DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Jan. 24, 2017) – Kyle Masson will continue to keep the pedal to the metal as he prepares for the biggest opportunity of his blossoming sports car racing career.
Masson, 19, from Windermere, Florida, will start his second season of International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) competition by driving in the most prestigious sports car race in North America, the Rolex 24 At Daytona on Jan. 26-29 at Daytona International Speedway. He will make his IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship debut in the No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports entry in the Prototype Challenge class, sharing the driver’s seat with fellow Americans James French and Nicholas Boulle and Mexican driver Patricio O’Ward.
Climbing to the big show with Performance Tech was a natural evolution of Masson’s career, which started with open-wheel racing in 2014. He then moved to sports car racing in 2016 with Florida-based Performance Tech and finished fifth in the Prototype Challenge presented by Mazda standings, with six podium finishes, including a best of second place at Trois-Rivières, Quebec.
“The opportunity presented itself, and we wanted to make sure I was ready,” Masson said. “So we’ve been doing a lot of testing and preparing for it. But it got to the point where both the team and I feel that I’m ready to move up and to attempt to race the PC car. We’re going to try and capitalize on it and see what we can do.”
Masson took a studious, calculated approach to his rookie season in 2016. That attitude also served him well during the Roar Before the Rolex 24 test session on Jan. 6-8 at Daytona International Speedway, as he coped with the increased horsepower and different handling characteristics of a PC car compared to the Lites 1 car he drove last season.
One of the biggest adjustments for Masson was the aggressive turn-in of the PC car at corner entry. Masson said the ORECA FLM09 chassis felt like it was about to swap ends as he entered corners during his initial laps around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile circuit at Daytona.
“It was something I had to get used to and build up trust into the fact the car would understeer once I turned in all the way,” Masson said. “So it took awhile to get used to it because it was kind of counterintuitive. It felt like it’s going to oversteer, but it doesn’t.”
It didn’t take long for Masson to adjust his driving style and build his confidence. He fit right in and turned competitive lap times with team veteran French and junior open-wheel standout O’Ward.
“He did an awesome job in the car,” Performance Tech Team Principal Brent O’Neill said. “Pretty impressive for a kid with less than two years experience.”
Said Masson: “I was extremely confident after the Roar. It was so much fun, in the first place. I just loved driving the car. The power management, it’s a lot different than the Lites car because there’s twice the power.
“Leaving the Roar, I felt really good about my place in the PC class, and I feel like I’m ready. I want to succeed at Daytona.”
Masson continued to build his experience base right after the Roar by traveling to Dubai to compete in a trio of three-hour LMP2 races that took place before the Dubai 24 Hours. Masson, French, Adrian Barwick and Bradley Ellis teamed up to win one of the three-hour events in a Ginetta G57 chassis.
The Dubai experience helped Masson learn in another type of prototype machinery. He also turned a racing stint of one hour, the longest of his young career, which was good training for the multiple hour-plus stints he hopes to complete this weekend at Daytona.
Seat time in different cars is helping Masson accelerate his learning curve. But he admits there’s one training ground that ensured his smooth upshift into the PC class of the WeatherTech Championship.
“A year of (Prototype) Lites was essential to the transition,” Masson said. “Without Lites, there’s no way I would have been able to drive that PC car.”
Masson would like to continue to race in the PC car this season if he enjoys success in the Rolex 24. But his primary focus, for now, is a return with Performance Tech to the newly renamed IMSA Prototype Challenge presented by Mazda. He will race in the MPC class, which consists of the existing cars that competed previously in the Lites 1 class.
A new addition to the team this season will be Masson’s father, Dr. Robert Masson, who will be Kyle’s teammate during his first season in the IMSA-sanctioned Challenge Series.
While Kyle Masson said it will be very fun to race alongside his father, his quest for the MPC season championship is serious business.
“It’s a really great series for development,” Masson said. “I’m excited to be a part of it again this year. The goal this year is definitely to win the championship in Prototype Challenge.”