MCCUSKER, PFLUCKER WRAP UP SERIES CHAMIONSHIP
While Mike Skeen was driving his race of the year in IMSA Prototype Challenge, Rodrigo Pflucker and Austin McCusker were calmly maneuvering their way to the 2019 championship.
Skeen recovered from a Lap 3 spin, charging from 18th place to win Friday morning in the final Prototype Challenge race of the season. Pflucker and McCusker, meanwhile, only needed to start the race at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta to clinch the driver and team titles. A steady if unspectacular drive to sixth place wrapped up the crowns for the Forty 7 Motorsports duo.
“This season was a lot tougher, the competition was a lot tougher,” said McCusker, a 21-year-old New Yorker who finished second in the driver and team standings in 2018, driving the same No. 47 entry. “Look at us, we only got one win this year but we were very consistent. I think we had three podiums, four top-fives.
“I finished second in the championship last year, so one better is where we wanted to be. We accomplished that goal and I’m happy.”
Pflucker drove a sister Forty 7 Motorsports car last season before being paired with McCusker in 2019. Their lone win came at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in July, but they added second-place finishes to kick off the six-race season at Daytona International Speedway and Sebring International Raceway.
“We came knowing this year that the points system in IMSA is close from each other,” said Pflucker, the 23-year-old from Lima, Peru. “It’s really important to get the points every race, be consistent.”
The No. 47 Norma M30 ran as high as second place on Friday, but a pit-speed violation during the lone stop forced a drive-through penalty that knocked it out of podium contention. It couldn’t diminish the joy of the championship, however.
“I’m really happy,” Pflucker said. “It was our main goal since last year (to win the championship). Austin was my teammate in 2018 and we got together (this year) to achieve this goal. We are happy, of course.”
Skeen, meanwhile, thought his race was all but over in the No. 23 Gilbert/Korthoff Motorsports Norma when he spun while battling Matthew Bell (No. 64 K2R Motorsports Ligier JS P3) for second place early into the one-hour, 45-minute race.
“We ran side by side and he kind of pushed me over to the right between (Turns) 10A and B and made it really tight. It was just a racing incident,” said Skeen, the 32-year-old Virginian whose 6-foot-3 frame towers over most drivers. “I’m so tight in that car that it’s really hard for me to correct oversteer. Cold tires, spun it, just kind of a dumb thing. I thought it was kind of over at that point as far as the win. I thought we might be able to eke out a podium if we were lucky.”
Falling all the way to 18th place, Skeen raced faster and longer than most anyone for the first stint, taking the lead for five laps before making his mandatory pit stop on Lap 39, nearly an hour into the race. He emerged in second place after the pit cycle, trailing only pole sitter Stevan McAleer (No. 43 Robillard Racing).
After a restart following the last of four full-course cautions, Skeen dove inside McAleer heading into the esses with five minutes remaining. McAleer slid into the grass before correcting and getting back on track, but Skeen was long gone.
“It was awesome,” said Skeen, who collected his first win of the season in just his third race. “We were both still kind of on cold tires after the restart and he just got a little bit deep into Turn 3. He was running an awesome race up to that point.
“He just let a small window open, I got a little pushy with no contact but had to make an aggressive move. I knew he was going to close the door if I didn’t go for it. I had to take a chance when it opened up and it worked out.”
Skeen pulled away to win by 2.928 seconds over Bell in the No. 64. The victory followed a second-place finish for Skeen in the previous series race at VIRginia International Raceway in August.
“We only did a partial season with this Gilbert Motorsports car,” Skeen said. “To do just a couple races and be up front, be on the podium (at VIR) and finish it off with a win is just good.”
Wayne Boyd and Naj Husain placed third Friday in the No. 30 Sean Creech Motorsports Ligier with McAleer finishing fourth. McAleer still secured second in the driver standings, tying No. 4 Ansa Motorsports drivers Leo Lamelas and Neil Alberico in points but owning the tiebreaker with a series-leading two race wins.
Kris Wilson in the No. 3 Jr III Racing Ligier JS P3 won the Bronze Cup trophy – for the highest placing Bronze driver lineup – for the second consecutive race and in just his second series start.
The broadcast of the Prototype Challenge season finale airs at 1 p.m. ET Friday, Oct. 18 on NBCSN.