By Mark Robinson
One IMSA championship will be determined this weekend during Motul Petit Le Mans activities at Michelin Raceway Road America, when the IMSA Prototype Challenge conducts the finale of its six-race season.
Fourteen cars are entered in the Le Mans Prototype 3 (LMP3) race, but it’s essentially a two-horse chase for the title. The No. 64 K2R Motorsports Norma M30, driven by Naveen Rao and Matthew Bell, holds a six-point lead over Dakota Dickerson, who’s sharing the No. 54 MLT Motorsports Ligier JS P3 this weekend with Dom Cicero.
A podium finish by the No. 64 guarantees the title, no matter where the No. 54 finishes.
“The championship is our main goal,” said Rao, the Bronze-rated driver for the No. 64. “If we have to sacrifice anything else to do that, we will. Then our next goal is to win the race. In terms of the championship, there’s really only one car that I think we need to worry about, so we’re going to make sure we’re in a great spot for that. Outqualify them, make sure our pace is good. … Beyond that, don’t take any undue risks.”
His teammate agreed, but Bell was quick to add that “the simplest way to win championships is to win the races.” The No. 64 has reached the podium in all but one of the first five races but has only one win thus far. Both drivers feel a couple early season chances slipped away and they’d like nothing better than to put an exclamation point on a championship season with a victory in the finale.
“We have a hunger for not only winning the championship,” Bell said. “Obviously, that was the target at the outset of the year, but we want to win races, too.”
Other things to look for in the Prototype Challenge finale, which will stream live at 9:05 a.m. ET Friday on TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold, include:
- Strategy for the season finale will differ based on the race length of three hours. While January’s season opener in Daytona also was a three-hour race, the past four were each one hour, 45 minutes in length. The minimum drive time for a driver is 40 minutes.
- Dickerson and Cicero hope to keep the pressure on Rao and Bell. The No. 54 drivers won last month’s Prototype Challenge race at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course to trim three points off the No. 64’s advantage.
- Can the No. 9 JDC MotorSports Norma duo of Gerry Kraut and Scott Andrews regain their winning form? They were victorious in their first two outings this season – at Sebring and Road America – but have finished seventh in the last two races. The No. 9 is the only car with more than one win this season.
- Friday’s race will be the last for the Prototype Challenge under its current setup. Beginning next year, LMP3s with a new Evo kit will be allowed to compete in the both the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and IMSA Prototype Challenge. The latter will feature two classes, one for the updated LMP3s and one with the current-generation LMP3s.