Photo courtesy of IMSA

O’Ward, Masson set to continue with Performance Tech

Leave a comment

Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires veteran Patricio – or Pato – O’Ward and fellow talented teen Kyle Masson delivered as good a debut as could be done at the 55th Rolex 24 at Daytona. O’Ward, the 17-year-old Mexican set the fastest race lap as part of Brent O’Neill’s dominant quartet in the No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca FLM09, en route to the class win in Prototype Challenge.

He’ll join James French for the season in that car, with Masson confirmed for the remaining rounds in the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup veterans. Masson will run a Mazda Prototype Lites (MPL) chassis in IMSA’s Prototype Challenge series this year, a separate supporting division of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. Those three plus Nick Boulle won the PC class at the Rolex 24; a story from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel‘s Dave Kallmann on French is linked here.

The PC class within the WeatherTech Championship has an eight-race schedule this year, with the four endurance races joined by rounds at Circuit of The Americas, Detroit, Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and Road America.

“We had opportunities arise going into Daytona and if we had a good showing we could get Pato’s deal done,” O’Neill said. “He’s really just awesome, he and James will be great together. It’ll be a good pairing and a plus for us is that we have two silvers that are really fast. It gives us options in the pits with what we can do with strategy.

“The only thing we’ll really be working on with Pato is how he still loses sight of time during the race. He comes from the format of 45-minutes races. He’s from the sprint race mentality so every once in a while, you have to tell him to reign it in. But he’s so professional in the car. He doesn’t throw the car off and he turns competitive lap times. They’ll be awesome teammates and I know James is excited about it. They’re both great kids.”

“The PC car is so different than what I’ve driven before,” O’Ward said. “It’s heavy but it’s not a slow car. It was impressive when I drove it. The PC has 540 horse power, roughly I think. It’s an enjoyable car to drive. In the rain, it’s not so enjoyable. With the cold weather and rain in the Rolex 24 it was difficult to handle. That’s more the weather though not the car. It’s not as physical as I thought it would be. It’s the only open cockpit car in IMSA. So, it’s cool to be a part of the last year of the class.”

“As a unit we all worked really well together at Daytona and we had great pace. I think keeping the group that swept Daytona together is a smart move and I am ecstatic about the opportunity to stay with them,” Masson added.

April 5 in Motorsports History: Alex Zanardi’s amazing Long Beach rally

Leave a comment

Alex Zanardi entered the Long Beach Grand Prix on April 5, 1998 as the race’s defending champion and the series’ defending champion.

But the Italian didn’t seem a serious contender for much of the 105-lap event. Zanardi started 11th position and lost a lap early when he was involved in a multicar spin in the hairpin.

Alex Zanardi celebrates after winning the 1998 Grand Prix of Long Beach. Photo: Getty Images

But the race was still young, and despite emerging from the incident in 18th place, Zanardi slowly progressed through the field while battling radio problems that made communication difficult with his team.

With five laps remaining, Zanardi passed Dario Franchitti on the backstretch for second place and then focused in on leader Bryan Herta.

With two laps remaining, Zanardi made his move, making a daring pass on the inside of Herta in the Queen’s Hairpin (which no longer exists as the track layout was changed the following year).

The move was reminiscent of Zanardi’s famous last-lap move on the inside of Laguna Seca’s famed Corkscrew in 1996, which deprived Herta of his first CART victory.

Franchitti passed Herta as well, and Zanardi went on to clinch his first victory of the season.

“On a day when everything went wrong, we came back and won,” Zanardi said following the race. “I can’t explain it. It wasn’t until I saw Bryan ahead of me that I ever thought I had a shot at winning. It was amazing. I have no words to describe it.”

Following Long Beach, Zanadri won six more times in 1998 en route to his second and final CART championship.

Also on this date:

1992: Bobby Rahal led from start to finish to win the Valvoline 200 at Phoenix International Raceway. The win was the first of four victories for Rahal during his championship season.

2009: Ryan Briscoe won the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the first of three victories for the Aussie in 2009. The race was also the first IndyCar Series on Versus, which was rebranded as NBC Sports Network in 2012.

Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter @michaele1994