As the calendar flips to February and IMSA teams set their sights on next month’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring weekend, a trio of teams have had a chance to catch their breath and reflect on an especially busy January – and December – competing in both the inaugural IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda race at Daytona and the Rolex 24 At Daytona.
Performance Tech Motorsports
The 2017 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Prototype Challenge champions arrived at Daytona in early January with a fleet of cars for the Roar Before the Rolex 24: four Mazda Prototype Challenge (MPC) cars and one LMP3 entry for the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda race, and a brand new LMP2 ready to make its debut in the WeatherTech Championship Prototype class.
“It was a huge challenge,” said team principal, Brent O’Neill. “We’re usually not preparing cars for the first week in January, except for the one that runs at the Roar.
“For our entire team it was a battle not only trying to get the new P2 car ready, but also prepare four MPC cars and one LMP3 car to go and run a new endurance format in Prototype Challenge.”
The small team out of Deerfield Beach, Fla., was up to the challenge. The IPC program showed speed out of the gate with young 17-year-old Wyatt Schwab scoring the pole in the MPC class.
That was followed up one day later by Dr. Robert Masson winning the race in the same class.
“If Wyatt Schwab doesn’t hit a plank that came off one of the LMP3s we would have been first and second,” O’Neill added.
“Cameron Cassels, who is running with us in the LMP3 car, this is his first year in the series. He had contact with another car that took him out of contention, but I think he had a shot at a podium in his first race in the LMP3 car.”
Five cars and the inaugural endurance race for the IPC was only half the weekend for O’Neill and the Performance Tech team.
Over in the WeatherTech Championship paddock, the crew was feverishly working on its new No. 38 Oreca 07 Gibson for drivers Pato O’Ward, James French and Kyle Masson.
The offseason preparation and lessons learned from the Roar Before the Rolex 24 test showed in the results at the Rolex 24.
O’Ward stunned the field by qualifying fourth, and ultimately finished eighth in the race capping off a satisfying month of January for O’Neill.
“Vince Lombardi always said, ‘Winning becomes a habit,'” he said. “We didn’t change anything we did from the end of 2017 and into 2018, the only thing difference was the car.
“At the end of the day we all know it’s a big undertaking, but we’ve done it for so long we know the program, and we just put our head down and got the job done.”
P1 Motorsports didn’t have that same luxury of experience when it attempted its own Daytona doubleheader in January, but the team left proud of everything it accomplished.
A year after making its debut in IPC and finishing runner-up in the LMP3 championship with Kenton Koch, P1 Motorsports added a new Mercedes-AMG GT3 to its roster for the Rolex 24 At Daytona.
With a full-time staff of eight at the shop, a number that grows significantly on race weekends, the team spent the offseason prepping three cars for IPC along with its new entry in the WeatherTech Championship.
“It helps to make sure the shop is organized as can be,” said team manager Alberto Pena of the offseason preparation.
“Us having the car a few months, that really got us rolling as far as making sure we were prepared for the Roar, focusing on the LMP3 car knowing that the Mercedes is ready to go, just waiting for little things like wrap.”
The IPC race didn’t go as planned with Kenton Koch and Joel Janco carrying the banner for the team with a sixth-place finish in the No. 25 Ligier JS P3.
“The race was a rollercoaster to say the least,” Pena added. “It wasn’t our ideal weekend, but we did what we could. We showed we had speed there, it just didn’t show in the results.”
Speed was the theme of the month for P1 Motorsports. Not only did its LMP3 teams show speed early in January, the team had a near flawless Rolex 24 At Daytona, finishing 12th in the GTD class with a lineup comprised of its IPC drivers Koch and Robby Foley, and Loris Spinelli and team owner JC Perez.
“We had no crew penalties, the car never went to the garage other than a little brake issue, all the pit stops were great, and the drivers did an awesome job,” said Pena.
“It was best you can get without a podium. I’m very proud of the guys for that.
“It’s incredible how we’ve only been in operations for a year and how fast we’ve taken off and how well we’ve done. Even if you’re not a fan of us, it’s something you have to tip your hat to, the amount of time and how much we’ve accomplished.”
Extreme Speed Motorsports
The addition of an IPC race during the Roar Before the Rolex 24 may have been new, but for Extreme Speed Motorsports everything else was business as usual with three LMP3 cars entered, along with two championship-contending Nissan Onroak DPi entries under the Tequila Patrón ESM banner for the WeatherTech Championship.
“In the shop we have it so there is really only one full-time guy on the LMP3 side and then we contract someone to run that whole side of it,” said team manager Erin Gahagan.
“Last year was the first year we did it that way. Years before we had an in-house team and we found that it was hard to support that with there being a small number of races rather than contract it back out.”
Gahagan says the LMP3 cars are maintained regularly and do a lot of testing, so it was a smooth transition getting them ready to race at the Roar, where the team ultimately finished third with Daniel Morad and Kris Wright in the No. 30 Ligier JS P3 – with Morad setting the race’s fastest lap – and fourth with Max Hanratty and Michael Whelden in the No. 3 Ligier JS P3.
However, the Rolex 24 didn’t produce the results the team wanted with both the No. 2 Nissan DPi of Scott Sharp, Ryan Dalziel and Olivier Pla, and the No. 22 Nissan DPi of Johannes van Overbeek, Pipo Derani and Nicolas Lapierre retiring early with mechanical issues.
The 2016 Rolex 24 winners showed speed throughout the weekend though, something the team hopes can carry into Sebring.
“We spent a lot of time in the offseason doing a lot of work to the electronics, which was a bit stressful because it was a lot work and we couldn’t start until the season was over,” said Gahagan.
“The guys didn’t get any time off at all from Petit [Le Mans] through now. We just keep trying to find things to improve on and we keep doing that.”
Gahagan added that the team won’t have much of a break between Daytona and Sebring.
“We’re going testing next week, then the official test, and then Sebring,” she said. “We’re doing as much testing as we can, to be as competitive as we can, as quickly as we can.”
The busy schedule continues for these three teams with another IPC and WeatherTech Championship doubleheader on tap at Sebring March 14-17.