AS MCCUSKER, PFLUCKER CLOSE IN ON IMSA PROTOTYPE CHALLENGE TITLE, BATTLE LOOMS FOR SECOND PLACE
BRASELTON, Ga. – The championship outcome in the IMSA Prototype Challenge may be all but cast in stone, but it’s still business as usual for the No. 47 Forty 7 Motorsports entry about to be crowned. Austin McCusker and Rodrigo Pflucker, co-drivers of the No. 47 Norma M30, hold an all but insurmountable 27-point lead going into Friday’s season finale at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta, part of the Motul Petit Le Mans weekend.
With 22 cars entered, all the No. 47 must do is start the race to wrap up the driver and team titles. That doesn’t mean McCusker and Pflucker will be coasting to the crown.
“We’re treating it as a normal weekend,” said McCusker, who ran third in Wednesday’s practice at Michelin Raceway. “We want to win, that’s the reason we’re here. We want to win the race, we want to win the championship, too. If we win the championship, we don’t want to win it (by finishing the race) in 10th place. We want to at least be on the podium and try to get another win for the season.”
McCusker finished second to Kris Wright in the Prototype Challenge driver’s standings a year ago, collecting wins at Barber Motorsports Park and VIRginia International Raceway. While he and Pflucker have only reached the top step of the podium once this season – at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in July – a pair of second-place finishes to start the season have helped build the cushion leading into the last of the six races on the 2019 schedule. McCusker, the 21-year-old from Glen Head, N.Y., said he and Pflucker, the 23-year-old Peruvian, have meshed well as teammates this season.
“We want the same thing out of the car,” McCusker said. Hoping to advance up the IMSA prototype ladder in the future, McCusker added that the depth of competition in Prototype Challenge has helped prepare him. “From last year to the beginning of this year was a big step,” he said. “From the end of last year, I feel like I learned a lot. As the year went on, just getting better and better in the starts of races or starts of my stint with cold tires – which I’ve still got to work on a little bit. I think I’ve definitely gotten quicker. I’ve gotten to grips with the Norma pretty good. That’s one of the biggest things, just getting my driving style to get suited to that car.”
While the championship is all but assured, the chase for second place in the standings remains wide open. Leo Lamelas and Neil Alberico (No. 4 Ansa Motorsports Ligier JS P3) are two points up on Stevan McAleer (No. 43 Robillard Racing Norma), six ahead of Dylan Murry (No. 54 MLT Motorsports Ligier, co-driven with Dakota Dickerson) and eight in front of Bruce Hamilton and Tonis Kasemets (No. 60 Wulver Racing Ligier). Alberico, an IMSA rookie after cutting his teeth in open-wheel cars, echoed McCusker’s thoughts on race strategy for what it will take to hold onto second in the championship.
“We’ve got to win the race, that’s all we can do,” said the Californian who turned 27 on Monday. “Whatever happens behind us is out of our control. That’s kind of what we’re focusing on. The Normas are really, really, really fast, so I think we’ve got our hands full this weekend. “This is my first year spending time with IMSA, first year driving a car with a roof over my head, first year ever sharing a car,” Alberico added. “A lot of firsts for me. The team and the series have been awesome to work with. I’m having a lot of fun here. It’s been an awesome experience. Pit stops were new to me, too, and I’m having a ton of fun doing all that stuff. I’ll definitely be back next year in some capacity.”
Scott Andrews was fastest in Wednesday’s only official practice with a lap of 1 minute, 16.323 seconds in the No. 9 JDC MotorSports Norma. Teams also received track time during a promoter test session earlier in the day.
A 30-minute practice and 15-minute qualifying session are scheduled Thursday on the 2.54-mile Michelin Raceway circuit. The Prototype Challenge race, set for one hour, 45 minutes, streams live on IMSA.tv at 7:50 a.m. ET Friday, with a broadcast of the race airing at 1 p.m. ET Friday, Oct. 18 on NBCSN.