BRASELTON, Ga. (Sept. 29, 2016) – Three points between first and second. One race to go.
Austin Versteeg pulled to within three points of Mazda Prototype Lites Presented by Cooper Tires championship leader Clark Toppe with his eighth victory of the season in Round 13 on Thursday at Road Atlanta. Versteeg, from Sandy, Utah, won the 30-minute race under caution in the No. 7 JDC Motorsports car.
It was the 12th win in 13 races this season for Minnesota-based JDC Motorsports, which clinched its third consecutive Lites 1 Team Championship with Versteeg’s victory.
“We are just continuing what I have been working on all year,” Versteeg said. “It was good. The car was really good solid throughout the race, and we were able to click off consistent times.”
Toppe, from The Woodlands, Texas, finished second in the No. 10 JDC Motorsports Élan DP02 chassis powered by a Mazda engine and racing on Cooper Tires. Toppe leads Versteeg, 220-217, with just Round 14 remaining.
“I just tried to go out there and be as consistent as I could and not make any mistakes and finish where I needed to finish,” Toppe said.
The season-ending Round 14, a 45-minute race, starts at 8 a.m. Friday. Toppe must finish second or better to guarantee his first championship in the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA)-sanctioned Challenge Series.
This was the fifth time this season Versteeg has won and Toppe has finished second. A repeat of that finishing order Friday will deliver Toppe the championship by one point, so Versteeg may need help to overtake his teammate in the standings.
Versteeg is starting from pole and Toppe from second on the grid Friday morning.
“It’s really exciting times in this series, and I’ve got one more tomorrow so I am just going to keep my head down,” Versteeg said.
Michael Whelden, from Sausalito, California, finished third Thursday in the No. 29 Extreme Speed Motorsports car. It was his sixth podium finish of the season and fourth in a row.
Gary Gibson, from Libertyville, Illinois, finished fourth overall and won the Lites 1 Masters class in the No. 13 Team Perfect Pedal entry. Joel Janco, from Key Largo, Florida, rounded out the top five and clinched his first Lites 1 Masters championship in the No. 25 JDC Motorsports entry.
Versteeg, 17, started from the pole and never trailed in the race. He eased away from Toppe over the opening laps, pulling a gap of 1.885 seconds with 21 minutes remaining.
That lead grew to 2.326 seconds with 10 minutes remaining. Behind Versteeg and Toppe, Max Hanratty, Kyle Masson and Whelden started a three-way joust for third place.
That fight for positions ended, along with green-flag racing, when Hanratty and Masson went off track in Turn 1 with eight minutes remaining to trigger the only full-course caution of the race. That incident elevated Whelden to third, and the race ended under caution.
Lites 1 Masters
Gibson started third but passed Janco early in the race to take the lead, cruising to his third victory of the season.
The win came just one day after Gibson crashed in practice on the daunting, 12-turn, 2.54-mile circuit.
“It’s great to finish well, especially after yesterday when I screwed things up and crashed the car and the guys had to work all night to get it back together,” Gibson said. “But they did it perfect. The car was exactly like it was yesterday, and it was perfect.”
Gibson had padded his lead to 5.386 seconds over Janco with 11 minutes remaining, three minutes before the race-ending caution period. But Gibson clamored from the cockpit for the race to be restarted.
“I really wanted that restart,” Gibson said. “I had a perfect car, and I think I had something for the guy in front of me (Michael Whelden). So I think I had a legitimate shot at the (overall) podium.”
Gibson didn’t get his wish, but his fourth-place overall finish still was the best result by a Masters competitor this season.
Janco may have been the happiest class runner-up of the season. The second-place finish was his seventh consecutive podium result in the class this season, and it delivered his first season championship in his fourth full season in the series.
“It’s something we’ve worked hard for four years, and I can’t thank (driver coach) Jonatan Jorge enough and my wife, Kathy, who has been my manager, and the JDC team, who has given me a great car all year,” Janco said. “I just never thought it would happen, and I am so happy.
“I wish I could have had a little bit more for Gary, but we’re happy with the way it worked out.”
Gerhard Watzinger, from Las Vegas, finished third in the No. 32 ONE Motorsports entry for his sixth podium finish of the season.
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AUSTIN VERSTEEG (No. 7 JDC Motorsports, winner): “We are just continuing what I have been working on all year. It was good. The car was really good solid throughout the race, and we were able to click off consistent times. Watching the rear, the rear tires, this track works the rear tires really hard. I have to thank all my sponsors, Muscle Egg, dEp Patch, JJRD my driver coach, and Papa Pita Bread. I have to thank Cooper Tires, Mazda and IMSA for this event. It’s a great series, and it’s really moving forward in what they are trying to achieve. It’s really exciting times in this series, and I’ve got one more tomorrow so I am just going to keep my head down.”
CLARK TOPPE (No. 10 JDC Motorsports, second): “I just tried to go out there and be as consistent as I could and not make any mistakes and finish where I needed to finish. JDC Motorsports gave me a great car. Cooper Tires held up great, and the Mazda engine, of course, just kept on running.” (Will you make any changes for tomorrow?): “I don’t think so. We will probably go to our qualifying setup since our race is in the morning. The car was awesome in qualifying, so we are looking forward to a good last race of the season.”
MICHAEL WHELDEN (No. 29 Extreme Speed Motorsports, third): “Today was good. I got a relatively OK start but then started losing ground to the four in front of me. But I just kept making sure I was being consistent, consistent, consistent. The car was consistent, which was good, and then eventually two of my competitors in front me, their tires went off. I caught them, and we started battling. The three of us, Kyle Masson and Max Hanratty, were having a great race. We were all swapping positions. Max was doing a good job defending his third place, and unfortunately Kyle and Max got together in Turn 1. So I wound up P3. I will take it. A big thank you to Extreme Speed Motorsports for giving me a consistent car to drive throughout the race.”
GARY GIBSON (No. 13 Team Perfect Pedal, winner, Lites 1 Masters): “I really wanted that restart. I had a perfect car, and I think I had something for the guy in front of me (Michael Whelden). So I think I had a legitimate shot at the (overall) podium. It’s great to finish well, especially after yesterday when I screwed things up and crashed the car and the guys had to work all night to get it back together. But they did it perfect. The car was exactly like it was yesterday, and it was perfect.”
JOEL JANCO (No. 25 JDC Motorsports, 2016 Lites 1 Masters champion): “It’s something we’ve worked hard for four years, and I can’t thank (driver coach) Jonatan Jorge enough and my wife, Kathy, who has been my manager, and the JDC team, who has given me a great car all year. I just never thought it would happen, and I am so happy.” (Is this your first championship in any form of racing?): “Well, no, but way back I won a regional championship in SCCA, but it was nothing like this. I have been in this for four years, and not only was this the culmination of winning the Masters Championship, but it was our best (overall) finish in IMSA Lites. I wish I could have had a little bit more for Gary (Gibson), but we’re happy with the way it worked out.”
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