Wright Makes Championship Statement Alongside Simpson With IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda Win At VIR
Saturday, August 18, 2018
Kris Wright made a statement Saturday at VIRginia International Raceway: the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda LMP3 championship is going to have to go through him and the No. 30 Extreme Speed Motorsports Ligier JS P3 team.
Joined this weekend by Stephen Simpson – his first race this season with a co-driver – Wright opened a 23-point lead in the LMP3 class with one race remaining thanks to a 1.567 second win over the No. 4 ANSA Motorsports Ligier JS P3 of Zach Robichon and Dean Baker.
Wright and Simpson had no issues navigating the rainy conditions at VIR. The team was the first to take wet weather tires, giving up a seven-second lead, 25 minutes into the one-hour, 45-minute race and did not panic when its closest competitor in the standings, the No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports Norma M30 team, decided to keep Austin McCusker on the track with slicks.
It took a while, but Wright made up the ground he lost with the pit stop and passed McCusker with just over one hour remaining in the race. A few laps later McCusker, still on slicks, pitted to give way to co-driver TJ Fischer, but the team was issued a one-minute penalty for a short pit stop and finished sixth.
“We came into this week really anxious to get it over with,” said Wright. “If we could have come away with third place, second place, even a fourth place we would have been good. To come away with a win was a treat. We’re really happy going into Atlanta with a pretty comfortable lead. That’s a great position to be in.
“I came up on McCusker there towards the end of my stint and they said, ‘He’s still on slicks.’ I’m like, ‘Whoa.’ Kevin, my crew chief, made a really, really, really great call for strategy on tires and everything, so we just got lucky.”
Consistency has been the story for Wright this season as the only driver in the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda with podiums in all five races. In fact, Wright has finished no worse than second since Sebring in March.
His co-driver this weekend, Simpson, continued an impressive run this summer that has seen the native of South African win in the WeatherTech Championship at Watkins Glen in the No. 99 GAINSCO “Red Dragon” ORECA LMP2, the Continental Tire Challenge at Lime Rock Park in the No. 54 JDC-Miller Audi RS3 LMS alongside Michael Johnson, and now the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda at VIR.
Robichon, who won earlier in the day in the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama race, finished second alongside co-driver Baker for the duo’s best finish of the season. The finish also was good enough to earn Baker the Masters win.
“It was fantastic,” said Baker of the race. “We had a great weekend. The car worked great, the team was great. I bumped the wall yesterday and the team had to do a little of work over the night to get the car back together and they did a fantastic job. My co-driver, Zach Robichon, of course, pulled through again. It was great. It was a lot of fun.”
The No. 51 K2R Motorsports Ligier JS P3 rounded out the podium, the team’s first of the season, with co-drivers Rob Hodes and Scott Andrews.
While the race in LMP3 was all Wright and Simpson, it was up for grabs in the MPC class.
In the end it was James French who made a last-lap pass on Mikel Miller to win his second consecutive race alongside Howard Jacobs in the No. 77 Performance Tech Motorsports Mazda-powered Elan DP02.
The lead changed hands several times in the last 20 minutes. Dr. Robert Masson seemed poised to take the points lead and win alongside co-driver and son Kyle Masson in the No. 11 Performance Tech Motorsports entry as the duo drove brilliantly in the rain, opening a nearly one-lap lead. A mechanical issue with 17 minutes remaining, however, handed the lead to Spencer Dawes in Performance Tech’s No. 22 entry.
Masson’s mechanical issue brought out the yellow flag which drew a restart with just over six minutes remaining. One lap later, Miller got by Dawes for the lead in the No. 86 ONE Motorsports entry driven full time by Dave House before getting passed by French on the final lap to finish second. Dawes went on to finish third to match his best finish of the season.
“Honestly, I did not expect that,” said French. “I was trying to, basically, that whole stint, figure out where we were at. I was kind of having some troubles with the radio. I heard we were in sixth, then fourth. I’m gutted to have the caution come out from Dr. Masson. They had a great race going.
“We were able to pick off the last couple of cars on the last lap of the restart. It was pretty wild with the P3 traffic. They were a bit slower in places, so the timing of passes was pretty tricky. It’s a great weekend for us. We really needed this. We’ve had a really rough month. This one’s for Frankie.”
Performance Tech Motorsports dedicated the VIR weekend to crew chief Frankie Parzych who passed away unexpectedly on Aug. 6 at the age of 58.
Coming into the VIR weekend, the top seven teams in the MPC standings were separated by only seven points, with the top five separated by three points. With only one race remaining, 75-year-old House moves into the class lead by three points, 143-140, over Howard Jacobs. The top seven teams remain mathematically eligible for the championship and are separated by a mere eight points.
The season finale for the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda will take place on the Motul Petit Le Mans weekend at Road Atlanta. The race will go green on Friday, Oct. 12 at 8 a.m. and can be streamed live on IMSA.tv. Tickets are available for that weekend at roadatlanta.com.