Photos: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Aaron Telitz comes home to Road America, cleans up in Pro Mazda

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When drivers or teams get the opportunity to race at their home track, there’s plenty of extra motivation that comes with it.

For Aaron Telitz, getting the opportunity to return to a track where he grew up racing, Road America, but in the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires series – the second rung of three on the Mazda Road to Indy ladder – was something he was looking forward to all year.

_9SG0711-LHe had an estimated 70 family and friends, including a number of college buddies, all planning to be in attendance.

Once on track, he promptly devoured the competition in the pair of 40-minute races at a rate of destruction on par with eating a Johnsonville double brat from St. John the Baptist concession stand, or downing two Spotted Cows at Siebkens just down the road.

The 24-year-old native of Birchwood, Wis., near the slightly bigger town of Rice Lake, had Road America in his veins from growing up. He’d raced there in Skip Barber National cars but had been away from racing there for several years before returning this year.

“The Skip Barber cars, it’s like Talladega here, you can pass back and forth like twice on the front and back straightaway,” Telitz told NBC Sports post-race.

The Telitz family and friend brigade. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
The Telitz family and friend brigade. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Telitz was in need of a good weekend, too. With Team Pelfrey teammate Pato O’Ward having controlled the opening seven races of the season, winning six of them, Telitz was more than due to break the run of form delivered by the 17-year-old Mexican.

He then delivered a near perfect weekend in the No. 82 Rice Lake Weighing Systems entry for Team Pelfrey.

From pole in both Saturday races, Telitz led every lap and swept the two races – a total of 37 combined laps (18 in race one, 19 in race two) controlled around the 4.014-mile road course. He also set the fastest race lap in the second race, but wasn’t able to do the same in the first race.

With O’Ward off the podium in both races, Telitz also closed the points gap from 55 entering the weekend down to 28 leaving it.

The first race, Telitz could thank a great start and then ability to hold on for the remainder of the race.

“It was a good start. My car was great early on,” Telitz said. “The first few laps, I pulled out a big gap while they were battling, which helped me. Then about halfway through the race, my car got crazy loose, I was just sliding everywhere. I was just holding on, hoping that no one was going to catch me because I knew I wasn’t going very fast. It was just all about managing it from there, a little bit of nerves, I went a little bit slow just to bring it home.”

The second race was much hotter, following several other sessions and races on track, and Telitz trusted Team Pelfrey’s Tom Knapp to make the right setup changes.

Additionally, Telitz and I wound up being guest analysts in the IndyCar Radio booth for the first of two Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires races, which gave Telitz an opportunity to see how the track evolved from that vantage point.

“We made quite a bit of changes and the track got different and we just happened to nail it,” he explained. “My car was awesome on the cold tire laps, I could put the car anywhere I wanted to put it and put a huge gap on everyone and we just went off from there.

“I was able to watch that and see that the track had gotten hotter, hot as it had been all weekend and watching how much each was sliding around or Shelby Blackstock spinning out. So I could see their cars were really loose and it was getting greasy out there. So I went out and told Tom Knapp that and we made some adjustments for it potentially being a greasy track and I think we nailed it.

“Tom Knapp is a genius. It’s crazy how good he is at making the cars fast. Our cars are just incredible everywhere we go. The yellow car has been in victory lane all the time and it’s all due to Tom Knapp. He’s just crazy good with the cars. They’re fast, they take the corners well, he just does everything great.”

Second race podium. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
Second race podium. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

But Telitz shouldn’t sell himself short, either, because he did everything great this weekend at a weekend where the pressure was at its highest.

“I don’t know if the car is the best it’s been. I don’t think that was it,” he said. “It’s more that I just know the track real well and have run a bunch of laps here. So, I think that’s an advantage over those that haven’t driven here and don’t know it’s characteristics. So that was a big bonus.

“And having Pato struggle was good for me in the points, obviously, but as a team it would have been cool to see him sitting here (on the podium) as well.”

IMSA Prototype Season in Review

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IMSA Wire Service

It was a year of change for the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda. The longtime sprint series evolved in 2018 to six one-hour, 45-minute endurance races that allowed teams to run single or two-driver combinations with a required minimum-time pit stop. The result: record-high car counts in the LMP3 class with Kris Wright ultimately winning the series championship for Extreme Speed Motorsports, while Cameron Cassels took home the LMP3 Masters title. In the MPC class, meanwhile, series veteran Jon Brownson won his first championship in the final season for the class with a breakthrough win one week ago in the season finale at Road Atlanta.

This season-in-review takes a look back at the path each of the three champions took on their way to history.

1. Daytona International Speedway, January 6

LMP3: Roman De Angelis, No. 4 ANSA Motorsports Ligier JS P3
LMP3 Masters: Gary Gibson, No. 44 Ave Motorsports Ave-Riley AR2
MPC: Robert Masson, No. 11 Performance Tech Motorsports Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
Not only was the season-opener during the Roar Before the Rolex 24 weekend the first endurance race for the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda, it also was the first race for the series at the iconic Daytona International Speedway. Wright, driving the No. 30 Extreme Speed Motorsports Ligier JS P3 scored his first podium of the season alongside co-driver Daniel Morad with a third-place finish behind Porsche GT3 Challenge driver and winner Roman De Angelis and co-drivers Austin McCusker and David Droux, finishing second for the upstart Forty7 Motorsports team. Masson scored the MPC win, lapping all but one car, while Brownson came home fifth.

2. Sebring International Raceway, March 16

LMP3: Leo Lamelas / Pato O’Ward, No. 7 Charles Wicht Racing Ligier JS P3
LMP3 Masters: James McGuire Jr., No. 26 K2R Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Dave House, No. 86 ONE Motorsports Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
The round at Sebring featured a late-race restart that saw eventual 2018 Indy Lights champion and 2017 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Prototype Challenge champion O’Ward drive from fourth to first in the closing laps to secure the win for full-time driver Lamelas. Wright, meanwhile, finished third for the second consecutive time to start the season with a new co-driver, Michael Whelden. The No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports entry again finished second with McCusker now joined by TJ Fischer, who would go on to run the full season with the team. Coming out of Sebring, McCusker would lead Wright by four points, 64-60. Between Sebring and the next round at Barber Motorsports Park, Wright would decide to contest the full season for Extreme Speed Motorsports.

It was a special victory in the MPC class with House becoming IMSA’s oldest race winner at the age of 75. Foreshadowing a points race that what would ultimately come down to the season finale at Road Atlanta, the top five in the MPC standings are separated by two points leaving Sebring, with Brownson seventh, 12 points out, after a ninth-place finish.

3. Barber Motorsports Park, April 21

LMP3: Kris Wright / Yann Clairay, No. 30 Extreme Speed Motorsports Ligier JS P3
LMP3 Masters: Rob Hodes, No. 51 K2R Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Michal Chlumecky, No. 31 Eurosport Racing Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
The only standalone event for the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda would prove to be the turning point in the LMP3 class. Leading all but one practice session on the weekend and starting the race from the pole, Wright and co-driver Clairay dominated the event, only losing the lead briefly on a cycle of green flag pit stops. Wright’s biggest competition for the championship, meanwhile, the No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports team, seemed poised to score its third consecutive runner-up finish of the season to hold onto the LMP3 points lead, but contact between Fischer and an MPC car with five minutes remaining relegated the team to a 16th-place finish. Entering the weekend down four points in the standings, Wright left Barber up six points, 95-89, over Lamelas.

Chlumecky scored his first MPC class win since 2012, while teammate Brownson, the Sebring pole winner, capped off a Eurosport Racing 1-2 finish placing second in the team’s No. 34 entry. Masson rounded out the podium with a third-place finish in the No. 11 Performance Tech Motorsports Elan DP02 to regain the class lead. Brownson left Barber eight points behind Masson, fifth in the standings.

4. Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, July 8

LMP3: Austin McCusker / TJ Fischer, No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports Norma M30
LMP3 Masters: Dean Baker, No. 4 ANSA Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Howard Jacobs / James French, No. 77 Performance Tech Motorsports Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
The long overdue first victory for Forty7 Motorsports finally came at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park for McCusker and Fischer, but a second-place finish for Wright meant McCusker could only gain three points on the series leader, with Wright keeping the deficit at 13 points. Dean Baker would score the LMP3 Masters win, the fourth winner in four races following Gibson at Daytona, McGuire Jr. at Sebring and Hodes at Barber. Cassels finished on the LMP3 Masters podium for the first time in 2018 at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, finishing the race seventh overall and third in LMP3 Masters.

Leading the MPC standings coming into Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, Robert Masson enlisted son and defending series champion Kyle Masson as a co-driver for the remainder of the season. The plan appeared to work with the duo crossing the line first, but upon post-race analysis of drive-time requirements, it was concluded that Kyle Masson did not record the minimum 40 minutes of drive time and the car was moved to the back of the MPC results. That penalty elevated Jacobs and French to the race win in Performance Tech’s No. 77 entry and moved Brownson, who finished second for the consecutive race, to the class championship lead. Coming out of Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, the top six in points were separated by just two points with two races remaining.

5. VIRginia International Raceway, August 18

LMP3: Kris Wright / Stephen Simpson, No. 30 Extreme Speed Motorsports Ligier JS P3
LMP3 Masters: Dean Baker, No. 4 ANSA Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Howard Jacobs / James French, No. 77 Performance Tech Motorsports Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
Wright enlisted IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship regular Stephen Simpson as co-driver at VIR and delivered a knockout punch in the LMP3 title fight, scoring the win and opening a 23-point lead over McCusker, who finished sixth. Baker would win his second consecutive race in LMP3 Masters with a second-place finish overall alongside Zacharie Robichon. Hodes would lead the LMP3 Masters points by two points over Jim Garrett, eight points over Cassels and nine points over Joel Janco.

Robert Masson seemed poised to take the points lead and win alongside Kyle Masson as the duo drove brilliantly in the rain, building a nearly one-lap lead. A mechanical issue with 17 minutes remaining, however, set up a late-race sprint to the finish with French winning on the last lap for Jacobs.

With only one race remaining, House moved into the class lead by three points, 143-140, over Jacobs. The top seven teams were mathematically eligible for the championship and separated by a mere eight points.

6. Road Atlanta, October 12

LMP3: Austin McCusker / TJ Fischer, No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports Norma M30
LMP3 Masters: Cameron Cassels, No. 75 Performance Tech Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Jon Brownson, No. 34 Eurosport Racing Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
The second win of the season for the No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports entry and co-driver McCusker and Fischer was not enough to take the championship away from Wright, who finished second at Road Atlanta to sweep podiums in all six races on the series schedule.

Cassels scored his first LMP3 Masters win of the season, and despite entering the weekend eight points behind in the standings, would also win the LMP3 Masters championship after each of the title contenders ran into various issues on-track.

Brownson called it an “honor” to win the final race for the MPC class. Brownson, who started in the first race for the series in 2006, scored his first win of the season in the No. 34 Eurosport Racing entry to win the final championship for the class.