DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Sept. 23, 2016) – Clark Toppe and Austin Versteeg have dominated the Mazda Prototype Lites Presented by Cooper Tires season, so it’s only fitting the ultimate prize accompanies the final fight of 2016 between the JDC Motorsports teammates.
Young stars Toppe and Versteeg will duel for the Lites 1 championship Sept. 28-30 during the final two rounds of the season for the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA)-sanctioned Challenge Series at Road Atlanta.
Round 13, a 30-minute race, starts at 1:20 p.m. (ET) Thursday, Sept. 29. Round 14, a 45-minute race, begins at 8 a.m. Friday, Sept. 30. Qualifying is set for 9:35 a.m. Thursday, with two practice sessions Wednesday, Sept. 28.
Toppe leads Versteeg by five points, 202-197. Twenty points are available to the winner of each race, with two points separating each finishing position in class from first to sixth and one point separating finishing positions seven through 15th.
Forget the mathematical calculations: This title fight will be decided by all-out racing between friendly rivals Toppe and Versteeg.
But statistics do show the dominance this season of Toppe, 19, Versteeg, 17, and their JDC Motorsports team.
Versteeg, Toppe and JDC have combined to win 11 of the 12 races so far this season. Versteeg leads with seven wins, while Toppe has four.
Toppe, from The Woodlands, Texas, has finished in the top two in 10 of his 12 starts this season in the No. 10 JDC Motorsports entry. Versteeg, from Sandy, Utah, has stood on the podium after nine of his 12 starts in the No. 7 JDC Motorsports Élan DP02 chassis powered by a Mazda engine and racing on Cooper Tires.
The two drivers have led all but 28 laps of competition this season. In fact, Versteeg or Toppe led every lap from Round 3 in early July at Watkins Glen through Round 10 in early September at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
Their dominance also has extended to qualifying. Versteeg and Toppe have ended up 1-2 in either combination in qualifying for the first five event weekends this season. Versteeg was quickest at Sebring, Watkins Glen and Trois-Rivières, while Toppe led qualifying at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (CTMP) and Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
But an interesting wrinkle could be added to this final showdown: Toppe and Versteeg may not be alone in fighting for race victories.
JDC Motorsports entered the last event, Sept. 9-11 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, with an incredible 27-race winning streak in the series dating back to August 2014. Versteeg won Round 10 at Mazda Raceway to extend that streak to 28 races.
But series rookie Michael Whelden broke through to end JDC’s dominance with a commanding victory in Round 11 in the No. 29 Extreme Speed Motorsports entry. Whelden led 21 laps, three times as many as any other driver besides Toppe or Versteeg this season.
Whelden’s victory was the culmination of his steady improvement all season and also a benchmark for Extreme Speed Motorsports (ESM), which has expanded to a strong four-car team this season in the series. Whelden, from Sausalito, California, is third in championship points with 168 after his victory, second-place and third-place finishes on home asphalt in Northern California.
ESM drivers and series rookies Max Hanratty and James Dayson also could contend for podium positions on the 12-turn, 2.54-mile circuit at Road Atlanta.
Hanratty, from Milwaukee, has stood on the podium five times this season in the No. 30 Extreme Speed Motorsports car. He is fourth in the Lites 1 standings with 146 points.
Dayson, from Vancouver, British Columbia, has improved dramatically during the second half of the season, with five top-six finishes in his last seven starts in the No. 12 Extreme Speed Motorsports entry.
Kyle Masson also will figure into the podium mix at Road Atlanta.
Masson, from Windermere, Florida, has produced six podium finishes this season in the No. 18 Performance Tech Motorsports entry. He also enjoyed a strong weekend at the last event, at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, with two third-place finishes in three starts. Masson is fifth in the Lites 1 standings with 136 points.
The Lites 1 Masters championship scenario is a bit simpler than the fight in Lites 1. Joel Janco leads Gerhard Watzinger by 29 points, 177-148.
Popular series veteran Janco, from Key Largo, Florida, only needs two smooth finishes in the No. 25 JDC Motorsports entry to clinch his first series championship.
Janco has proven this summer the old racing maxim of winning breeding success. He earned his first career series victories in Rounds 6 and 7 in mid-July at CTMP and rode that wave to five more consecutive podium finishes, including a win in Round 9 at Trois-Rivières.
Naj Husain is another Lites 1 Masters competitor carrying plenty of momentum into Road Atlanta. Husain, from Great Falls, Virginia, earned his first career Prototype Lites victory in the last race, Round 12, at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in the No. 3 Extreme Speed Motorsports entry.
For more information about Mazda Prototype Lites Presented by Cooper Tires, visit www.imsa.com, follow hashtags #MazdaLites and #MRT24 @IMSA on Twitter or IMSA on Facebook.
Practice: 11:15-11:45 a.m. and 3:35-4:05 p.m. (ET) Wednesday, Sept. 28
Qualifying: 9:35-9:55 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 29
Round 13 (30 minutes): 1:20-1:50 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 29
Round 14 (45 minutes): 8-8:45 a.m. Friday, Sept. 30
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