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Prototype Challenge Racing Brings Out the Kid in Kasemets

The Veteran Driver Can Clinch the Title at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta and Will Probably Give His Trophy to a Youngster

 

By Mark Robinson

 

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – For veteran racer Tonis Kasemets the 2022 IMSA Prototype Challenge season has been filled with emotion and joy. And to think, it almost ended before it got off the ground.

 

The 48-year-old Estonian takes a 140-point lead into the season finale Friday at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta. It will be the final race for the Le Mans Prototype 3 (LMP3) machines in the current format before they join GT4 cars next year in the new IMSA VP Racing SportsCar Challenge.

 

Driving the No. 60 Wulver Racing Ligier JS P320, Kasemets has three wins and a runner-up finish in the four races to date this year. If not for a yeoman’s effort behind the scenes, however, the season-opening victory at Daytona International Speedway would have been Kasemets’ only race. There, he teamed with car owner Bruce Hamilton to win.

 

“Daytona was (scheduled to be) our farewell race,” Kasemets said. “We ended up winning and our car owner Bruce said, ‘If you find a way to keep going, we keep going.’ It’s good to have friends. We have had a lot of people chip in.”

 

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Keep going, he did. Racing solo the rest of the way, Kasemets finished second at Mid-Ohio before back-to-back wins at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and VIRginia International Raceway. A finish of 10th or better in the 16-car field Friday at Michelin Raceway locks up the title.

 

A promising career in the junior open-wheel ranks flamed out for Kasemets some 15 years ago. He has worked behind the scenes for racing teams over the years, sporadically competing himself. He joined Prototype Challenge competition in 2018 and has found true enjoyment and commitment this year.

 

Along the way, he has dedicated wins to longtime friend and former head of the Estonian auto federation Priit Pallo, whose funeral was the same day as the Daytona win, to the people of Ukraine and, most recently, to his parents.

 

“I want to thank this win for my mom and dad,” he said following the VIR victory. “I have never thanked them, so this is a good time to do it.”

 

Kasemets has also made a point to interact with young fans, giving away his trophies to kids at every race this year.

 

“When I got chances in the big cars in open-wheel, it never capitalized,” Kasemets explained, “so I had to do real work and put food on the table. So this thing (driving in Prototype Challenge) is just for me. This is a really good opportunity so I am really enjoying it.”

 

Second place in the standings belongs to Memo Gidley and Alexander Koreiba, drivers of the No. 23 AL Autosport with JDC Duqueine D08. They know the task to overtake Kasemets is daunting but aren’t shrinking from it.

 

“We want to win Road Atlanta and then you never know what happens in racing,” Gidley said. “You have one little issue, one mechanical, one off, make one mistake and you just never know what happens. We’re just going to push as hard as we can as always.”

 

Prototype Challenge practice at Michelin Raceway begins Wednesday, with qualifying on Thursday. The 90-minute race starts at 8 a.m. ET Friday with live coverage available on Peacock and IMSA Radio.

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