Young drivers impress at Michelin Encore in LMP3

November 14, 2018

Young drivers impress at Michelin Encore in LMP3

November 14, 2018

The blend of drivers at November’s Michelin IMSA SportsCar Encore included a mix of sports car veterans, gentlemen drivers and young up-and-coming open-wheel drivers who dipped their toes into the sports car world.

Particularly in LMP3, a number of young drivers made an initial impression to this category of racing. To do so at historic, legendary Sebring International Raceway, also speaks volumes of their potential.

Kay van Berlo after first stint.

Dutch teenager Kay van Berlo, 17 years old, stood out as a potential star. Van Berlo is in his first season racing cars. As such, he is only rated as a Bronze driver by the FIA until the end of 2018.

Clearly a quick learner, van Berlo took the No. 26 AERO Paint K2R Motorsports Ligier JS P3 to the fastest lap of the weekend by over one second. His pole time of 1:57.102 stood out. It was more than eight tenths up on the 2018 pole time in LMP3. This weekend’s sessions were held in significantly warmer conditions than March.

Two penalties set back van Berlo, Matt Bell and Jim McGuire’s effort. But they recovered to finish in second place. Van Berlo said he had a lot of fun during the weekend and hopes to return to the U.S. soon. The same trio will race for United Autosports in the 2018-’19 Asian Le Mans Series LMP3 class, also with Michelin.

Overall winner Kyle Kirkwood was one of several open-wheel drivers who had a shot to drive this weekend. Kirkwood won a pair of U.S. junior series titles in 2018 (USF2000 and F3 Americas). Between those two series he won a total of 27 of 31 race starts.

Kyle Kirkwood, Dakota Dickerson, Neil Alberico.

Onroak Automotive helped provide a pair of its open-wheel champions in Kirkwood and Dakota Dickerson a shot in Ligier JS P3 cars this weekend.

They won their 2018 titles in Ligier JS F3 and JS F4 chassis, respectively.

Kirkwood took the overall win. He was the fourth fastest driver in LMP3 during the race, behind class veterans Bell and Kenton Koch, and fellow debutante van Berlo.

The Floridian is used to single-driver sprint races. So he admitted he learned a lot this weekend.

“That’s probably the first time I’ve gotten chills in a race car while on track,” Kirkwood said. He shared the No. 13 ANSA Motorsports Ligier with talented young Canadian driver Roman de Angelis.

No. 13 ANSA Motorsports Ligier JS P3, No. 26 K2R Motorsports Ligier JS P3.

“It was immense. Most of what I learned was on strategy, because I’ve only done sprint racing, so 30 or 40-minute races max. I hadn’t done two hours, and I’d never had to do a pit stop! I felt like I was asking stupid questions the whole day long! But the engineers were like, ‘Well, he’s never done this before, so he’s alright.’”

Dickerson and Neil Alberico’s race, also in an ANSA Ligier, was compromised in the third hour with clutch issues. All three young Americans are past Team USA Scholarship recipients and have bright futures ahead.

Other young drivers such as Koch, Max Hanratty and Zacharie Robichon enjoyed LMP3 experience during the year, so they weren’t new to the proceedings.

This weekend showcased some of the drivers in IMSA’s Prototype Challenge series who could be ones you’ll see moving up the ranks before too long.

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