The new class is called the Le Mans Prototype 3 - or LMP3 for short - and is quickly gaining popularity globally in sports car racing since it was introduced in 2015. If the sleek, closed-cockpit cars resemble the LPM1 and LPM2 cars that compete in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, there's a reason for that: Many of the same manufacturers that build the Le Mans entries are also building LMP3 cars.
This year IMSA added the LMP3 class to the already well-established open-cockpit Mazda Prototype Challenge (MPC) class, which appeared at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park last season as Prototype Lites. The LMP3 cars and the MPC entries compete together, but each class runs for its own championship.
With only a week off, the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda racers should be primed to renew the battle fought in a tough doubleheader at the Watkins Glen International road course in New York. The race Friday, June 30, saw a lot of thrilling action and a first-time winner in both the LMP3 and MPC classes: Polesitter Colin Thompson took the LMP3 victory in his Norma M30, the first time a Ligier JS P3 hasn't won overall. Thompson drives the No. 14 Kelly-Moss Road and Race/Ignite/Mattoni Water entry - the only Norma in the field - and he has been knocking on the door all season.
Past series champion Kenton Koch in the No. 8 P1 Motorsports Ligier, and the No. 12 Performance Tech Motorsports Ligier of Andres Gutierrez, ended up second and third, respectively. In the LMP3 Masters championship - a class-within-a-class for LMP3 drivers aged 45 and above - former Trans Am competitor Paul Fix won in his Stop Flex No. 44, an Ave-Riley AR2, the only American-built LMP3 car. All the LMP3 entries run the same 5.0-liter, 420-horsepower V-8 engine, and both classes race on Continental Tire race slicks.
So far this season in the Mazda Prototype Challenge class, which uses the familiar open-cockpit Elan DP02 chassis, powered by high-winding Mazda 2.0-liter MZR four-cylinder engines, Kyle Masson has been the man to beat in his No. 18 Performance Tech/Neurospine Institute entry. But in the first race at Watkins Glen, Masson was shuffled to the back in an early-race incident and had to fight his way from 21st back up to third. The win went to the No. 7 JDC Motorsports entry of Kris Wright, his first victory in the series. Second went to his JDC teammate Tazio Ottis, driving the No. 72. In the MPC Masters championship, the win went to Don Yount, driving the No. 22 BAR1 Motorsports/Top 1 Oil entry usually driven by team owner Brian Alder.
If Friday's race wasn't tough enough, Saturday's was downright brutal as steady rain reduced visibility and grip on the track. After a lengthy caution period, Thompson made contact with Yount on the restart, giving Gutierrez the lead and ultimately the win for his second victory of the season. His Performance Tech teammate Masson not only won his class, but used the slick track to cancel the LMP3's greater horsepower advantage, racing his No. 18 to second overall, ahead of all the other LMP3 entries - the highest finish all season for an MPC car.
Which brings us to this weekend's races at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park: Multiple teams have been working hard to repair minor damage suffered at Watkins Glen, and that work will likely continue right up until and during the two practice sessions scheduled for Friday, July 7.
The top drivers from the LMP3 races at Watkins Glen are on the CTMP entry list, with one exception: Points leader Gutierrez will miss this event, meaning there could be a new name atop the points after the Canadian Tire Motorsport Park races. But Masson and his points-leading Performance Tech MPC entry will be there, along with 11 other MPC entries.
One to keep an eye on: The No. 31 Eurosport Racing car of Michal Chlumecky of Windsor, Ontario, the only Canadian driver on the entry list. Chlumecky had a solid second-place finish in the MPC class in the second race at Watkins Glen, and came in a remarkable fourth overall, one place ahead of Wright, who won the first race at Watkins Glen. You can bet Chlumecky would love to move to the top of the podium before a local crowd.
Two practice sessions for the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda competitors are scheduled for Friday, July 7, followed by a qualifying session Saturday morning at 10:40 a.m. ET. Race 1, the first of two 45-minute sprint races takes place Saturday afternoon at 5:30 p.m. with Race 2 on Sunday morning at 9:30 a.m.
Delayed television coverage of the IMSA Prototype Challenge Races at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park as part of the Mobil 1 SportsCar Grand Prix in conjunction with the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship will be provided July 27, 2017, at 8 p.m. on Fox Sports 2 (FS2). The broadcast will also be available on YouTube 24 hours after it airs on television.
For more information on all IMSA competition - or to access IMSA Radio, which will have live streaming of both races - visit IMSA.com.
For more information about the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda series, visit www.imsa.com, follow hashtag #IMSAPC @IMSA on Twitter or IMSA on Facebook.
Schedule (all times ET):
Practice: 9:15-10:15 a.m. and 2:55-3:35 p.m. Friday, July 7
Qualifying: 10:40-11 a.m. Saturday, July 8
Race 1: 5:30-6:15 p.m. Saturday, July 8
Race 2: 9:30-10:15 a.m. Sunday July 9
Live timing: All on-track sessions at scoring.imsa.com and on the official IMSA App for iOS, Android and Windows
Twitter: Live text commentary from all sessions at @IMSALive
IMSA Prototype Challenge presented by Mazda
IMSA Prototype Challenge presented by Mazda, an International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) Challenge Series, is in its 12th season in 2017. The series provides thrilling action and grooms drivers for future IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship competition.
Action will be divided into two classes in 2017, blending new and existing IMSA machinery. The LM P3 class will feature LM P3 chassis from as many as six different constructors powered by identical V8 engines. The MPC class will use the existing Élan DP02 chassis powered by Mazda engines that previously comprised the Lites 1 class of the series.
Nine of the 13 rounds on the 2017 schedule will take place during WeatherTech Championship weekends, putting drivers and teams into the brightest sports car racing spotlight in North America. Most event weekends will include a pair of 45-minute sprint races. For more information about Prototype Challenge presented by Mazda, visit www.imsa.com, follow hashtag #IMSAPC @IMSA on Twitter or IMSA on Facebook.
The International Motor Sports Association, LLC (IMSA) was originally founded in 1969 and owns a long and rich history in sports car racing. Today, IMSA is the sanctioning body of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, the premier sports car racing series in North America. IMSA also sanctions the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge and the Prototype Challenge presented by Mazda, as well as four single-make series: Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama; Ultra 94 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada by Yokohama; Ferrari Challenge North America; and Lamborghini Super Trofeo North America. IMSA - a company within the NASCAR family - is the exclusive strategic partner in North America with the Automobile Club de l'Ouest (ACO) which operates the 24 Hours of Le Mans as a part of the FIA World Endurance Championship. The partnership enables selected IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship competitors to earn automatic entries into the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans. For more information, visit www.IMSA.com, www.twitter.com/IMSA or www.facebook.com/IMSA.