CHAMPIONSHIP HOPEFULS LOOKING TO CONTINUE IMSA PROTOTYPE CHALLENGE TREND WITH VIR VICTORY
This weekend, the IMSA Prototype Challenge (IPC) makes its fifth visit to VIRginia International Raceway for Saturday’s one-hour, 45-minute penultimate round of the six-race championship.
And if history is our guide, whoever hoists the winner’s trophy atop the podium Saturday has an excellent chance to do the same with the championship trophy at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta in October. In all four previous IMSA Prototype Challenge events at VIR – dating back to the first one in 2012 when the series was known as “Prototype Lites” – the eventual series champion was a winner at the 3.27-mile, 17-turn circuit dubbed “America’s Motorsports Resort.”
Last year, it was Kris Wilson, who combined with Stephen Simpson to win the first IPC “endurance” race at VIR in the No. 30 Extreme Speed Motorsports Ligier JS P3. Wilson went on to take the LMP3 class title at season’s end and will be back at VIR this weekend in the No. 3 Jr III Racing Ligier Js P3.
The 2018 event was the first at VIR since 2015 for IMSA Prototype Challenge, nee “Lites.” Eventual L1 class champion Kenton Koch, who currently co-drives the No. 2 eEuroparts.com ROWE Racing Audi R8 in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge with Tyler Cooke, won the first race of what was then a doubleheader weekend for the series at VIR and finished third in the second race.
Misha Goikhberg, who now drives the No. 85 JDC-Miller Motorsports Cadillac DPi-V.R in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, swept both races at VIR en route to the 2014 Prototype Lites L1 title. Another current WeatherTech Championship DPi driver, Tristan Nunez, won both Lites races in the series’ inaugural VIR visit back in 2012 on his way to the year-end title.
So, who will it be this year?
No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports Norma M30 co-drivers Austin McCusker and Rodrigo Pflucker are likely the favorites. They head to VIR fresh from their first IPC victory of the season in last month’s three-hour race at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.
McCusker and Pflucker also finished second in the first two races of the season at Daytona International Speedway and Sebring International Raceway. With three podiums in four starts, they come into this weekend with a 13-point lead over No. 4 ANSA Motorsports Ligier JS P3 co-drivers Leo Lamelas and Neil Alberico, who won the three-hour season-opener at Daytona in early January.
No. 60 Wulver Racing Ligier JS P3 co-drivers Bruce Hamilton and Tonis Kasemets are third in the LMP3 championship standings heading to VIR. They’re 33 points behind McCusker and Pflucker with best runs of third at Daytona and Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
Of course, there’s also the potential for somebody to “steal” the victory this weekend and put an end to the trend.
Dylan Murry is one driver who fits the profile. He comes into the weekend 38 points behind the co-leaders, a deficit that would be tough to overcome with just two races remaining. But Murry won the race at Mid-Ohio in early May and is always a threat in the No. 54 MLT Motorsports Ligier JS P3 that he will share this weekend with Skylar Robinson.
Stevan McAleer is another one. He trails the leaders by 41 points, but the former IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge champion won at Sebring this year and is sure to be tough again this weekend in the No. 43 Robillard Racing Norma M30.
Looking at the LMP3 Bronze Drivers Cup standings, No. 70 PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports Ligier JS P3 co-drivers Joel Janco and Jonatan Jorge lead the way with 132 points on the strength of class victories at Daytona and Sebring and podium results in all four races this season. They’re 14 points ahead of No. 86 ONE Motorsports Ligier JS P3 co-drivers Dave House and Paul LaHaye.
The one-hour, 45-minute race caps a busy day of action at VIR on Saturday. The green flag will drop at 5:55 p.m. ET Saturday with live streaming available on IMSA.tv and NBCSN television coverage set for Monday, Sept. 2 at 6 p.m. ET.