A wildcard weekend for the IMSA Prototype Challenge at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course is right in the wheelhouse of championship hopeful Neil Alberico.
The 26-year-old Californian has had his share of success at the technical 2.258-mile road course as an open-wheel standout coming through the Road to Indy ladder, giving him a pivotal leg up on a competitive LMP3 field which heads to Mid-Ohio for the first time this weekend.
Mid-Ohio replaced Barber Motorsports Park on the series schedule for 2019, the last of three races before the series takes a two-month hiatus in advance of Canadian Tire Motorsport Park the weekend of July 5-7.
It’s also the halfway point of the six-race season, which makes this weekend a critical one for championship contenders looking to position themselves ahead of a three-race championship stretch.
The addition of Mid-Ohio to the schedule may benefit Alberico more than anybody else in the 24-car field.
Entering the weekend second in points alongside co-driver Leo Lamelas in the No. 4 ANSA Motorsports Ligier JS P3, Alberico has been at a minor disadvantage early this season learning both a new car as a rookie in IPC, and often going to tracks for the first time.
It hasn’t slowed him down, winning the season-opener at Daytona in his first weekend there, but more seat time in the LMP3 has certainly helped with the transition to sports cars.
The comfort level of two races now in the LMP3 prototype coupled with three previous race wins at Mid-Ohio, including two in USF2000, gives Alberico reason for optimism.
“When I saw this on the calendar at the beginning of the season, I was rubbing my hands together; I can’t wait to get there,” said Alberico.
“It’s a super technical track. It’s one of those places where I think the driver has to be really comfortable with a car that’s sideways and loose 90 percent of the lap. It’s a tricky place and an intimidating place because of that. When you do link together a big lap at Mid-Ohio, it feels really, really good.
“The interesting factor I think is the co-drivers. It’ll totally give us a little advantage as far as giving Leo tips and tricks as to going fast around this place. Those experiences from my past will be super helpful. It could definitely give us an advantage going into a scenario where we may have more experience collectively than the other guys.”
If Alberico and Lamelas are going to close the eight-point deficit, 64-56, to points leaders Austin McCusker and Rodrigo Pflucker and the No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports Norma M30 team, it’s likely going to take consistency and a couple of wins over the final four races to do so.
Dating back to last year when McCusker was paired with co-driver TJ Fischer, the No. 47 team has finished second or better in six of eight races, including two wins in 2018 at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and Road Atlanta.
McCusker and Pflucker have so far mirrored that 2018 IMSA Prototype Challenge campaign with two runner-up finishes in the first two races for the second consecutive season.
Of note, while their open-wheel careers never crossed paths, McCusker has a similar advantage as Alberico, also having Mid-Ohio open-wheel experience, including an F2000 Championship Series win to his name.
If there is any slip up whatsoever, however, there is no shortage of additional teams looking to move into the championship picture ahead of the summer break.
Among them, James French and Cameron Cassels are lurking 13 points back in third for Performance Tech Motorsports, while Sebring winner Stevan McAleer for Robillard Racing and K2R Motorsports’ Naveen Rao and Alex Barron are 15 points back in fourth.