One week after scoring his first career win in the Indy Lights championship on the streets of St. Petersburg, Pato O’Ward scored his first career win in the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda Friday at Sebring.
O’Ward – who has seven career IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship victories to his name –utilized a late-race caution to race from fourth to first in a final sprint to the finish to earn the victory alongside co-driver Leo Lamelas in the No. 7 Charles Wicht Racing Ligier JS P3.
It was Lamelas’ first career IMSA win in just his second career start.
The restart came with 17 minutes remaining following an incident involving Dr. Tim George in Turn 17.
O’Ward restarted fourth and only needed four minutes to move through the field, ultimately passing the No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports Norma M30 of race leader Austin McCusker.
“That yellow definitely helped us a ton,” said O’Ward, who went on to win by 5.524 seconds. “I’m not exactly sure how far in front first and second were – but considering how long it took me to get to them once we caught the safety car – if that yellow hadn’t come out, we wouldn’t have had a chance.
“I just cooled down the tires a bit because they had gotten pretty hot, and when we restarted, I just picked them off one by one.”
“I met [Pato] three days ago, but he’s a great driver and the car was very good,” added Lamelas. “This was the second race for me here in the United States and so everything here for me is new. The team did an awesome job throughout the week and Pato did an excellent job today.”
The good fortune of the yellow flag for O’Ward and the Charles Wicht Racing team came at the expense of McCusker, who had opened an 18-second lead before the caution.
It was the second consecutive runner-up finish for Forty7 Motorsports and McCusker after finishing second at the season-opener at Daytona in January.
“We had some handling issues throughout the whole race so I’m happy with the second place,” said McCusker. “We’re excited to go to Barber, we’re going to try our best to get up to that top step. We’re shooting for a pole and that long-awaited win.”
The No. 30 Extreme Speed Motorsports Ligier JS P3 of Kris Wright and Michael Whelden rounded out the podium finishing third.
The Masters win, meanwhile, went to James McGuire Jr., who finished fourth in the No. 26 K2R Motorsports Ligier JS P3 alongside co-driver Matthew Bell.
“It’s exciting to be here at Sebring in a prototype,” said McGuire. “The last time I was here was in the Continental Tire Challenge in a touring car basically. I never thought it would be possible to get in a prototype and to finish on the podium with Masters. It’s a special day.”
House Celebrates 75th Birthday With First IMSA Win In MPC Class
Dave House may have just celebrated his 75th birthday in the most unique way possible – winning a professional sports car race at one of the most iconic road courses in North America.
One week after hitting the personal milestone, House took MPC class honors, beating ONE Motorsports teammate Paul LaHaye to the stripe by 13.507 seconds in the No. 86 Mazda-powered Elan DP02.
“I’ve been on the podium, but never on the top rung,” said House. “It was a great race, it was a clean race. It’s just about endurance when you’ve got a couple hours in the car. I was just fortunate to have a car that was really hooked up well and kept running the whole race.”
House went toe-to-toe with Daytona winner Dr. Robert Masson and young Wyatt Schwab throughout the race, even making contact a couple times in Sebring’s notoriously tough Turn 17.
Unfortunately for the Performance Tech Motorsports teammates, both Masson and Schwab ran into separate mechanical issues while leading the race.
That opened the door for House and he didn’t look back. Stephen Dawes rounded out the podium with a third-place finish in the No. 22 Performance Tech Motorsports Mazda-powered Elan DP02.
While House was challenged by both Masson and Schwab throughout the race, one thing he was not challenged by – even at 75 years of age – was the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda’s new one hour, 45-minute endurance race format.
“I’ve run the 25 Hours of Sebring and I run it in a Radical,” said House. “We run three-hour stints and I’m used to doing night stints for three hours, so an hour and 45-minute race I figured was not going to be that difficult, particularly in the daylight.
“I work out a lot and train so my trainer keeps me in good shape, and in spite of being the oldest guy on the track, I still came out on top.”