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SERIOUS BUSINESS AHEAD FOR MAZDA PROTOTYPE LITES AT SEBRING TEST

The dates circled last fall on the calendar of every Mazda Prototype Lites Presented by Cooper Tires team and driver – the season opener March 16-18 – will come into even clearer focus during a preseason test for the series Feb. 23-24 at Sebring International Raceway.Prototype Lites

Teams and drivers in the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) Official Development Series will prepare during the test for Rounds 1 and 2 of the 2016 season during the prestigious Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh From Florida.

Testing will take place from 8-9:15 a.m. and 12:55-2:10 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 23 and from 8-10:25 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 24 on the historic 17-turn, 3.74-mile circuit at Sebring.

All testing is important for teams as they prepare for the 14-round 2016 season that starts at Sebring and stretches to late September at Road Atlanta. But these two days of turning laps and testing setups at Sebring will be even more significant than usual.

First, Sebring is a notorious challenge for drivers and engineers. The bumpy circuit, which combines old concrete runaways and asphalt connecting roads, pounds equipment and drivers’ bodies like no other in North American road racing. If a driver and car can find speed and reliability at Sebring, then both probably are in good shape for the season.

Second, track familiarity never hurts. Teams will turn as many laps as possible during the two days of testing, and those setups will translate directly to the first two rounds of the season at the same track.

Third, the season opener at Sebring has proven to be a very accurate barometer of title contenders in recent seasons. The winning drivers of seven of the eight Mazda Prototype Lites Presented by Cooper Tires rounds since 2012 at Sebring have finished either first or second in the Lites 1 championship standings that season.

JDC Motorsports dominated the Lites 1 class last season, placing drivers Kenton Koch, Clark Toppe and Matt McMurry first, second and third, respectively, in the final standings and running away with the Team Championship.

Toppe, 18, from The Woodlands, Texas, will lead the JDC effort at the Sebring test. He won three rounds last season as a rookie with Minnesota-based JDC, the only driver besides the magisterial Koch to take the top spot on the overall podium in 2015.

Austin Versteeg moves to JDC this season as Toppe’s teammate and a fellow title contender. Versteeg, 16, from Sandy, Utah, earned four third-place finishes in an impressive rookie season in cars in 2015.

Lites 1 Masters veteran Gerry Kraut, from St. Paul, Minnesota, and Lites 1 Masters series veteran but team newcomer Joel Janco, from Key Largo, Florida, also are scheduled to test for JDC.

Longtime Prototype Lites standout Performance Tech Motorsports will make the short drive from its Deerfield Beach, Florida, headquarters to test two young drivers with open-wheel backgrounds at Sebring.

Kyle Masson, 18, from Windermere, Florida, will drive for the team as a sports car rookie after moving from a successful stint in the Skip Barber Race Series. Patricio O’Ward, 16, from Monterrey, Mexico, also will test an Élan DP02 with Mazda power and Cooper Tires at Sebring. He competed in Pro Mazda Presented by Cooper Tires championship last season.

Max Hanratty will test for Extreme Speed Motorsports, whose Prototype entry won the Rolex 24 At Daytona last month. Hanratty, 22, from Milwaukee, made four starts last season in Prototype Lites.

Other teams testing include Las Vegas-based ONE Motorsports, which has fielded cars the last two seasons for Lites 1 Masters champion Falb. Todd Slusher, a Lites 2 title contender last season, will return to test for ONE next week.

Longtime Prototype Lites team Eurosport Racing and Team Perfect Pedal also plan to test Lites 1 cars at Sebring.

Source. Grand Solutions

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