressive as well, as passed Zacharie Robichon for the lead early in the race – something nobody had done since the Canadian had taken over the seat of the No. 19 Moorespeed Porsche at Road America in early August.
Root is currently fourth in the Platinum Cup point standings heading into this weekend’s pair of 45-minute races at Sonoma Raceway on Saturday and Sunday.
“We’ve had some pretty successful previous weekends where we were able to really showcase what I can do as a driver and what Wright car do setting up a car,” Root says. “I think VIR was a pretty good example, definitely.
“There was also a lot of hurdles we had to jump over as far as just learning these new Yokohama tires and things of that nature. It’s definitely something that needs seat time. All you can do is just drive the car more.”
In addition to seat time, Root has focused on simulator work and physical training, which can be tough as a full-time student in addition to an up-an-coming race car driver. He is in his second year at Pepperdine University.
“I just started school two weeks ago at Pepperdine,” he says. “I’m a sophomore here. It’s definitely been a lot to handle, training, doing the simulator and being a full-time enrolled student, but it’s definitely something I’m willing to put myself through, because I love the sport and I have big aspirations.”
Helping him work toward reaching those aspirations has been Wright Motorsports, led by team owner John Wright and the team’s driver coach, veteran Champ Car and sports car racer, Jan Heylen. He also credits the working relationship he’s established with his Wright Motorsports teammates – Anthony Imperato, Charlie Luck and Fred Poordad.
“John’s the most straight-up dude I have met in the motorsports industry, and it’s honestly been an honor to work with him,” Root says. “Just with the team, the level of engineering, the mechanics, everything, it is a complete package that puts you from you walk in Day 1, you walk out a completely different man.
“It’s quite a program. I’m really happy I was able to work through the mental coaching with John. Jan, our coach, has really put me through the paces physically and has really honed in on the things I need to be doing as a driver, using his years in Champ Car and racing overseas. It’s been valuable experience that I see a lot of teams struggle with. I’m very fortunate to have run with such a great team this season.”
This weekend’s races at Sonoma represent the penultimate weekend of the GT3 Cup Challenge USA season ahead of next month’s season finale at Road Atlanta as part of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Motul Petit Le Mans event weekend. And Root is pleased that, for once, this weekend’s races are somewhat closer to home.
He has raced at Sonoma previously, albeit on a different course configuration than the one that will be used this weekend by the GT3 Cup Challenge USA, as well as the headlining IndyCar Series. He’s fired up to get going.
“I love the track,” Root said. “I think it’s a very fun layout, lots of elevation changes, and it’s a historic track too. There’s a lot of fun things going on there. I think running with IndyCar is also a very fun experience. At Barber, it was kind of an eye opener just how big of an operation they have going on. Really, to be a part of that, it’s a great thing.”
The Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama has a pair of 45-minute races this weekend in Sonoma. The first rolls off the starting grid at 1:15 p.m. PT on Saturday with the second slated on Sunday at 12:30 p.m. PT. Sunday’s race will be streamed live on IMSA.tv.
Live Timing & Scoring from all on-track sessions beginning with practice on Friday is available on IMSA.com.