O’Ward Charges Through Field After Late-Race Restart To Win IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda At Sebring
Friday, March 16, 2018

One week after scoring his first career win in the 2018 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 International Raceway.

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.”