When the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda returns to Sebring International Raceway next week, it will do so celebrating an historic landmark for the series: the one-year anniversary of the debut of its highly anticipated and now-popular LM P3 class.
It was during the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts race weekend last season that the longtime IMSA series debuted the class, with the new closed-cockpit Prototypes powered by a muscular 420-horsepower and 5.0-liter V-8 engine making their North American debut alongside the high-winding, normally-aspirated, 2.0L MZR engine, open-cockpit Mazda Prototype Challenge (MPC) cars that long had been associated with the series.
To say the LM P3 class – and the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda as a whole – has built off the momentum from that debut one year ago is an understatement, as evidenced by the entry list for the series’ return to Sebring for Round 2 of the 2018 season on Friday, March 16 (9:10 a.m. ET on IMSA.tv).
A record 17 LM P3s are featured on the entry list, alongside an additional nine MPC entries.
Among the LM P3 entries is the No. 4 ANSA Motorsports Ligier JS P3 of Dean Baker and Zacharie Robichon. ANSA Motorsports swept the debut weekend for LM P3 at Sebring one year ago and also won the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda’s inaugural season-opening race at Daytona International Speedway in January with IMSA Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge driver Roman De Angelis at the wheel.
ANSA Motorsports team owner Alain Nadal has been pleased with the development of the LM P3 class and is even looking at adding a second car later in the season.
“The cars themselves are really cool, they are very attractive and so is the price point,” said Nadal. “It’s also a great ladder for Prototype racing to go from P3 to P2 or P1. I think everyone is looking forward to next weekend, even though I know the competition will be tough with some great LM P2 drivers running.”
Among the teams looking to prevent ANSA Motorsports from starting the season 2-for-2 is Daytona runner-up Forty 7 Motorsports with Austin McCusker returning in the team’s No. 47 Norma M30 alongside co-driver TJ Fisher. Forty 7 Motorsports also will debut a second entry, the No. 74 Norma M30 for Anthony Simone and a TBA second driver.
Defending class team champion P1 Motorsports returns with three Ligier JS P3s on the entry list, as does Extreme Speed Motorsports. The team is one of three on the entry list that fans of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Prototype class may recognize, with Performance Tech Motorsports and JDC MotorSports also each fielding a Ligier JS P3.
A recently announced partnership between Performance Tech Motorsports and Charles Wicht Racing also put the wheels in motion for 2017 WeatherTech Championship PC champion Pato O’Ward to make his LM P3 debut at Sebring in the No. 7 Ligier JS P3 alongside Leo Lamelas for what will be the start of a full-season campaign under the Charles Wicht Racing banner.
Rounding out the LM P3 entry list is K2R Motorsports which will field a pair of Ligier JS P3s, and single entries from Gilbert LMP3 Racing, Ave Motorsports with its Ave-Riley AR2 and a new entry from Baker Racing.
The MPC class also touts a strong entry list led by four additional entries for Performance Tech Motorsports, including the No. 11 Elan DP02 for Daytona winner Dr. Robert Masson and the No. 18 for 17-year-old Wyatt Schwab, who scored the class pole at Daytona in his first start.
Series regular Eurosport Racing returns with two entries for Jon Brownson and Dr. Tim George, who recently took part in an IMSA-sanctioned test at Sebring.
During the test, George noted how much he enjoys the series’ new endurance style format and the opportunities it provides for younger driver looking to make the move up the IMSA ladder.
“It’s good to have that endurance style format for the drivers and teams, they really get into that mentality that it’s not a sprint and you have to be more strategic,” he said. “I love to see two classes as well because that’s even more preparation for the WeatherTech Championship.”
ONE Motorsports returns with a pair of entries, while Wolf Motorsports looks to carry the momentum from a podium finish at Daytona with Bart Wolf and Tazio Ottis in the team’s No. 24 entry.
All MPC teams have even more incentive this weekend at Sebring and throughout the remainder of the season thanks to Season-End Championship Award announced this week for the class. The award will be given exclusively to the 2018 MPC team champion and features a full season LM P3 class Premium Entry credit for the 2019 IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda season, as well as a $15,000 Michelin tire credit.