Naveen Rao and Matthew Bell extended their IMSA Prototype Challenge points lead with victory in Sunday’s round at Virginia International Raceway.
The duo sharing the No. 64 K2R Motorsports Norma M30 Nissan, sporting a Star Wars-like livery, won the third round of the season by a comfortable 35 seconds and expanding their points lead.
“We had a lot of gremlins, we’ll call it bad luck [in the opening races], so we decided to go to the ‘dark side,’” Rao said referring to the famous film franchise.
“The new [car] wrap is a typewriter and my new helmet is a typewriter paint job. It seemed to work out OK.”
To which Bell quickly added, “Looks like that’ll be staying on for quite a while.”
With the grid set by team championship points after qualifying was canceled on Saturday, Rao started on pole and maintained the lead through most of the opening stint in the 1-hour, 45-minute race.
Keith Grant, in the No. 40 Forty7 Motorsports Norma, did overtake Rao for first place on a restart 40 minutes into the race, but Grant went wide into the grass in the 17th and final turn on the 3.27-mile road course less than 10 minutes later.
It put Rao back on top, the position he held before pitting to turn the car over to Bell for the final 52 minutes.
From there, Bell fended off the challenge from Scott Andrews, co-driver of the No. 9 JDC MotorSports Norma with Gerry Kraut that had won the past two races.
“The big thing was to try and get out front and hold that,” Bell said of his stint. “The most nerve-racking laps of the race were the first two laps of the stint, trying to bring the tires up to temperature. Once I got
the lead, I knew I was ahead of Scott and it was just a case of managing the gap.”
Andrews was forced to back off in the final 15 minutes in a fuel-saving effort that went awry. Three cars passed the No. 9 on the penultimate lap and he ran out of fuel on the last lap, coasting up pit lane to the finish line in seventh place.
Stevan McAleer, the Prototype Challenge race winner last year at VIR, stormed to a second-place finish in the No. 10 Robillard Racing Norma he shared with Joe Robillard.
Joel Janco and Kyle Kirkwood piloted the No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports Norma to third place. Squeezing every ounce of fuel from his No. 54 MLT Motorsports Ligier JS P3 Nissan, Dakota Dickerson soldiered home in fourth.
Keith and David Grant finished fifth in the No. 40 and won the Bronze Cup class despite each brother venturing off course more than once.