Q&A: Kenton Koch on solidifying status with P1 Motorsports

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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One of the emerging sports car talents in North America is Kenton Koch, who we’ve chronicled for several years throughout his growth and development through the sports car ladder system.

A veteran Mazda driver, Koch was a champion at the MX-5 Cup and Prototype Lites series levels, fought through a challenging 2016 season without a full-time seat even though he won the Rolex 24 at Daytona in the PC class on debut, but took on a greater role with J.C. Perez’s new P1 Motorsports group in 2017, leading the team’s Ligier JS P3 LMP3 effort in IMSA’s Prototype Challenge series.

With P1 Motorsports advancing its IMSA plans for 2018 and Koch riding high on life after a couple key items, including getting married to his fiancée Dani and moving from Glendora, Calif. to Charlotte, we thought it a good time to catch up with him for a year-end Q&A.

MotorSportsTalk: After a year where you seemed to bounce around but not get solidified, how key was this year with P1 Motorsports in the LMP3 field?

Kenton Koch: “Yeah it’s awesome to have consistency, as sometimes it can be hit or miss. We’d hoped with the Mazda relationship there was still something there, but they announced their plans for this year and I wasn’t part of it, so we kept looking.

“Going to the Roar (test) with helmet in hand, networking, I’d met a friend of mine named Alberto Pena – which brings back the Mazda connection because we were friends from when I spotted for SpeedSource and other previous things we did together. So we’d had an established relationship.

“Little did we know that he’d started a team with one of the clients from his previous shop, who’s now the team owner, J.C. Perez! It turned out they wanted to do P3 for this whole season and map out their business plan for the following years.

“I have to thank Alberto for putting my name in the hat to test, and eventually become part of the program. Obviously it came together after Sebring so we missed the first race, but, we hit the ground running from the off and I was able win the first race for the team at Barber. You could already tell it was a well-oiled machine and great group of people, and we built on it all season.”

Photo courtesy of IMSA

MST: You’re used to running open-top prototypes in both P Lites and PC, so how big of an adjustment was the LMP3 chassis at first?

KK: “The funny thing is you can’t see out of right side of car! You wish the A-pillar was out of the way, and at certain right handers you can’t see the apex. After you drive it for a bit though, you learn how to put the pieces together. You kind of learn to adapt. Once you get going and a couple days, it ended up not being a factor. But for the first little bit, it’s definitely interesting.”

MST: With seven wins from 11 starts, you still almost won the title despite missing the first race weekend. Was that bittersweet or was it a case that you and the team had overachieved?

KK: “Obviously it would have been great to win the championship, but we knew it was a tall order having missed the first race. I think we proved what P1 Motorsports could do having won the Team Championship.”

“It was also amazing to finally get a break like this. It was something I never would have expected. You always hope to get this break, then capitalize on that, and make it into something more. This year was that, and more. It’s been a blessing of a year. Next year looks even better. It’s cool to start to snowball and continue that momentum. It’s huge from a confidence standpoint to know that everything you knew deep and down inside of you, to have other people see that, and be able to I guess know that other people see what you’ve felt.”

MST: Beyond your full-season LMP3 role, you also got the chance to race the car in Europe with another team and reprise your MX-5 career in the Global MX-5 event at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. How do you reflect on those?

KK: “I’d met Joel Janco before and we’d kept in touch, but I didn’t think it would come to anything for a race chance. But I’d received a recommendation from a mutual friend and he wanted to race with me. I was super ecstatic and pumped, getting to drive Paul Ricard and Spa. The circumstances there were tough but I had a blast there, experiencing Europe and seeing some epic tracks.

“Coming home to the Global MX-5 race, it felt like old times! In race two it was just a perfectly timed start. The rest of field started leaving me out of the hairpin and I was accelerating. Right as I was about to lift to slow back down again to get back on the bumper, the green flag flew and I popped, so I had so much momentum from three or four car lengths back! The inside line then opened up and it created a three-in-one deal at least. So I wound up gaining seven positions, going from ninth to second and battling for the lead out of Turn 2. It was a stunning start and the race didn’t end well unfortunately, but that was a blast as well.”

MST: Can you give a quick update on your 2018 plans and framework?

KK: “J.C.’s invested a lot with this team. So he wants to do GTD and get his feet for the long races, so that’s the plan for the team is to do those with the Mercedes-AMG GT3 and see what that means for 2019.

“For me, since I’d been in at the beginning, they wanted to put me in the car since it’s a logical thing to do. We’d worked really well together and it made it easier for them since we know each other. I’m grateful to be in this position.

“J.C. burst onto the racing scene from nowhere. He’s involved in multiple businesses and is learning the racing aspect. He trusts this group of people. He started racing two and a half years ago from track days, but this is his first year of being committed to racing and cars.

“There is a certain level of comfort with what things have become now. With being comfortable to me doesnt mean laziness, I always want to do more, learn more and be the best person I can be.”

Koch with P1 Motorsports. Photo courtesy of IMSA

Justin Grant prevails over Kyle Larson in the Turkey Night Grand Prix

Grant Larson Turkey Night
USACRacing.com / DB3 Inc.
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On the heels of his Hangtown 100 victory, Justin Grant worked his way from 13th in the Turkey Night Grand Prix to beat three-time event winner Kyle Larson by 1.367 seconds. The 81st annual event was run at Ventura (Calif.) Raceway for the sixth time.

“My dad used to take me to Irwindale Speedway, and we’d watch Turkey Night there every year,” Grant said in a series press release. “This is one of the races I fell in love with. I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to run in it, never thought I’d make a show and certainly never thought I’d be able to win one.”

With its genesis in 1934 at Gilmore Stadium, a quarter-mile dirt track in Los Angeles, the race is steeped in history with winners that include AJ Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Gary Bettenhausen and Johnnie Parsons. Tony Stewart won it in 2000. Kyle Larson won his first of three Turkey Night Grands Prix in 2012. Christopher Bell earned his first of three in 2014, so Grant’s enthusiasm was well deserved.

So was the skepticism that he would win. He failed to crack the top five in three previous attempts, although he came close last year with a sixth-place result. When he lined up for the feature 13th in the crowded 28-car field, winning seemed like a longshot.

Grant watched as serious challengers fell by the wayside. Mitchel Moles flipped on Lap 10 of the feature. Michael “Buddy” Kofoid took a tumble on Lap 68 and World of Outlaws Sprint car driver Carson Macedo flipped on Lap 79. Grant saw the carnage ahead of him and held a steady wheel as he passed Tanner Thorson for the lead with 15 laps remaining and stayed out of trouble for the remainder of the event.

“It’s a dream come true to win the Turkey Night Grand Prix,” Grant said.


Kyle Larson follows Justin Grant to the front on Turkey Night

The 2012, 2016 and 2019 winner, Larson was not scheduled to run the event. His wife Katelyn is expecting their third child shortly, but after a couple of glasses of wine with Thanksgiving dinner and while watching some replays of the event, Larson texted car owner Chad Boat to see if he had a spare car lying around. He did.

“We weren’t great but just hung around and it seemed like anybody who got to the lead crashed and collected some people,” Larson said. “We made some passes throughout; in the mid-portion, we weren’t very good but then we got better at the end.

“I just ran really, really hard there, and knew I was running out of time, so I had to go. I made some pretty crazy and dumb moves, but I got to second and was hoping we could get a caution to get racing with Justin there. He was sliding himself at both ends and thought that maybe we could get a run and just out-angle him into [Turn] 1 and get clear off [Turn] 2 if we got a caution, but it just didn’t work out.”

Larson padded one of the most impressive stats in the history of this race, however. In 10 starts, he’s won three times, finished second four times, was third once and fourth twice.

Bryant Wiedeman took the final spot on the podium.

As Grant and Larson began to pick their way through the field, Kofoid took the lead early from the outside of the front row and led the first 44 laps of the race before handing it over to Cannon McIntosh, who bicycled on Lap 71 before landing on all fours. While Macedo and Thorson tussled for the lead with McIntosh, Grant closed in.

Thorson finished 19th with McIntosh 20th. Macedo recovered from his incident to finish ninth. Kofoid’s hard tumble relegated him to 23rd.

Jake Andreotti in fourth and Kevin Thomas, Jr. rounded out the top five.

1. Justin Grant (started 13)
2. Kyle Larson (22)
3. Bryant Wiedeman (4)
4. Jake Andreotti (9)
5. Kevin Thomas Jr. (1)
6. Logan Seavey (8)
7. Alex Bright (27)
8. Emerson Axsom (24)
9. Carson Macedo (7)
10. Jason McDougal (18)
11. Jake Swanson (16)
12. Chase Johnson (6)
13. Jacob Denney (26)
14. Ryan Timms (23)
15. Chance Crum (28)
16. Brenham Crouch (17)
17. Jonathan Beason (19)
18. Cade Lewis (14)
19. Tanner Thorson (11)
20. Cannon McIntosh (3)
21. Thomas Meseraull (15)
22. Tyler Courtney (21)
23. Buddy Kofoid (2)
24. Brody Fuson (5)
25. Mitchel Moles (20)
26. Daniel Whitley (10)
27. Kaylee Bryson (12)
28. Spencer Bayston (25)