Photo courtesy of IMSA

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

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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

MRTI: Road America Sunday notebook

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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Sunday at Road America for the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires saw two series complete their second races of the weekend, with the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda taking to the track – the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires completed their weekend on Saturday.

Indy Lights saw a driver take an emotional first career win, while a chaotic USF2000 race saw the championship leader complete a weekend sweep.

Reports on both races are below.

Indy Lights: Franzoni Takes Emotional Maiden Win in Indy Lights

Victory Franzoni took an emotional first career victory Sunday at Road America. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Victor Franzoni finished third in Race 1 on Saturday, but did so despite driving what he described as “the worst of my career” to the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

Sunday, however, was the exact opposite for the affable Brazilian driver, who took his maiden Indy Lights win in what has been an emotional weekend for him and his Juncos Racing team as they raced in memory of the late Jeff Green, Franzoni’s Pro Mazda teammate last year.

Pato O’Ward started on the pole, but engaged in an intense duel with Santi Urrutia in the opening laps.

Their battle came to a head on Lap 4, when Urrutia tried diving inside of O’Ward entering Turn 5, but they both ran wide on the exit – O’Ward even took to the outside grass – which opened the door for Franzoni to blitz by both of them entering Turn 6.

O’Ward, Urrutia, and Colton Herta then immediately had a hard fight for second, which saw them go three-wide in Turn 8. Ultimately, Urrutia lost out as he was pushed off the track and suffered front wing damage, forcing a pit stop for repairs – he ultimately finished seven laps off the lead in seventh.

Up front, Franzoni pulled away from everyone to win by nearly seven seconds. Herta emerged in second after battling with O’Ward, while Aaron Telitz passed O’Ward in the final laps to take the final spot on the podium. Ryan Norman rounded out the top five, with Dalton Kellett finishing sixth.

Full results are below.

USF2000: Kirkwood Survives Race 2 Carnage to Complete Weekend Sweep

Kyle Kirkwood survived a lot of chaos to win Race 2 at Road America and complete the weekend sweep. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

While Race 1 almost appeared easy for Kyle Kirkwood, who passed pole sitter Jose Sierra for the lead in Turn 1 off the start and then led every lap on the way to victory, Race 2 was a completely different story.

Kirkwood needed to outduel Kaylen Frederick and Lucas Kohl and survive a seemingly endless slew of carnage in Race 2 to grab the win, his fifth of the year, to complete a weekend sweep.

Three times the race was slowed by full-course cautions for on-track incidents.

The first came on the opening lap for separate incidents involving Sabre Cook, Russell McDonough, Jose Sierra, and Max Peichel – Cook and McDonough appeared to go off into the Turn 1 gravel, while Sierra and Peichel got together approaching Turn 5 and ended up against the outside wall.

A second caution was flown only a couple laps after racing resumed when Darren Keane and Kyle Dupell got together in Canada Corner, spinning off the track and stalling as a result.

And a third caution was flown in the waning laps when Lindh, who had been running second, went off into the Turn 3 gravel trap, while Kory Enders and Calvin Ming got together and spun in Turn 6.

Up front, Lucas Kohl had worked his way into the lead, passing Lindh in Turn 1 off the start, while Kirkwood had moved up to second, ahead of third-place runner Kaylen Frederick.

A restart with one lap remaining saw Kirkwood jump to the outside of Kohl entering Turn 1, and he completed the pass before they even got to the corner, Frederick then was able to get around Kohl for second, while Colin Kaminsky and Igor Fraga rounded out the top five. Of note: second-place man in the championship Alex Baron finished seventh, allowing Kirkwood to widen an already immense championship lead.

Results are below. Kirkwood now leads Baron by 94 points. Frederick now sits third, jumping ahead of Fraga and Sierra, who sit fourth and fifth.

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