One a hot and muggy day at Sebring International Raceway – one of the most physically demanding road courses in the world — it was one of the few cars in the IMSA Prototype Challenge field with only one driver that came away with the checkered flag Thursday.
Stevan McAleer battled the heat and Sebring’s notorious bumps to score the victory in the No. 43 Robillard Racing Norma M30 by 11.355 seconds over the No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports Norma M30 of Austin McCusker and Rodrigo Pflucker.
It was an adjustment on a speedy pit stop that helped propel McAleer to the win. Pitting from the second position during a series of green flag pit stops with 48 minutes remaining, the Robillard Racing crew made quick work in the pits and by the time the sequence of stops cycled through with 39 minutes remaining, McAleer found himself in the lead over McCusker, whose co-driver Pflucker led all but one lap in the race’s opening hour.
“We made a tire pressure adjustment for the second one and I said the kid in first in the 47 car [Pflucker], I really didn’t have much for him at the start,” said McAleer. “Once we put the new tires on, we did a pressure change and it really, really, really helped balance the car. I’ll be honest with you, I had a blast. The Muehlner guys for sure killed the pit stop. I’m super happy for the team.
“A really cute story, Sebring was my first ever race in America back in 2006 and ever since then I fell in love with it. It is my favorite track in the world.”
The runner-up finish for McCusker and Pflucker was the duo’s second consecutive to start the season and moved the Forty7 Motorsports team to the top of the series standings. It continues an impressive stretch for the No. 47 entry dating back to 2018 when McCusker and then-co-driver TJ Fischer scored four podium finishes and two wins in six races, finishing second in the series standings. Pflucker started the Sebring event from the pole after earning the top spot in qualifying earlier Thursday morning.
“I think we got jumped in the pits,” said McCusker. “I don’t know if it was my out lap or if we were slow in the pits. From there on he started to inch a little bit on us, a second or two after the gap in the pits. But I’m happy with where we’re at. Second on the podium. Points lead. Can’t complain.”
The No. 23 Alianza/Gilbert Motorsports Norma M30 and Anthony Simone seemed poised to score its first podium of the season late in the race, but slowed on track with 11 minutes remaining. The No. 26 K2R Motorsports Ligier JS P3 of James McGuire and Matthew Bell capitalized on the No. 23’s misfortune to round out the podium. Bell set the fastest lap of the race with a lap of one minute, 58.352 seconds.
Five different teams took the top five positions in the race with the No. 4 Performance Tech Motorsports Ligier JS P3 of Blake Mount and Max Hanratty and the father-son duo of David and Dylan Murry in the No. 54 MLT Motorsports Ligier JS P3 rounding out the top five after an early incident left them near the back of the pack.
Finishing 11th, but winning the Bronze Cup as the highest-running Bronze-only driver lineup was Jonatan Jorge, and his P1 Motorsports co-driver Joel Janco. It was the second consecutive race the “JJ” duo stood on the top step of the podium after also winning the Bronze Cup at Daytona in January, but this one was a bit more challenging with Jorge battling food poisoning coming into the event.
“The champagne is helping,” joked Jorge after the race. “It was a bit of a long night for sure. I’m just happy for Joel and the team to be up on top, the car was very good today. The track kind of got away from us a bit at the middle there so we had to adapt, but I’ll tell you what, it feels good to be here.”
All IMSA Prototype Challenge races are shown on NBCSN throughout the season with the Sebring broadcast scheduled for Thursday, March 28 at 2 p.m.