DAYTONA BEACH – As the first race of IMSA’s 50th Anniversary began, it was a tale of two races for the No. 4 ANSA Motorsports team in Saturday’s season-opening race for the IMSA Prototype Challenge at Daytona International Speedway.
There was the start, when Brazilian Leo Lamelas had to navigate his Ligier JS P3 through a majority of the 19-car field after missing qualifying a day earlier due to an engine change and starting 16th. And then there was the finish, when Lamelas’ co-driver Neil Alberico – making his first career IMSA start – held off that same field of drivers from the lead on a restart with 34 minutes remaining to score the season-opening victory.
It was the second consecutive Daytona win for ANSA Motorsports, with the team using great pit strategy and consistent driving from both Lamelas and Alberico to beat the No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports Norma M30 duo of Austin McCusker and Rodrigo Pflucker by 13.987 seconds
ANSA Motorsports also won the inaugural IMSA Prototype Challenge race at Daytona one year ago with Roman DeAngelis scoring the victory.
“It was my first race ever here in Daytona,” said Alberico, who previously raced in the open-wheel ladder system. “The IMSA series is awesome. It’s my first experience here and to be on the podium – let alone a win – is awesome with these ANSA Motorsports guys. Congrats to Leo, and hopefully there’s more to come.”
“I’m so grateful to everyone,” said Lamelas, who won at Sebring last year with Charles Wicht Racing. “Our team did a perfect job. It’s very special for me too. I love Daytona, so I’m very happy to win here. Last year, my team, CWR, was an excellent team also. Today, I had the opportunity to go to ANSA. I’m just grateful for everyone who is making this possible for me. It’s a dream for me to be here racing in IMSA.”
It was a strong points day for the runner-up Forty7 Motorsports team, who also had to start from the back after missing qualifying. The team and McCusker finished second in the LMP3 standings last season with two wins and two runner-up finishes in six starts. Pflucker was making his first start with the No. 47 team after driving the team’s No. 74 entry last season.
“I was a little bit worried going into the race that points are so tight in this series that one bad finish can hurt you for the whole season,” said McCusker. “We’re in the championship hunt and that’s what we’re pushing for. Hopefully we can continue this at Sebring.”
McCusker was running second on the final restart with 34 minutes left but had multiple lapped cars between himself and Alberico. He made a bold move into Turn 1 on the restart to get around the lapped cars, but ran wide and Alberico was able to pull away for the win.
“I just got caught behind a lapped car and it was tough to get by him,” McCusker added. “I don’t know if I would’ve been able to catch Neil, but we did what we could and I am happy to finish in second after starting last.”
The trio of Bruce Hamilton, Tonis Kasemets and Scott Maxwell rounded out the podium in the No. 60 Ligier JS P3 for Wulver Racing. Kasemets set the fastest lap of the race, lapping the 3.56-mile course in 1 minute, 44.021 seconds.
Finishing eighth, but winning the inaugural Bronze Cup as the highest-running Bronze-only driver lineup was Jonatan Jorge, and his P1 Motorsports co-driver Joel Janco.
“Starting and just focusing on the Bronze Cup, we had the pace I think to be on the podium overall,” said Jorge. “But still a good day for the Bronze Cup. We’re happy to be here and ready for the next one.”
The IMSA Prototype Challenge returns to the track at Sebring International Raceway as part of the March 13-16 weekend that includes the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts.