TROIS-RIVIÈRES, Quebec (Aug. 14, 2016) – Clark Toppe inched closer to the Lites 1 Driver Championship lead with a clean sweep of the two Mazda Prototype Lites Presented by Cooper Tires rounds at the Grand Prix de Trois-Rivières.
Toppe, from The Woodlands, Texas, shaved Austin Versteeg’s championship point lead to a mere two points with victories in Rounds 8 and 9 on the 10-turn, 1.5207-mile (2.433 km) temporary street circuit.
The two wins in the No. 10 JDC Motorsports machine bring Toppe to within 154-152 with five rounds to go. The wins also extended an impressive streak for Minnesota-based JDC Motorsports. The team has won 27 consecutive Prototype Lites races dating back to August 2014.
Toppe used a combination of skilled driving and perfect timing to take a 3.521-second victory over Kyle Masson.
Max Hanratty, from Milwaukee, finished third in the No. 30 Extreme Speed Motorsports entry for his fourth podium finish of the season. 2014 Lites 1 Driver Champion Misha Goikhberg finished fourth in his return to the series in the No. 43 Performance Tech Motorsports machine.
James Dayson, from Vancouver, British Columbia, rounded out the top five in the No. 12 Extreme Speed Motorsports machine. It was Dayson’s best finish of the season.
Toppe started the 30-minute race in second position behind JDC Motorsports teammate and championship points leader Austin Versteeg.
Versteeg had a good jump at the start to lead the field by 1.123 seconds after just one lap. But Toppe methodically trimmed the gap each lap. With 12 minutes left, Toppe made his move, diving under Versteeg in Turn 9 to take the lead.
“I got a good run out of Turn 8 and he stayed to the right,” Toppe said. “And as soon as I made my move, he moved to defend, so I barely clipped the rear. But that was my opportunity. I saw it, and you have to go for it.”
Versteeg continued in second position until two minutes later when he spun just before Turn 9. It allowed Masson and Hanratty to move into podium position in second and third place, respectively behind Toppe.
Masson cut the gap to Toppe over the next 10 minutes, but Toppe retained the lead to take his third victory of the season.
Versteeg slowed over the closing laps and finished sixth, his first result outside of the top two this season in the No. 7 Performance Tech Motorsports Élan DP02 chassis powered by a Mazda engine and racing on Cooper Tires.
Lites 1 Masters
Gary Gibson, from Libertyville, Illinois, led flag to flag in the Lites 1 Masters class, after claiming the pole in qualifying on Saturday, to claim his second podium finish and first class win of the season.
Gibson took a risk with tires in an effort to finish in the top three overall. He was the only competitor to run the race on rain tires. There was no declaration before the race, allowing each competitor to choose.
The conditions were damp, and there were periods of light rain throughout the beginning of the race. The rain tires helped Gibson’s No. 13 Team Perfect Pedal entry climb all the way to fifth place overall before the track started to dry.
“We ran rain tires,” Gibson said. “I think we were the only car on the track that did. And it was almost a brilliant call. The car was better the first five laps, the next four or five laps it was equal, and then at the end it was slower than the cars with the slicks.
“It was definitely worth the chance. If there was a little bit of rain, I think we could have won the race overall.
“The car was really good on the rain tires. The guys did a great job getting it ready. We rolled the dice, and we still won the Masters class, so I’m happy with the finish.”
Joel Janco, from Key Largo, Florida, was second in the No. 25 JDC Motorsports machine. Guy Laporte, from Montreal, finished third in the Masters class in the No. 68 Performance Tech Motorsports entry. It was Laporte’s first podium finish this season, beating his previous high of fifth place.
Toppe took advantage of an eventful start to earn his fourth win of the season in the form of a .828-of-a-second victory over Hanratty in the No. 30 Extreme Speed Motorsports machine, who matched his season-best finish.
“It’s great for us for the points,” Toppe said. “I feel really bad for Austin (Versteeg) after the first race, after the contact we had, and not being able to finish (the second race) today. Hopefully we can have the next couple of weekends, duke it out and give JDC a one-two.”
Masson picked up his second podium finish of the weekend with a hard-earned third-place finish in the No. 18 Performance Tech Motorsports entry. Dayson bested his Round 8 fifth-place finish by finishing fourth, his season best in the No. 12 Extreme Speed Motorsports machine.
Michael Whelden rounded out the top five overall in the No. 29 Extreme Speed Motorsports Élan DP02 chassis powered by a Mazda engine and racing on Cooper Tires.
At the drop of the green flag, pole sitter Versteeg wasn’t able to accelerate, dropping to the back of the pack. The field scattered, and Toppe took advantage, grabbing the lead going into Turn 1.
Hanratty filed behind him, followed by Goikhberg and Whelden, while Masson got caught behind Versteeg. That unfortunate luck, combined with a spin on the opening lap at Turn 6, dropped Masson to eighth position.
Meanwhile back in the front of the field, Toppe and Hanratty were locked in a battle for the lead. Toppe extended his lead to more than 1.5 seconds before Hanratty reeled him in. The see-saw pattern would continue over the next 20 minutes, with Toppe having a lead of as much as 2.233 seconds.
But then the two leaders hit lapped traffic. With 21 minutes remaining, Toppe tried to pass teammate Janco at Turn 9. Janco made contact with Toppe, which caused Janco to spin. Toppe escaped the incident, but Hanratty closed to within less than half a second.
Toppe and Hanratty then came up on Gibson. Toppe eventually passed Gibson but Hanratty needed more time to make the pass, helping to once again extend Toppe’s lead.
With 13 minutes left, Gibson clipped the Turn 8 wall and made contact with the tire barriers, bringing out the yellow flag and bunching the field. Toppe led the restart followed by Hanratty, Whelden and Masson, who had driven his way back to the front of the field.
Toppe retained the lead on the restart, with Hanratty stalking his every move. Masson went two-wide with Whelden in Turn 2 and made the pass in Turn 3 for the final podium position.
“(Max Hanratty) was pretty quick, and we were both trying to manage the brakes,” Toppe said. “My coach, Phil Lombardi, did an awesome job giving me gaps and telling me which laps to push and which laps to conserve the brakes. After that restart, it was damn close. He was catching me pretty quickly. I just had the bite the nail and keep going.”
The top three drivers remained in lockstep over the next five laps. Toppe held on for the victory with the top three finishing within 1.133 seconds of each other, the closest margin between the podium finishers under green this season.
Lites 1 Masters
Janco continued the best season of his career with a victory in the Lites 1 Masters class in the No. 25 JDC Motorsports machine.
“It was a strategy on Jonatan Jorge’s part, my coach,” Janco said. “It was difficult to execute, but it worked like a charm. So we’re delighted to be here and to get another podium this weekend.”
Janco has three victories in the last four races and four straight podium finishes, helping him to take the championship points lead from Gerhard Watzinger, 125-110. Series veteran Janco has earned all three of his career victories this season.
Gibson finished second in the No. 13 Team Perfect Pedal machine for his third podium finish of the season.
Rounds 10, 11 and 12 will be Sept. 9-11 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca as part of the all-Mazda weekend at the scenic, 2.238-mile, 11-turn circuit in Salinas, California.
ROUND 8 POST-RACE QUOTES
CLARK TOPPE (No. 10 JDC Motorsports, winner): “I got a good run out of Turn 8, and he (Austin Versteeg) stayed to the right. As soon as I made my move, he moved to defend so I barely clipped the rear. But that was my opportunity. I saw it and you have to go for it. The track got much better the longer we went. At the end, we started clicking, and each lap was getting quicker. The last three or four laps I just wanted to calm down because the conditions were still pretty bad and pretty slick and just wanted to make sure we made it to the checkered.”
KYLE MASSON (No. 18 Performance Tech Motorsports, second): “I was just learning the track as we went and getting used to the conditions and trying to maximize what I was able to do. I sort of figured it out, finding where all the grip was and taking advantage of that. The result was fast laps. I’m really proud of this position. Career-high, and it couldn’t be better. JDC is really quick. Got to give Clark (Toppe) credit. He got off to a great start, got way ahead. They figured it out. It was my job to fight back.” (About pass of Michael Whelden): “It was a racing incident. I feel bad. I was going for a pass on the inside into the hairpin, and I saw him turn in, and I realized he couldn’t see me. But I was already in it and couldn’t back out. But that’s what racing is.”
MAX HANRATTY (No. 30 Extreme Speed Motorsports, third): “I was trying to make a few moves early on and didn’t really adapt to the weather conditions as I would have liked to. I got loose and let a few guys by because I got strung out on the outside and didn’t have anywhere to go. I had to work my way back, and luckily there were a few incidents in front of me and a few guys made some mistakes, and it gave me the opportunity to get back on the podium. It’s tough. You have to be smart and not overdrive. You just have to keep your head down and hope guys make mistakes. The car has been good, a good setup, and I just need to find a little bit more pace going into the next race. Just want to thank the entire ESM crew. They’ve been great, and we’ve had to fight a few challenges. They’ve been doing a great job making it work. So thanks to them, Synercomm and all the sponsors.”
GARY GIBSON (No. 13 Team Perfect Pedal, first, Lites 1 Masters): “We ran rain tires. I think we were the only car on the track that did. And it was almost a brilliant call. The car was better the first five laps, the next four or five laps it was equal, and then at the end it was slower than the cars with the slicks. It was definitely worth the chance. If there was a little bit of rain, I think we could have won the race overall. The car was really good on the rain tires. The guys did a great job getting it ready. We rolled the dice, and we still won the Masters class, so I’m happy with the finish.”
ROUND 9 POST-RACE QUOTES
CLARK TOPPE (No. 10 JDC Motorsports, winner): (Was there any point on restart where you saw Max Hanratty getting close and within reach for a move?): “That was the whole race, honestly. He was pretty quick, and we were both trying to manage the brakes. My coach, Phil Lombardi, did an awesome job giving me gaps and telling me which laps to push and which laps to conserve the brakes. After that restart, it was damn close. He was catching me pretty quickly. I just had the bite the nail and keep going.” (About big points gain this weekend): “It’s great for us for the points. I feel really bad for Austin (Versteeg) after the first race, after the contact we had, and not being able to finish (the second race) today. Hopefully we can have the next couple of weekends, duke it out and give JDC a one-two.” (Do you and Austin talk about preserving JDC’s winning streak, which has reached 27 consecutive races?): “Yeah, we just try and push as hard as we can. There are some things you can’t control out there. We know the streak is there. John (Church) and Walt give us the best cars, so without them, the streak wouldn’t be there. It’s not just the drivers. It’s the team. It’s the mechanics. It’s the guys who are working all night long. So a shout-out to them and thank you to them for all the support JDC gives us.”
MAX HANRATTY (No. 30 Extreme Speed Motorsports, second): (About late restart): “On the restart, he (Clark Toppe) got really sideways coming out of Turn 10. Unfortunately, I got a little antsy myself and maybe got into the throttle just a touch early and got loose, as well, so I couldn’t really capitalize on it. Would I have maybe been a little more patient there, I think could have had a run on him into (Turn) 1. His brakes were clearly struggling a little more than mine were, so I think we did a really good job with brake management out there. We were in contention, running good pace, and we just didn’t have the right opportunity. Lap traffic just hurt us. We were right there. We’ve just got to keep pushing. I want to thank the ESM guys. They did an incredible job all weekend. We’re making huge gains developing the car and the program. I want to keep this going. Solid points weekend for us. Looking forward to the next one.”
KYLE MASSON (No. 18 Performance Tech Motorsports, third): (About overshooting Turn 6 early in race): “It started on the very beginning at the start of the race. I was behind Austin (Versteeg), and unfortunately he had engine issues. He was unable to make the start, and everyone just went, and I was pinned on his bumper. It got me in the back of the field because everyone went around us. That’s where a little bit of the issue began. Once I started the race and got around him, I was a little uneasy about it. I tried to make a deep brake into the Turn 6 brake zone to make a pass one of the people in the back of the field, and I just outbroke myself. The car, for how cool the tires were, the brakes not being fully up to temp, I went into the runoff. I had to take the time to spin myself back and begin the hunt.” (How do you stay calm as you fight back?): “I just told myself there’s no reason to not be cool about it because it already happened. It’s in the past. My job was then to look forward do what I could to catch up.” (Were you surprised you had a chance to win the race on the restart after being almost last early in the race?): “Yes. I was definitely thinking that. But in the back of my mind, I knew I had a little bit of damage. I clipped the wall exiting Turn 3, and I think I knocked my toe in and ruined the gurney up front. I kind of knew I had an injured car. I tried to make the passes as aggressive but clean as I could. So I passed going into Turn 2 and went two-wide into (Turn) 3 and used that to get my podium position.”
JOEL JANCO (No. 25 JDC Motorsports, first, Lites 1 Masters): “It was a strategy on Jonatan Jorge’s part, my coach. It was difficult to execute, but it worked like a charm. So we’re delighted to be here and to get another podium this weekend.” (About contact with teammate Clark Toppe): “They were giving the blues (flags) so far back that I misjudged where he was, and I really expected to let him by between that corner and the next corner. It was teammates – unfortunate situation.”
About Mazda Prototype Lites Presented by Cooper Tires
Mazda Prototype Lites Presented by Cooper Tires, an International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) Challenge Series, is in its 11th season in 2016. The series provides thrilling action and grooms drivers for future WeatherTech SportsCar Championship competition in the Prototype and Prototype Challenge classes.
The two classes of competition in the Mazda Prototype Lites Presented by Cooper Tires series take drivers and teams down unique, exciting roads of prototype sports car racing. Nimble, high-tech, purpose-built Lites 1 machines pack in the power with a 230-horsepower, 2-liter Mazda engine designed to prepare aspiring professionals for prototype competition in the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and offer a challenging environment for mature semi-professional drivers, including competition in a Masters Championship. Equally capable and cost-effective Lites 2 machines offer new competitors a perfect introduction to the world-class competition offered by IMSA.
For more information about Mazda Prototype Lites Presented by Cooper Tires, visit www.imsa.com, follow hashtag #MazdaLites @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 Mazda Prototype Lites Presented by Cooper Tires, 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 orwww.facebook.com/IMSA.