IMSA Prototype Challenge season outlook

January 5, 2019

IMSA Prototype Challenge season outlook

January 5, 2019

Much of the Roar Before the Rolex 24 weekend focuses on testing and preseason media obligations. But to ignore the IMSA Prototype Challenge race as part of the weekend would also ignore the opening race of IMSA’s 50th anniversary season.

One could be forgiven for thinking they’d heard “Prototype Challenge” before in IMSA competition. And they’d be right. From 2010 through 2017, the Prototype Challenge – or PC – class was a stalwart of the American Le Mans Series and later, the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

In fact the PC class ran with MICHELIN tires through its opening three seasons, from 2010 to 2012. Teams such as CORE autosport, JDC-Miller Motorsports, Performance Tech Motorsports and PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports are PC class alumni that have since moved up the WeatherTech Championship ladder.

Formerly IMSA’s Prototype Lites series, Prototype Challenge took on its current name in 2017. Alas, IMSA Prototype Challenge – or IPC – now is a different series altogether. It enters 2019 with further changes. 

For 2019, the series is streamlined: a single class of LMP3 spec prototype coupes, powered by a 5.0L V8 engine. The series’ secondary class of open-top prototypes, MPC, has been phased out at the end of 2018. Michelin will be the tire provider for these LMP3 cars Stateside, as it has been in other championships.

Boiled down simply, IPC is a cost-effective, introductory level prototype series for teams, drivers and crews who want to race on IMSA weekends. 

The six-race schedule for 2019 has only one venue change from 2018. The Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course replaces Barber Motorsports Park. 

Two of the six races are three hours in length rather than the standard one hour, 45 minutes. These three-hour races feature either two or three-driver lineups, and required pit stop time of three minutes. Teams are allocated five sets of MICHELIN tires for the Daytona race weekend.

Among the 21 cars entered for the Scouts of America race held on Daytona’s 3.56-mile circuit, there are a good blend of young talents and gentlemen drivers.

With 2018 overall LMP3 champ Kris Wright moving up to the WeatherTech Championship, at least at Daytona, Austin McCusker enters as the highest placed 2018 driver returning for an encore. McCusker, a Long Island, N.Y. native, will enter Daytona just shy of his 21st birthday. He finished second in last year’s standings and returns to Daytona looking to win after scoring the pole position here last year. He’ll share a Forty7 Motorsports Norma M30 with Rodrigo Pflucker.

ANSA Motorsports won last year’s PC race at Daytona with Roman de Angelis. The young Canadian steps up to a WeatherTech seat at the Rolex 24 at Daytona. He’ll drive a Canadian-entered Audi R8 LMS GT3 Evo. Both driver and team have momentum from winning the most recent race featuring these LMP3 cars. De Angelis and Kyle Kirkwood shared the winning car at last November’s Michelin IMSA SportsCar Encore. Sebring hosted the inaugural four-hour race.

Leo Lamelas and Neil Alberico share one of ANSA’s two cars at Daytona. Jon Brownson and Michal Chlumecky share the second car. Both drivers step up from open-top MPC cars to LMP3 coupes this season. All except Lamelas raced an ANSA LMP3 car at the Encore. Brownson was MPC’s final class champion.

The ANSA, Performance Tech, Simraceway, P1, Polestar and K2R teams all raced in the Encore. This provided them an introductory weekend to working with Michelin and its Motorsport Tire Specialists ahead of 2019 in a relaxed, yet still competitive, setting. 

Other drivers to watch at Daytona include:

  • Garett Grist, a Canadian who won the final WeatherTech PC race at Petit Le Mans in 2017 and enjoyed a solid 2018 season with United Autosports’ LMP3 car in European Le Mans Series competition 
  • Stevan McAleer, veteran Scottish sports car driver and co-owner of McCumbee McAleer Racing, who shares a Norma with Kenton Koch 
  • Cameron Cassels, a past Daytona winner in MICHELIN Pilot Challenge competition (2017 in a Porsche Cayman) and 2018 LMP3 Masters champion, who is in one of Performance Tech’s three LMP3 cars 
  • Nikko Reger, the 2018 Battery Tender Global MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires champion and Wyatt Schwab and Ben Waddell, who both raced part-time in 2018, split in the other two Forty7 Normas

Other drivers and teams will undoubtedly emerge from the pack as the Prototype Challenge season continues. Some teams ran at Daytona for Michelin’s final 2018 “on-track opportunity” day held on December 11.  

After Daytona, the series races the Thursday at Sebring in March as part of that track’s “Super Weekend.”

Mid-Ohio comes next in May, followed by the second three-hour race at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in July.

Standard length races at VIR in August and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta in October conclude the 2019 campaign.

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