Through The Esses - Mark Wilkins: In A Gold Rush For Champagne In 2008
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© Andrew S. Hartwell

Mark Wilkins has finished on the podium twice in the GT class at the Rolex 24 At Daytona. He ran the race three times with his father, Greg Wilkins, driving a Porsche GT3 Cup car. At the start of the 2007 season, Wilkins moved into a brand new - yet somewhat old - gold and black Lexus-Riley Daytona Prototype and thus began his first year in the highly competitive DP class.

The car was purchased from Chip Ganassi Racing and, ironically, this new DP effort kicked off with the first DP chassis to ever come out of the Riley shops. Painted up with primary sponsor Exchange Traded Gold colors, the black and gold car immediately set a new standard for what makes an attractive race car. And in that first race the AIM Autosport entry, sponsored by Exchange Traded Gold, Barrick Gold Corporation, RBC Financial Group and Telus' Mike Network, did what many others failed to do in multiple attempts; they made it all the way through to the end and pulled down a fifth place finish. For that race, David Empringham joined Wilkins and the Frisselle brothers, Burt and Brian.

Wilkins hails from Toronto, Canada. He grew up with his dad involved in racing and when he hit the age of 12, he got into karts and then moved up to open wheel racing in Formula Fords, F-2000 mounts and Star Mazda. This season he made the move all the way up into professional sportscar racing and, if his dreams come true, he will log race miles in the Daytona Prototype class for many years to come.

We began our conversation with Mark Wilkins by asking him for some background on AIM Autosport and his involvement with them.

I have run with AIM pretty much for my entire professional career. AIM Autosport is run by Andrew Bordin, Keith Willis and Ian Willis and they have been in open wheel racing since 1995. Sportscar endurance racing was a new experience for the team this year.
This was our first year in the Grand-Am series, running the Lexus-Riley Daytona Prototype. All the guys on our team had racing experience, but had never worked on a DP program before. And we were rushing to get everything ready. In the November tests we just made it. We didn't even have the car painted until just before the Rolex 24 hour race. It was a wild start!

My father and I have been a major part of the AIM Autosport organization for several years. My dad was my primary backer for my open wheel career. It was my dad's personal financial involvement that kept me going. For 2007 Exchange Traded Gold became our team's sponsor. For 2008 we are working some additional sponsorship opportunities. Our goal is long term stable funding for the team.

Two years ago we started working on the DP program. Our goal was to enter a series that we thought would be commercially viable and one in which we could be successful. We felt open wheel racing in North America simply wasn't that strong so it was Grand-Am for us.

We bought the Riley from Chip Ganassi. We have the first one ever made, chassis number 001. And despite its age, we are confident our chassis had no disadvantage to any Riley chassis made after it.

For our first season in a DP, we felt we were very happy with what we were able to accomplish, given the number of competitive cars. And most of the top teams, like Gainsco, SunTrust and Chip Ganassi had been running their cars for a few years. It was tough to just jump right in and do well at it. But, we finished fifth at our first race, the Rolex 24 At Daytona. Just to finish that race is a huge accomplishment!

Over the course of the rest of the season, the #61 AIM Autosport Lexus-Riley would go on to garner 6 top ten finishes, just missing a seventh in the final race at Miller Motorsports Park. Contact with another car just a few minutes from the end of the 1000K race dropped them back to 11th at the finish.

For 2008, Wilkins is looking for a season filled with single-digit finishes.

This season has been a tremendous j