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PROTOTYPE LITES TITLE RACES INTENSIFY AS SECOND HALF OF SEASON STARTS WITH GP3R DEBUT

Their paths to the top couldn’t be more different, but Austin Versteeg and Gerhard Watzinger continue to drive closer toward their ultimate goal – a Mazda Prototype Lites Presented by Cooper Tires season championship.Austin Versteeg

Lites 1 championship leader Versteeg and Lites 1 Masters leader Watzinger each will look to pile on more points as the second half of the season for the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) Official Development Series starts at Rounds 8 and 9 on Aug. 12-14 at the Grand Prix of Trois-Rivières (GP3R) in Trois-Rivières, Quebec.

Round 8, a 30-minute race, starts at 9 a.m. (ET) Sunday, Aug. 14. Round 9, a 45-minute race, begins at 4:15 p.m. Sunday. Qualifying is set for 9:05 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 13, with practice sessions scheduled for 2:30 p.m. and 5:15 p.m. Friday, Aug. 12.

Versteeg, from Sandy, Utah, leads the Lites 1 standings, 134-112, over JDC Motorsports teammate Clark Toppe. Versteeg has built that strong margin after winning five of the last six rounds in his No. 7 Élan DP02 chassis powered by a Mazda engine and racing on Cooper Tires.

Watzinger, from Naples, Florida, has taken a different path to the top in Lites 1 Masters. He is winless this season in the No. 32 ONE Motorsports entry but leads, 110-87, over Joel Janco of JDC Motorsports due to metronomic consistency. Watzinger has finished fourth or better in all seven rounds this season, with two runner-up finishes and two third-place finishes.

There are two compelling reasons why the championship races could tighten at the popular GP3R street race, which is celebrating its 47th edition this year.

First, this is the first time Mazda Prototype Lites Presented by Cooper Tires is competing on the 10-turn, 1.5207-mile (2.433 km) temporary street circuit. The last time any prototype sports cars appeared at GP3R was in 2003, when two classes of American Le Mans Series prototypes raced.

Second, both races are taking place on the same day, a rarity for the series. So any car that finds trouble in Round 8 could struggle to be at peak efficiency in Round 9 later that day.

But there also are two factors in Versteeg’s favor at this event.

The first is a bit of familiarity. Versteeg, 17, competed at GP3R in a karting event five years ago on a layout that used part of the famous GP3R street circuit.

The second is his team. Minnesota-based JDC Motorsports has produced one of the most remarkable streaks in global sports car racing over the last two years, winning 25 consecutive Mazda Prototype Lites Presented by Cooper Tires events dating back to August 2014.

Toppe, from The Woodlands, Texas, has won twice this year to help sustain JDC’s streak. He opened the season in mid-March with a victory at Sebring International Raceway and also won Round 6 at the last event in early July at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (CTMP).

Second-year series driver Toppe, 18, has placed second to Versteeg in four of the other five races in a strong show of consistency.

Other contenders for victory include Max Hanratty, Michael Whelden and Kyle Masson.

Hanratty, from Milwaukee, has climbed to third in the Lites 1 standings due to a summer surge in the No. 30 Extreme Speed Motorsports entry. He has finished on the podium in three of his last five starts, including a career-best second in early July at Watkins Glen.

Whelden, from Sausalito, California, is fourth in points in the No. 29 Extreme Speed Motorsports entry, just two behind Hanratty. Whelden has finished fifth or better in six of his seven starts this season, including two podium finishes.

Masson, from Windermere, Florida, has two podium finishes in his rookie season in the No. 18 Performance Tech Motorsports entry. He is fifth in the standings with 69 points.

Janco poses the biggest threat to Watzinger in Lites 1 Masters due to his recent hot streak. Series veteran Janco swept Rounds 6 and 7 in early July at CTMP in the No. 25 JDC Motorsports entry, his first two career victories in the series.

Todd Slusher, from Las Vegas, also will challenge ONE Motorsports teammate Watzinger and Janco in the No. 62 entry. He is fifth in the Lites 1 Masters standings but drove to victory in Round 2 in mid-March at Sebring International Raceway.

There will be a strong Canadian contingent at the second and final event of the season in Canada. James Dayson, from Vancouver, British Columbia, and Guy Laporte, from Montreal, will drive in Lites 1. Max De Angelis, from Windsor, Ontario, will compete in the Lites 2 class.

Schedule

Practice: 2:30-3:05 p.m. and 5:15-5:40 p.m. (ET) Friday, Aug. 12

Qualifying: 9:05-9:25 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 13

Round 8 (30 minutes): 9-9:30 a.m. Sunday, Aug. 14

Round 9 (45 minutes): 4:15-5 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 14

Source. LST Marketing

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