Johannes van Overbeek will retire after Saturday's IMSA season finale. Photo courtesy IMSA

IMSA: Johannes van Overbeek looks to retire a winner in Saturday’s Petit Le Mans

Leave a comment

IMSA Wire Service

Last month at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, Johannes van Overbeek and co-driver Pipo Derani were celebrating an IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship victory following the America’s Tire 250.

At the end of Saturday’s Motul Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta, van Overbeek will retire as a full-time driver.

“I thought about retiring last year, and then in discussions with (Patrón Spirits President/CEO) Ed Brown, he said, ‘Hey things are going to be different at the end of next year,’” said the 45-year-old driver of the No. 22 Tequila Patrón ESM Nissan DPi. “Patrón’s not going to sponsor this anymore, so why don’t you just wait one more year?

“’You started with the team and then you can say you ended with the team and bookend the entire program.’ It seemed like the smart thing to do. I love the group that (ESM owner/driver) Scott Sharp has put together. It’s a fantastic program. We have great partners, we’re still competitive and I think we get more competitive as we learn more about the car.

“The second part is, I’m 45. I’ve been doing it at a high level for 22 years, and it just feels like a good time to make a lane change in terms of career. I can do it another few years, but I couldn’t do it another 20 years, so I just figured now’s as good a time as any to step away and pursue other opportunities.”

Among the opportunities the resident of Oakland, California is looking to pursue is in the mobility and autonomous car industry. It makes sense to him geographically and in other ways.

“At the moment, I’ve been pretty busy managing a very valuable car collection for a Silicon Valley guy,” van Overbeek said. “With my proximity to Silicon Valley and having a lot of linkages to Silicon Valley – and then with this sort of new wave of mobility and specifically, autonomous cars – being able to work for a manufacturer or supplier in that space is something I’m very interested in. Because transportation as we know it – big and small – is changing. I’d like to be a part of that in some way, shape or form.”

While this will be the end of his full-time driving career, van Overbeek hasn’t ruled out a return to the cockpit for selected events. He’s got too much love for the sport to totally walk away.

“My love for driving remains,” he said. “I will still do the occasional race. If the right opportunity for an endurance ride comes along, I’d certainly take a look at it. I’ve been spoiled. I’ve had the luxury of being in top-end cars. It’s really from a safety perspective. When I go out on track in a Patrón Ligier, I don’t have to worry that it’s got an old part on it.

“My interest is only in equipment that is good and properly maintained by a good team. What I’m really retiring from is racing at a full-time level. Doing it on the side or for fun, occasionally, I’d still like to be involved because I still love the sport.”

The WeatherTech Raceway victory was van Overbeek’s 15th IMSA win. That total also includes an overall victory in the 2016 Rolex 24 At Daytona and two overall wins in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts, which rank among many career highlights.

“I started out pretty late as a driver,” van Overbeek recalled. “Although I raced go-karts, it was kind of when my dad had extra time and money and it was always kind of a bit of an afterthought.

“But the first thing that sticks in my mind was sort of putting the pieces together and realizing, ‘Well, if I could raise the money to go race and then find a team and basically create the opportunity.’

“So, I would say the first big memory is being successful in raising money to start racing back in ’96. That was a win like no other, when your dream becomes reality, again, through hard work and effort.

“On the track, you always remember the wins. The first win with Flying Lizard’s, sort of, career as a team at Mid-Ohio with Darren Law in 2004 against a factory Porsche team was very rewarding.

“But I have to say, winning Daytona overall and Sebring twice overall are probably highlights. Those are two races that were just outside my realm of possibility when I started racing because I started off racing GT cars.

“I just didn’t have the imagination to think I could win one of those races overall. Being able to do it and win Sebring twice, it’s truly a dream come true.”

Van Overbeek will look to add one more win – which would be his third Motul Petit Le Mans victory – in the No. 22 Nissan DPi alongside co-drivers Derani and Timo Bernhard.

Live television coverage of Motul Petit Le Mans begins Saturday, Oct. 13 at 10:30 a.m. ET on FS1, with continuing coverage on FS2 from 12 p.m. ET through the checkered flag. Live IMSA Radio coverage also will be available on IMSA.com, RadioLeMans.com and SiriusXM Radio (Sirius 119/XM 202/App 972).

IMSA Prototype Season in Review

IMSA
Leave a comment

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

Winners
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

Winners
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

Winners
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

Winners
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

Winners
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

Winners
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.