Pivotal Mid-Ohio race ahead for Prototype Challenge

April 25, 2019

Pivotal Mid-Ohio race ahead for Prototype Challenge

April 25, 2019

For a race in the first week of May, next week’s third race of the 2019 IMSA Prototype Challenge series is already a pivotal one.

The one-hour, 45-minute race marks the halfway point of the six-race season. It is also the last IPC race until a three-hour endurance race at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park the first weekend of July.

This series now runs with MICHELIN® tires this season, so the race at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course is a good place to gauge a more traditional road course after the entirely disparate tracks at Daytona and Sebring. Mid-Ohio’s track surface evolves constantly and features different patches and types of pavement.

“The LMP3 crowd has been great to work with. It’s an extremely enthusiastic group,” said Ken Payne, technical director, motorsport, Michelin North America.

“Like TCR (in the MICHELIN Pilot Challenge), they’ll run the same tires all season. A fair number of teams have done private testing on our tires. The learning curve… is that they’ve been able to gain knowledge and learn about them. The bang for the buck in that series is tremendous, for relatively modest cost.”

A pair of young driver lineups are 1-2 in the championship heading to Mid-Ohio.

Rodrigo Pflucker and Austin McCusker (left) and Stevan McAleer (center) are in the mix for IMSA Prototype Challenge points lead. Photo: Michelin North America

On the heels of consistency and a pair of second-place finishes, the Forty7 Motorsports team leads the standings. Austin McCusker, 21, from New York, shares the No. 47 Norma M30 with Peru’s Rodrigo Pflucker, 22, who was a late add to the car’s lineup.

That pairing holds an eight-point edge over second place, Leo Lamelas (turns 22 today) and Neil Alberico (26). This pair won at Daytona but finished 10th at Sebring in the No. 4 ANSA Motorsports Ligier JS P3.

Mid-Ohio is a new venue to IPC competitors for 2019. It takes Barber Motorsports Park’s place on the schedule. However both Alberico and McCusker have past experience at the track in the Road to Indy open-wheel ladder.

Leo Lamelas and Neil Alberico at Daytona. Photo: Michelin North America

Alberico has three Road to Indy wins at Mid-Ohio (two in USF2000, one in Indy Pro 2000). McCusker posted his season-best result (eighth) at Mid-Ohio in the 2016 USF2000 campaign.

Those cars are significantly different from the closed top prototypes they will run next week. But they’ll at least have key track experience.

Performance Tech’s pairing of James French and Cameron Cassels sits third in points, 13 back of the lead. Two consistent placings of fifth and sixth in the 19 and 25-car fields have placed them there.

Performance Tech’s No. 75 Ligier of Cameron Cassels and James French has finished fifth and sixth so far. Photo: Michelin North America

Cassels, newer to racing than the rest with only four professional years, has already enjoyed a successful, busy and even painful 2019 racing in three IMSA championships. He won the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring with the same team in LMP2, racing despite three broken ribs. At 50, he’s also keeping pace with his younger co-driver (French is 26) and competitors on track.

Another driver with plenty of track experience albeit not in these cars is Sebring winner Stevan McAleer, who is in the No. 43 Norma for Robillard Racing. His Sebring win shot him up to fourth in points, 15 behind the leaders. McAleer is tied with K2R’s pair of Alex Barron and Naveen Rao.

This race runs Sunday, May 5, at 8:50 a.m. ET and local time. It streams live on IMSA.TV with IMSA Radio commentary.

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