Prototype Challenge Road Atlanta Friday Notebook
Friday, October 6, 2017

With two championships still on the line, it was certain that Friday’s IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda race would prove to be exciting. It was the final race of the 13-round season at Road Atlanta as part of the Motul Petit Le Mans, in support of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

The LMP3 championship was loosely in the grasp of Colin Thompson, in the No. 14 Norma M30 of Kelly-Moss Road and Race as he entered the day with a 13-point lead. However, 2015 series Champion Kenton Koch was still in the hunt for the championship if all the cards fell in his favor. Koch was second in points by virtue of missing the first two races at Sebring International Raceway back in March, but put up a strong fight all season, posting six wins and nine podiums in 10 races.

Koch started from the pole in the No. 8 P1 Motorsports Ligier JS P3, earning one valuable championship point, but with Thompson immediately in his wake. The pair battled nose-to-tail for the first dozen laps until Thompson attempted a diving pass on Lap 13. Koch was able to hold Thompson off and speed away, while Thompson later spun on the same lap and nearly scuttled his championship.

Thompson fell to sixth in class, but methodically navigated the 2.54-mile, 12-turn road course like the champion he was hoping to be. Thompson ultimately put his Norma in third place with a last-lap pass that secured the IMSA Prototype Challenge by Mazda LMP3 Championship. Koch led the field in another flag-to-flag victory, capturing the top spot on the podium and second place in the championship.

Veteran racer Tony Ave used this weekend’s event as an opportunity to jump in the car that he constructed for LMP3 competition, the No. 44 Ave-Riley AR2. Starting fourth, Ave made a move on Robby Foley at the start of the race to grab third. Foley tucked his No. 17 P1 Motorsports Ligier behind Ave and went to work.

Ave drove hard to hold off Foley’s attack, which lasted nearly the entire length of the race. The duo was in lockstep through Thompson’s spin, three restarts and lapped traffic. Ave stood his ground, shaking off the charge just before Thompson’s pass on Foley on the final lap. Ave seized the final podium spot and another trophy for the Ave-Riley showcase. It was also Ave’s second LMP3 Masters win of the weekend for drivers 45 years of age and older. In all, not a bad first weekend for Ave.

The 2017 LMP3 Masters Champion, Naj Husain, posted a second-place finish in Masters in the No. 3 Extreme Speed Motorsports/Cloudistics Ligier, followed by Michael Watt in the No. 2 ASC Motorsports Ligier. It was only Watt’s second weekend of competition this season and his second podium in four races.

In MPC competition, Kyle Masson had already locked up the title after the last event at Trois Rivieres, but that was no reason for the youngster to rest on his laurels. Masson led the MPC group to yet another flag-to-flag win in the No. 18 Performance Tech Motorsports/Neurospine Institute Elan DP02. Masson displayed the prowess of the nimble, Mazda-powered MPC cars all season, giving the LMP3 cars something to watch their mirrors for.

Kris Wright started second in his No. 7 JDC Motorsports car, but was caught up in an early tangle that cost him three positions. Undeterred, Wright stayed focused and recovered his losses to finish second in MPC. Wright finished the season with one win and eight podiums for JDC.

The other championship up for grabs was the MPC Masters Championship, where Stuart Rettie was gripping a slim three-point lead over Robert Masson, father and teammate of MPC Champion Kyle. Rettie rolled out to the grid in his No. 21 ODU Motorsports/Lion Rampant Group car knowing he had some work to do. Masson started the race with another MPC Masters competitor between his No. 11 Global Microsurgical Center car and Rettie’s. Masson would need to keep that distance to win the championship.

Rettie was clearly on a mission to defend his points-leading position as he quickly moved through traffic and tucked in behind Masson on the first lap. Rettie made his move on the Lap 6 restart to get around Masson, who later found himself serving a contact penalty on Lap 8 that effectively ended his championship hopes as Rettie sailed ahead to the class win and the MPC Masters Championship.

Masson forged ahead to a strong comeback, finishing third in class, just behind second-place finisher Dave House in the No. 86 for One Motorsports. It was House’s fourth race of the season and his first podium.

The 2017 season was concluded in style with an afternoon banquet and season awards celebration in the Cask Room at the Chateau Elan Winery near Road Atlanta.

A delayed broadcast of the races will be shown on FS2 Thursday, Oct. 26, at 8 p.m. ET.  The broadcast will also be available on YouTube 24 hours after it airs on television. 

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