MONTEREY, Calif. (Sept. 11, 2016) - The storylines were plentiful Sunday for Rounds 11 and 12 of Mazda Prototype Lites Presented by Cooper Tires.
Michael Whelden broke a 28-race win streak by JDC Motorsports dating back to August 2014. Austin Versteeg rebounded from a 13th-place Round 11 finish to claim his seventh win of the season. And Clark Toppe took the Lites 1 Championship points lead for the first time since being tied for first after Round 3 in early July.
Whelden had home-field advantage on his side as he claimed his first career Mazda Prototype Lites Presented by Cooper Tires victory Sunday in Round 11 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
Whelden, from Sausalito, California, drag-raced his way to victory over Clark Toppe by a mere .077 of a second in the No. 29 Extreme Speed Motorsports Élan DP02 chassis powered by a Mazda engine and racing on Cooper Tires.
The win by Whelden ended JDC Motorsports’ win streak at 28 races, dating to August 2014. Andrew Novich, with Comprent Motor Sports, was the last non-JDC driver to win a Mazda Prototype Lites Presented by Cooper Tires race. He won Round 10 of the 2014 season Aug. 10, 2014, at Road America.
“Huge thanks to Extreme Speed Motorsports for giving me a car that was consistent throughout the race,” Whelden said. “Huge thank you to Mazda and Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Everyone’s put on a great event here this weekend. I am happy to be here at my home track, and I am happy to end the JDC streak.”
Toppe, from The Woodlands, Texas, finished second in the No. 10 JDC Motorsports machine to take the championship points lead from teammate Austin Versteeg, from Sandy, Utah. He trailed by eight points going into Round 11 but a 13th-place finish by Versteeg gives Toppe the seven-point advantage, 184-177.
Kyle Masson, from Windermere, Florida, finished third in the No. 18 Performance Tech Motorsports entry for his second podium finish of the weekend.
James Dayson, from Vancouver, British Columbia, tied his career-best finish by crossing the line in fourth place in the No. 12 Extreme Speed Motorsports entry. Andrew Evans, from Sammamish, Washington, rounded out the top five in his debut weekend with a fifth-place finish in the No. 43 Performance Tech Motorsports entry.
At the drop of the green flag, pole-sitting Versteeg led the field through the 11-turn, 2.238-mile circuit with Whelden and Masson close behind. Over the next 13 minutes, Versteeg slowly extended his lead over the field to as much as 4.43 seconds.
With 32 minutes remaining, Versteeg stopped on track in Turn 5, giving the lead to Whelden. Half a lap later, a full-course yellow came out for two cars off course in Turn 9.
The field bunched under yellow, with Whelden leading followed by Toppe and Masson. Prior to Whelden leading laps, JDC Motorsports had led all but seven laps this season. Pato O’Ward led one in Round 1 and six in Round 2 in March at Sebring International Raceway.
At the green, racing resumed with Whelden retaining the lead. He and Toppe pulled away from the rest of the field. Toppe spent the next 20 minutes looking for his opening.
Whelden extended his gap to 1.328 seconds with 15 minutes to go. With eight minutes to go the gap was back under a second. The lead was only a car length with five minutes remaining.
Toppe followed Whelden’s every move looking for his opening. It came with four minutes left. Whelden went wide through Turn 11, and Toppe nosed in front down the front stretch. But Whelden was not to be deterred. He took the inside line into Turn 2, braked late and inched his way back to first.
“We had a battle for the last 15 minutes,” Whelden said. “He had me. He owned me going down to Turn 2, but then I fired it back in. I was like, ‘I’m not giving it away,’ and he drove a smart race, too.”
With two minutes to go, Whelden’s lead was back to over half of a second. But on the final turn of the last lap, he dropped a wheel on the outside, Toppe took the inside, and it was a drag race to the finish. Whelden took the victory, only 77-thousandths of a second ahead of Toppe.
Lites 1 Masters
The overall race wasn’t the only dramatic finish of the day as Michal Chlumecky, from Windsor, Ontario, earned a hard-fought win in the No. 31 Eurosport Racing machine powered by a Mazda engine.
Chlumecky earned a 10.455-second victory over Joel Janco, from Key Largo, Florida, after battling with the No. 25 JDC Motorsports driver.
With 37 minutes remaining, Janco took over first position from Chlumecky. But Chlumecky tried making an outside move on Janco coming out of Turn 11. The two raced down the stretch, with Chlumecky winning the battle.
He continued to extend his lead over the next eight minutes to take the victory.
Jon Brownson rounded out the Masters podium with a third-place finish in the No. 34 Eurosport Racing entry.
Versteeg found the top step of the podium for the seventh time this season with a 4.037-second victory in the No. 7 JDC Motorsports entry over teammate Clark Toppe.
The 1-2 finish was the duo’s sixth of the season and first since Round 7 in July at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.
“The car has been excellent from the get-go, and I don’t think we’ve changed a thing all weekend,” Versteeg said. “I definitely needed this to get back in the championship.”
Versteeg came into the weekend leading by a mere two points. Going into the third and final race of the weekend, he trailed Toppe by seven points. He now enters the final two races of the season – Sept. 28-30 at Road Atlanta – trailing by only five points, 202-197.
Whelden followed his first series career win with a third-place finish in Round 12 at his home track in the No. 29 Extreme Speed Motorsports entry. The third-place finish completed the trifecta for the local driver. He finished on each step of the podium this weekend, second in Round 10, first in Round 11 and third in Round 12.
Max Hanratty, from Milwaukee, finished in fourth place for his best finish of the weekend in the No. 30 Extreme Speed Motorsports entry. Evans finished with his second top-five finish in the No. 43 Performance Tech Motorsports entry.
Unlike Round 11, Versteeg sailed through Round 12 with no issues to lead from flag to flag to claim the victory and inch closer to regaining the championship points lead.
But as he slowly pulled away to as much as a 7.780-second lead, drama brewed behind him.
Toppe started the race fourth in the No. 10 JDC Motorsports machine. Within two laps, he made the pass on Masson to take over third position. Less than two minutes later, he passed Whelden and set his sights on Versteeg.
But there was no match for Versteeg as Toppe was forced to continue to battle to keep his position. Over the course of the next five minutes, second through fifth position all ran within two seconds of each other.
Then disaster struck for Masson as he went off course in Turn 8, bringing out the full-course yellow. The green came out with 21 minutes remaining, but a spin by Tim George in the No. 24 Eurosport Racing entry in Turn 11 caused a pileup involving a majority of the field. The four leaders were unscathed and continued.
Versteeg picked up where he left off and cruised to the checkered flag.
Lites 1 Masters
Naj Husain earned his first win of the season in Lites 1 Masters in the No. 3 Extreme Speed Motorsports machine.
Jon Brownson led the class before the pileup on the restart in Turn 11. Husain was the benefactor as he picked his way through the dust-up.
Chlumecky finished with his second podium finish of the weekend with a second-place finish in the No. 31 Eurosport Racing entry. Joel Janco extended his Lites 1 Championship points lead over Gerhard Watzinger with a third place class finish.
Going into the final two races of the season, Janco leads 177-148.
The final two rounds of the 2016 championship will be Sept. 28-30 at Road Atlanta as part of the Petit Le Mans weekend.
MICHAEL WHELDEN (No. 29 Extreme Speed Motorsports, winner): “I got an OK start. I fell into second and was chasing Austin (Versteeg). Austin was just fast. He was pulling away inch by inch. And then unfortunately, he was out, and I was leading from then on. I had no one in my mirrors because Austin and I were running a really strong pace at the beginning. Unfortunately, my teammate had an accident with a lapped car and that brought out the yellow, so from then I had to hunker down at the restart. I had a good restart. Clark (Toppe) hounded me for a couple of laps and then I pulled a gap, but then we started having some downshift issues and Clark just reeled me in. Then we had a battle for the last 15 minutes. He had me. He owned me going down to Turn 2, but then I fired it back in. I was like, ‘I’m not giving it away,’ and he drove a smart race, too. He knew there were big championship points on the line. I am happy. He’s a good racer. That was a great race. Huge thanks to Extreme Speed Motorsports for giving me a car that was consistent throughout the race. Huge thank you to Mazda and Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Everyone’s put on a great event here this weekend. I am happy to be here at my home track, and I am happy to end the JDC streak.”
CLARK TOPPE (No. 10 JDC Motorsports, second): “That was a pretty tough race, especially for being 45 minutes, but the Cooper Tires held up, Mazda held up really well, and JDC gave me a great car to get back in the points championship. I think we might do a couple of things here and there and work on the car a little bit. But it should be pretty much the same platform. I am just going to go after it again and try to get the win.”
KYLE MASSON (No. 18 Performance Tech Motorsports, third): “I definitely was more consistent today, and I didn’t make the mistakes I made yesterday. I just put in the lap times. We need to go back and look at what we need to change and what we need to do to get to where the top two are. Right now I am struggling to find the pace that they have. Other than that , it was a great job. A podium is a really good place to be.”
MICHAL CHLUMECKY (No. 31 Eurosport Racing, first, Lites 1 Masters): “I got up to Joel, and Gary was on my tail after the restart. It got a little bit dicey and close there, and we made a little bit of contact in Turn 3, but we got ourselves around and I was fortunate enough to get back on track and work my way up. It was amazing that I am here. I like the track. I am not very experienced here, but I enjoy the track. Without a doubt, it’s incredible here.”
AUSTIN VERSTEEG (No. 7 JDC Motorsports, winner): “Race two was actually really positive. The car was good and driving good. It was just unfortunate that we had an issue that took us out of the lead. But the car has been excellent from the get-go, and I don’t think we’ve changed a thing all weekend. I definitely needed this to get back in the championship. It was a rough Three Rivers and a positive first day. A little rough start to the morning, but this is how I want to go into the last round at Petit Le Mans. A track that has such great atmosphere for the 10 hours of Petit. I am just really happy, and I have to thank Jonatan Jorge, my driver coach and all my sponsors, Papa Pita Bread, dEp Patch and Muscle Egg for everything they do for me. I say this every time, but I have to give a massive shout out to everyone who is associated with JDC.”
CLARK TOPPE (No. 10 JDC Motorsports, second): “JDC gave me a great car. I couldn’t ask for a better day. We’d like to win, but we’re still in the championship points lead. I just went out there and tried to focus on finishing and just hitting my marks and not putting a wheel wrong. Michael (Whelden) was challenging from behind a couple times, but it’s tough to follow here with the aero push. It was a good race – just need to move on to Road Atlanta.”
MICHAL WHELDEN (No. 29 Extreme Speed Motorsports, third): “We made an adjustment, and I think mainly the track changed a lot and just went away for my car. We definitely had a little more understeer in this race, which hurt us. I couldn’t quite keep up with Austin (Versteeg) and Clark (Toppe), and then I had a hard battle defending my position from Kyle (Masson) and Max Hanratty, my teammate. I am happy he got a good finish today. I am really stoked because it’s my home track, and I finished on every position on the podium. I stepped on all the steps you can. First, second and third, so I am really stoked. This is the best weekend I have had all year, and it comes off of a bad one at Trois-Rivières. So I am happy how we turned things around and look to a really awesome finale at Petit Le Mans. Thank you to Extreme Speed Motorsports for their track support and the help they gave me. It was awesome racing from Austin and Clark and Max.”
NAJ HUSAIN (No. 3 Extreme Speed Motorsports, first, Lites 1 Masters): “We struggled in the beginning. This was my first time on this track, and it finally started to come together. I got a little lucky in the mess in Turn 1. But the team did a great job, and my coach was awesome, Ross Bentley, and it was just a spectacular way to leave. My favorite track before this weekend was Watkins Glen, but I think now this is number one.”