Performance Tech Starts Sebring with TPNAEC Lead
Performance Tech Motorsportswill have a full weekend of racing at Sebring International Raceway as the No. 38 Prototype Challenge car aims for another victory and the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda Series begins its 2017 season.
James French, Patricio O’Ward and Kyle Masson are at the helm for the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh from Florida. Early on in February Performance Tech Team Principle began a barrage of driver announcements including naming O’Ward as French’s teammate for the 2017 WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season. Masson was announced as the Tequila Patròn North American Endurance Championship driver.
There is a confirmed confidence about the team with a set lineup early in the season after sweeping the Rolex 24 At Daytona taking home the first TOTAL Pole Award, PC class win and the fastest lap of the race. O’Neill has an equal amount of confidence between each of the three drivers.
“We’re in a great position with James and Pato both being silvers,” O’Neill said. “You can do whatever you want with that lineup, so we’re going into the race with a really open idea. It’ll be interesting to see what we do. I don’t need to make any plans with two fast silvers. James is focusing on honing his skills, I wouldn’t say there’s one particular thing he needs to actually work on. James is the old man this year, and he’s great at giving advice to Pato and Kyle. He could run the team, he doesn’t need me anymore.
“It’ll be fun for James and Pato to work together. With Kyle being in the endurance championship with us, it’ll be a good year. Pato is still pretty young, so his big thing this year will be keeping him in check so he doesn’t make any mistakes. We’re going to focus on breaking him of the sprint race mindset. He’ll be good in the car, we know that from the Rolex. Same with Kyle, really. He’ll be focused on winning the Prototype Challenge championship and then hop in the No. 38 and focus on winning an endurance championship. But we know he can handle the responsibility after Daytona.”
The team heads to its home track while leading in both TPNAEC and the team points championship. The odds are in Performance Tech’s favor but O’Neill doesn’t rule out the unforeseeable.
“It’ll be a good race in the PC car,” O’Neill said “You do as much preparation as you can and then you never know. A 20-cent washer could fail and put you out of the race. I’m a big believer in the idea that you make your own luck. I know we’ll have a good car and the guys will do a good job, so we’ll see.”
To grow the enormity of the weekend, IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda begins its season. Performance Tech will field six cars in the newly renamed series, previously the series was Mazda Prototype Lites.
Returning in his No. 18 Èlan DP02 will be Masson fresh off his Rolex win. Joining in the chase is Masson’s father Dr. Robert Masson, Stephen Dawes and Howard Jacobs. Each of three will also compete in a Èlan DP02 as part of the Mazda Prototype Challenge class or MPC. This is Masson’s second season while it will be the first season for Dr. Masson and Jacobs. For Dawes, it will be his first season behind the wheel for Performance Tech, previously he worked behind the wall as part of the pit crew.
Another longtime friend returned to the team for the 2017 season, Alan Wilzig. Wilzig, a former L2 class champion, is undertaking the challenge of the Le Mans P3 under the Ginetta banner. Joining him is Andres Gutierrez, cousin of Patricio O’Ward. Gutierrez will take on the LM P3 with the help of Ligier. Wilzig and Gutierrez are part of the new LM P3 class. This is the first season the Le Mans P3 car has competed under the IMSA umbrella.
“This year will be extremely competitive and fun,” O’Neill said. “Alan, Howard and Stephen I think will be the ones to have some fun this year and just enjoy themselves. With those three it’s going to be an adventure. Alan has done this before but I think it’ll be an eye-opener for Howard and Stephen but they’ll still have fun and enjoy. Taking on the P3, Alan knows what he’s up against. P3 suits him better because it’s a very smooth, big car. Alan should be in a battle for the Masters Championship, that’s our goal.
“They’ll do well together, they all want to try to compete with Dr. Masson this year. Dr. Masson is going to surprise a lot of people. You look at everything he’s done and he’s just one of those competitive guys that looks for ways to be better or do better. He’s the nicest guy too, he’s helped so many people on our team with different health issues. He’s incredibly intelligent and cares about his practice, that will translate into the race car. He’s the guy to beat.”
“Kyle will be fighting for a championship. He’s done really well this year so far. He’s really developed as a driver. He’s showed his maturity in the Lites car during our testing. We’ve done three or four test days with Andy now. We’ve spent a day at Sebring testing and he did a great job there. He gets up to speed so quickly. He just gets faster and faster each time he gets in. He’ll be a force in the car this year.”
With six drivers competing in the series, O’Neill is positive he’ll see his drivers walk away with wins this season. More importantly, he believes it will be his team that will take top honors as team points champion. The real question to O’Neill is which driver will walk away as points champion in his class.
The Sebring weekend kicks off with IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda action. Race One takes place Thursday, March 16 at 4:35 p.m. ET and Race Two will take place Friday, March 17 at 10:45 a.m. WeatherTech SportsCar Championship qualifying follows Race Two with the PC class taking its turn at 1:50 p.m. The Mobile 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh from Florida begins Saturday, March 18 at 10:40 a.m.