A field of 23 IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda drivers took on the Mecca of North American road racing Saturday, June 30, in the first of two 45-minute sprint races as part of the Sahlen?s Six Hours of The Glen at Watkins Glen International as part of the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship event weekend.
Having hosted nearly every form of car class over the course of its 69-year history, this is the first time Watkins Glen International has played host to the new global LMP3 chassis. All class competitors share the same 5.0-liter, 420 horsepower V-8, with three different manufacturers represented ? the Ligier JS P3, Norma M30 and the Ave-Riley AR2. And a precedent was set as all three were represented on the podium in their respective classes.
At the drop of the green flag, polesitter Colin Thompson in the No. 14 Kelly-Moss Road and Race Norma set the pace for challengers Kenton Koch and Andres Gutierrez.
Koch, a former Prototype Lites champion in the No. 8 Ligier entry of P1 Motorsports started in second position on the grid and kept a steady push on Thompson throughout the entire race, but he continually had to check his mirrors as the bright yellow, red and green Ligier of Gutierrez in his No. 12 for Performance Tech Motorsports continually kept watch for any opportunity to get a run or make a pass.
A full-course caution on Lap 6 due to hard contact by Extreme Speed Motorsports driver Naj Husain in Turn 11 narrowed the gap for the top LMP3 class contenders, but it was Thompson who prevailed to earn his first series victory for Kelly-Moss Road and Race.
Koch and Gutierrez followed in lock-step the entire race, and ended up on the podium in second and third place in class, respectively.
In LMP3 Masters competition, for drivers age 45-years or older, it was Paul Fix who took the top step of the podium for his first series victory, as well as the first win for the Ave-Riley AR2 chassis in competition.
The start of Fix?s race was challenging at best, as a mechanical issue forced him to start at the rear of the field. But as the race progressed, he steadily picked off the competition and was able to benefit from fellow Masters challenger Husain?s on-track incident to take the win.
Husain was running in fourth overall when his No. 3 Ligier entry spun out in Turn 11, causing the full-course caution and ending his race in second place on the Masters podium.
In the MPC division, featuring the tried and true open-cockpit Elan DP02 chassis powered by the nimble Mazda MZR 2.0 four-cylinder engine, trend-setter Kyle Masson broke his winning streak in his No. 18 Performance Tech Motorsports entry. Masson was involved in an on-track skirmish forcing him off track on Lap 9 that pushed him all the way down to 21st, giving up position and ultimately the win to Kris Wright in the No. 7 car. It was Wright?s first win in series competition and the first win of the season for JDC Motorsports ? who dominated the podium last season.
Wright was joined on the podium by his teammate Tazio Ottis who started in 13th overall in his No. 72 and steadily gained six positions throughout the sprint to edge into second place in class.
Despite the kerfuffle, Masson was far from out, as he put his head down and gained at least one position, if not two, on every lap moving forward. A late restart after a short yellow-flag period – caused the by the No. 31 of Michal Chlumecky coming to a stop on-course – was just what Masson needed, as he took advantage of the packed-up field and claimed six more positions to ultimately end his day in third.
A familiar face in the Masters championship within the MPC class, Don Yount jumped into the No. 22 usually piloted by Brian Alder of BAR1 Motorsports. While he had a challenging start to his race due to his Elan DP02 stalling on the grid, he recovered quickly and claimed his first victory of the season.
The Eurosport Racing entry of Chlumecky was running an excellent race in second position in the championship until his incident late in the race on lap 16 forced him to give up his position to Robert Masson ? father and teammate to Kyle Masson in the No. 11 Global Microsurgical Center/Performance Tech Motorsports entry.
Rounding out the MPC Masters championship was the No. 13 Team Perfect Pedal entry of Gary Gibson.
Friday morning?s qualifying session quickly evolved into a shootout between Thompson and Koch vying for the LMP3 pole.
Koch led the majority of the session, steadily building speed and dropping his lap times until Thompson powered his Norma M30 through a flyer lap of 1:42.142 on his fifth lap out to overtake Koch and secure the class pole position for Kelly-Moss Road and Race.
Masson continued his qualifying streak, despite pressure by Wright in his JDC Motorsports entry, and just like Thompson, found his sweet spot on Lap 5 to trump the rest of the MPC class with a qualifying time of 1:46.152 to start first in class and sixth position overall.
Race two will take the green flag at 9:20 a.m. ET Saturday. The race will be streamed live on IMSA.tv. Live timing and scoring will be available on IMSA.com.
Delayed television coverage of the IMSA Prototype Challenge Races at Watkins Glen International will be provided on July 13, 2017, at 8 p.m. on Fox Sports 2 (FS2). 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?www.imsa.com, follow hashtag?#IMSAPC?@IMSA on Twitter or IMSA on Facebook.