|The LMP3 class leads the start of the first race at Barber Motorsports Park in April
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (June 26, 2017) – No doubt about it – the learning curve has been steep for all the drivers and teams in the 2017 IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda’s LMP3 class this year.
After all, the class only debuted in the U.S. in mid-March at Sebring International Raceway in Florida, and there has only been one event since then, held in late April at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama. With two 45-minute races per event, the new LMP3 class remains a bit of a cipher to some of the competitors.
That’s going to change, and it may start at Watkins Glen International in New York June 29 through July 1, where the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda begins the meat of the 2017 schedule, with two additional events in July alone.
So far, the driver and team combination that seems to have adapted the quickest is Andres Gutierrez, the young Monterrey, Mexico competitor who drives the No. 12 Ligier JS P3 for Performance Tech Motorsports. He leads the points going into Watkins Glen, but he’s being pursued by Kenton Koch, the 2015 series champion, who pilots the No. 8 P1 Motorsports Ligier. Koch is only sixth in points because his deal didn’t materialize in time to race at Sebring, but he scored a first and second at the two Barber races.
While a half-dozen manufacturers are licensed to produce the global LMP3 chassis – all the cars use the same potent 5.0-liter, 420-horsepower V-8 – only Ligier, which fields the majority of the cars in the series, has reached the top step of the podium.
That could change at Watkins Glen, too. Paul Fix, a longtime driver in the top tier of the Trans Am series with multiple wins to his credit, teamed with motorsports veteran Tony Ave and legendary designer Bill Riley to create the Ave-Riley AR-2 LMP3 car – it’s the only one designed and built in the U.S.
It has been tough campaigning the only car of its kind in the series – there are no other Ave-Riley teams to share information with – but Fix should be a factor at Watkins Glen, since it’s the home track for the Williamsville veteran. Look for his red No. 44 to make some strides toward The Glen’s podium.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the LMP3 season has been the success of Colin Thompson, driver of the No. 14 Ignite/Mattoni Water car for the respected Kelly-Moss Road and Race team. Thompson and Kelly-Moss are also racing a (so far) one-of-a-kind by using the Norma M30 chassis. After a tough debut at Sebring’s first race, Thompson seemed to figure it all out, and while the 2014 IMSA Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge champ hasn’t won yet in his Norma, the Pennsylvania-born 23-year-old is second in LMP3 points.
There’s a true dark horse in the race at Watkins Glen, too: Sports car racer Robby Foley has signed a deal with P1 Motorsports – they also supply cars for Koch and for team owner J.C. Perez – to make his debut in LMP3 at Watkins Glen. Foley, a 20-year-old from Randolph, New Jersey, will be driving the No. 17 Ligier.
Moving into the Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda series is a natural for Foley, who has been climbing Mazda’s ladder system, and earned a Mazda Scholarship in 2016 to race in Mazda’s Global MX-5 Cup series, where he earned three wins.
“It’s a refreshing new challenge and one I’m really looking forward to,” Foley said. “I have been driving a variety of Mazda MX-5’s over the past few seasons, so the Prototype will be a big adjustment, but I have a strong group around me to help get me up to speed. I’ve always dreamed of driving a high-downforce, fast race car, and to do it at such an amazing, historic track is really special and I’m very grateful for the opportunity.”
This is not to say the aforementioned LMP3 drivers are expected to have the big 3.4-mile road course to themselves. Aside from 15 other competitors in the traditional Mazda Prototype Challenge (MPC) class – we’ll get to them in a moment – there are several other LMP3 racers looking for success in upstate New York.
Matthew Dicken of Louisville, Kentucky is behind the wheel of the No. 4 Strategic Wealth Ligier for ANSA Motorsports. Naj Husain of The Plains, Virginia, drives the No. 3 Cloudistics Ligier for Extreme Speed Motorsports, a very experienced team with a Rolex 24 At Daytona overall win on its resume. Husain and Fix are also collecting points in the Masters divisions, a class-within-a-class for drivers 45 and over.
Robert La Rocca of Miami, Florida, is driving the No. 87 Ligier for HP-Tech Motorsport and 3Dimensional Services. And James Dayson of Vancouver, British Columbia, driver of the No. 75 CWR Ligier, will be racing in his home country in a week when the series visits Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in Ontario.
As compelling as the new LMP3 class is, some of the best action this season has been in the Mazda Prototype Challenge class, which uses the traditional, very proven Elan DP02 chassis, powered by the high-winding Mazda MZR 2.0 four-cylinder engine. Though the open-cockpit Mazda Prototype Challenge cars don’t have the brute horsepower that the V-8 LMP3 cars do, the chassis and the engine – as well as some of the drivers, for that matter – are so well-sorted and experienced that it isn’t unusual to see cars from both classes running fender-to-fender.
So far, though, the MPC drivers have been watching the taillights of Kyle Masson, the Windermere, Florida racer who has won all four races in the two 2017 events and, of course, leads the points. Masson’s No. 18 Performance Tech Motorsports car has been flawless, as has Masson. He started the 2017 season in the best way possible, too, with a class win at the Rolex 24 At Daytona in the PC class with teammates at Performance Tech.
In fact, Kyle’s competition includes three more Performance Tech entries – his father, Robert Masson, plus Howard Jacobs and Stephen Dawes. Those three drivers are also gathering points in the MPC’s Masters division, as are Jay Salmon, Jon Brownson, Paul La Haye, Michal Chlumecky, Joel Janco, Tim George, Don Yount, Stuart Rettie and Gary Gibson. Gibson and Rettie, incidentally, are also fourth and fifth respectively in overall points.
Kyle Masson’s closest competition has been Tazo Ottis of Alameda, California, driver of the No. 72 JDC Motorsports entry. Ottis is second in points with three podium finishes. Other drivers to watch include Kris Wright in the JDC No. 7, who scored a second-place finish in the Sebring opener.
The first of the two 45-minute IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda races will take the green flag at 2:25 p.m. EDT on Friday, June 30, while race two takes place Saturday at 9:20 a.m. Both races will be streamed live on IMSA.tv.
An hour-long delayed TV broadcast of the event is scheduled for July 13 on Fox Sports 2 (FS2) at 8 p.m. ET. The broadcast will also be available on YouTube 24 hours after it airs on television.
For more information on all IMSA competition – or to access IMSA Radio, which will have live streaming of both races – visit IMSA.com.
For more information about the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda series, visit IMSA.com, and follow hashtags #IMSAPC and #MRT24 @IMSA on Twitter or IMSA on Facebook.
Schedule (all times ET):
Practice: 8:30 – 9:00 a.m. and 12:10 – 12:50 p.m.,Thursday, June 29
Qualifying: 9:00 – 9:20 a.m. Friday, June 30
Round 1 (45 minutes): 2:25 – 3:10 p.m. Friday, June 30
Round 2 (45 minutes): 9:20 – 10:05 p.m. Saturday, July 1
Live timing: All on-track sessions at scoring.imsa.com and on the official IMSA App for iOS, Android and Windows
Twitter: Live text commentary from all sessions at @IMSALive