The IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge has long been a series that features a mixture of veteran, championship-winning drivers trading paint with young, eager racers looking to make an impression on the sports car racing world.
Rennsport One, or RS1, happens to showcase both combinations on the same team.
In the Street Tuner (ST) class, the No. 17 RS1 Porsche Cayman driven by Nick Galante and Spencer Pumpelly won the 2016 ST championship with three victories and stood atop the podium just three weeks ago at Sebring International raceway.
However, the RS1 duo of 25-year-old Connor Bloum and 18-year-old Aurora Straus have also stepped in the spotlight after two strong performances to start the year at Daytona and Sebring. After winning the pole at Daytona, Bloum and Straus notched top-five finishes at both tracks, also recording the fastest ST race lap at Sebring in the No. 18 Porsche Cayman.
“The season has started off really strong,” said Bloum. “We got the pole at Daytona and were running in the top-five. We finished fourth that race, so super solid. We had another good finish at Sebring but we had a couple little mechanical issues, but ended up doing pretty well. Our main goal is to win the championship and just keep plucking off those top-fives and see where we end up.”
Bloum has competed with RS1 since the team first entered the Continental Tire Challenge back in 2015, but has been racing in the series since 2013. The San Diego native has recorded a total of 12 top-five finishes, half of which saw him on the podium.
For Straus, a high school senior from Cold Spring, New York, the opportunity to join Bloum in her first full season of IMSA competition is nothing short of the chance of a lifetime.
“I’m incredibly lucky that RS1 offered me a ride this year and to be with of all people, Connor Bloum, who is one of the most experienced drivers on the team,” Straus said. “The team has set up an amazing car, so they’ve actually made my job pretty easy. It’s really amazing to be in the same paddock and on the same team as people like Connor, Spencer and Nick. It’s given me an opportunity data-wise and team building-wise that I wouldn’t have had.”
Now heading into their third race together, Bloum and Straus recognize the advantage they have as being one of the youngest teams in the field, as attention has increased for both drivers at track, as well as during the off-weeks.
“I think it helps out in all aspects,” Bloum said about their youth. “We get a ton of attention on the fan walks and they seem to be talking about us a lot more on TV. Aurora and I are six years apart but when we look at data and video, we pick up on a lot of the same things. It’s been going really well so far.”
“I also think it helps with networking, too,” Straus added. “We’re in a unique position in terms of social media and PR and our ability to navigate that because we’ve grown up with a lot of platforms that other racers are just learning about. We’ve gotten a lot of traction from social media sites that most racers don’t think about. Someone came up to us at Daytona with pictures from our Instagram accounts for us to sign. You don’t really think of that as a way to network and communicate and market yourself to sponsors. It’s nice PR-wise to have someone who’s on the same page with you.”
Additionally, Straus is proud to come from a racing background. Her father, Ari, has 16 starts and two top-10 finishes of his own in the Continental Tire Challenge and is currently the CEO of Monticello Motor Club in New York.
“I think my dad and I are closer than we ever were before and it’s been an amazing bonding experience for us,” Straus said. “Without my dad, there’s no way I ever would’ve gotten behind a race car in the first place. When I was 13, he wanted to teach me safe driving skills on the road, so if I was ever out in the rain and had my siblings in the back seat, I would know how to handle a car if it slid. He should’ve realized what a slippery slope racing is because he went through the same process himself.”
The slippery slope of racing continues for Bloum and Straus at the Circuit of The Americas on May 5th. Last week, the team participated in the Continental Tire Series test session at the Austin, Texas-based track where Bloum has had success before. Straus, on the other hand, got her first look at the circuit.
“I think the biggest thing is just getting Aurora as much seat time as possible,” Bloum said about the team’s goals for COTA. “It’s her first time here so just getting her comfortable and familiar with the track is the number one goal, and then obviously go for the win. We had a really good car last year and we ended up finishing third, so I think we’ve got a really good shot at it. Just going to go for the W.”