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PR1 Mathiasen Taking Driver Change to Extreme

LMP2 Team Is Putting Patrick Kelly, Josh Pierson into Class-Leading No. 52 Starting at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca

By Mark Robinson

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – So, you’re leading your class in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship standings with the next important race looming. What do you do?

If you’re PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports and team principal Bobby Oergel, you change the driver lineup completely. But don’t worry, there’s a winning method to the madness.

PR1 Mathiasen’s No. 52 ORECA LMP2 07 is coming off the Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) class win at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts in March. Ben Keating, Mikkel Jensen and Scott Huffaker formed the driver grouping then, but it was known heading into the season that the trio would only be in the car for the four IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup races.

No problem for Oergel. He had a proven duo set to pilot the No. 52 ORECA for the three LMP2 “sprint” races beginning with the Hyundai Monterey Sports Car Championship Presented by Motul on May 1. Patrick Kelly (shown in photo at top), who won the WeatherTech Championship LMP2 title in 2020 driving for PR1 Mathiasen, returns as the Bronze-rated driver for the trio of shorter races.

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Kelly is paired with 16-year-old sensation Josh Pierson (shown at right), part of the lineup for the team’s second LMP2 entry, the No. 11, at Sebring and in the Rolex 24 At Daytona that opened the season.

Kelly, 54, hasn’t competed in a WeatherTech Championship race since wrapping up his 2020 championship with a win in the season finale at Sebring. Kelly also earned the Jim Trueman Award, leading to him being part of a PR1 Mathiasen entry in the 2021 24 Hours of Le Mans. Along with one other FIA World Endurance Championship event, that was the extent of Kelly’s racing last year. To say he is eager to be back is a vast understatement.

 

“I can’t tell you how excited I am about that,” Kelly said of the upcoming race at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, where PR1 Mathiasen is the three-time defending LMP2 race winner. “I’ve really missed being around the paddock, I’ve missed IMSA, quite frankly. I love the atmosphere of the IMSA paddock and the nuance so I’m looking forward to that.”

Knowing Kelly’s history adds salient perspective. A promising sports car career appeared over when Kelly sustained serious injuries including a brain injury when the passenger car he was driving was hit head on by a school bus. Eight years later, Kelly’s neurologist cleared him to race again.

In 2019, nearly nine years since his first and only IMSA top-series start, Kelly co-drove the PR1 Mathiasen LMP2 to victory at Road America with Matt McMurry. The win, while joyous, was bittersweet as well. Kelly’s wife, Suruchi, was at the race to cheer him on in the midst of her own fight against pancreatic cancer. She lost the battle in March 2020 as Patrick was beginning his charge to the LMP2 crown with the team he calls family.

“We’ve been through personal hard times as a friend and as a family,” team principal Oergel said, “and been through some great times winning races and winning championships. We’re just super excited to be able to do it with people like that.”

And Kelly will savor every moment of it.

“I never take for granted the opportunity to drive the car,” he said. “I realized so much from the time that I wasn’t able to do it and the various setbacks that have excluded me from participation, how fortunate I am to be able to do it – and I’ve never, ever, ever taken that for granted. Every time I get in the car, I’m grateful to be able to do that.”

The Hyundai Monterey Sports Car Championship schedule shows WeatherTech Championship practices on Friday afternoon, April 29 and Saturday morning, April 30, ahead of qualifying at 3:45 p.m. ET April 30 (livestream on IMSA.com/TVLive).

The race airs live at 3 p.m. Sunday, May 1 on NBC.