A pair of rising young stars combined to take the victory in Sunday’s inaugural four-hour Michelin IMSA SportsCar Encore at Sebring International Raceway.
Co-driving the No. 13 ANSA Motorsports Ligier JS P3, co-drivers Kyle Kirkwood and Roman De Angelis took the victory, winning by 2.278 seconds over Matt Bell, James McGuire Jr. and Kay van Berto in the No. 26 K2R Motorsports Ligier. De Angelis, the runner-up in both the 2018 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama and the Ultra 94 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada by Yokohama, put the No. 13 machine second on the starting grid.
He and Kirkwood spent the entire race inside the top five positions and grew stronger over the second half of the race. Kirkwood, the 2018 F3 Americas champion, took the lead for the final time with 45 minutes remaining when Katherine Legge brought the No. 40 Polestar Motor Racing Ligier into the pits for its final pit stop. Kirkwood pulled away from Bell following a restart with just under 30 minutes to go to secure the victory.
“This whole deal, first of all, just came together really last minute,” Kirkwood said. “[ANSA Motorsports co-owner] Patrick Madsen called me and he was like, ‘Hey, how would you like to drive the car?’ and we were able to put something together with Ligier and Onroak, so big thanks to ANSA Motorsports and Ligier and Onroak.
“That race, everything about it, was just impeccable. I’ve never driven the LMP3 car before. That was the first time on Friday that I’ve even sat in the car. It was incredible. The Michelin tires did fantastic. They held up throughout the entire race. We were running similar lap times every single lap, and every single lap just never fell off. That was perfect.”
For De Angelis, it was his second LMP3 race victory in Florida this season. He started the year with a victory in the IMSA Prototype Challenge season-opener at Daytona International Speedway in January with the ANSA team.
“Once again, I can’t thank ANSA, Ligier, Onroak and Michelin enough,” De Angelis said. “Especially ANSA, this is the second time I’ve raced with them and this is the second time we’ve won, so I think that says something about how well these guys perform. Another thing, too. I mean, Kyle, what an awesome job.
“He’s the guy that had to hold it together in the end. I think the two of us were a pretty dynamic duo this weekend. I just can’t thank everyone enough. It was an awesome race.”
Dutch racer van Berto acquitted himself well in his first U.S. race, securing the pole position by nearly a full second over De Angelis. He also built a healthy advantage throughout his opening stint the race, but a pair of penalties on pit lane forced the team to battle back over the remaining distance.
Legge, who normally races in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, shared the No. 40 machine with Keith and David Grant. The No. 40 trio claimed the final spot on the podium.
Stacy, Marcelli combine with Martin for second Sebring win this year
Sebring’s Victory Lane has become familiar territory for the No. 60 Roush Performance/KohR Motorsports Ford Mustang GT4 and its full-time co-drivers Nate Stacy and Kyle Marcelli, who picked up their second Sebring win this year – this time with team owner Dean Martin as a co-driver.
In March, the team took the victory in the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge Alan Jay 120. This time, Martin put the car on the GT4 class pole position and the team was a fixture at or near the front of the class field throughout. Marcelli beat another of his WeatherTech Championship GT Daytona (GTD) class regular competitors, Andy Lally in the No. 22 GMG Racing Audi R8 LMS GT4, by 16.255 seconds.
“It’s a great weekend,” Marcelli said. “We’re really excited to be working with Michelin this year. So far, so good on the Ford Mustang. I had the easy job today, though. I only did about an hour. [Stacy] did about two hours in the middle of the day, so hat’s off to Nate Stacy.
“And our boss, Dean Martin, got behind the wheel. He’s got an engineering background, so it was good for him to know the tire also when we go into the season and we’re giving feedback. He can now understand what it is we’re saying and can make the best changes on the car.”
“We had a long stint in the car,” Stacy said. “We had some yellows, though, so it wasn’t too horrible. KohR Motorsports/Roush Performance did awesome today. The Ford Mustang was great the entire time, the Michelin tires held up perfectly and we never had any problem with that. I can’t wait for next season.”
Lally, who was a late addition to the Encore field, joined GMG Racing owner/driver James Sofronas and co-driver Jason Bell in the runner-up result. Lally also raced in the Global MX-5 Cup doubleheader this weekend at Sebring.
Kenny Wilden, Rod Randall and DJ Randall completed the GT4 podium in the No. 59 Roush Performance/KohR Motorsports Mustang.
Ruscitti, Cirone take TCR win in Audi with late-race pass
A seesaw battle for the TCR class victory between the No. 22 Mark Motors Racing Audi RS3 MLS TCR of co-drivers Remo Ruscitti and Marco Cirone and the No. 54 JDC-Miller Motorsports Audi of Stephen Simpson and Michael Johnson ultimately went in favor of the No. 22 team, but not until the very end.
After he and Cirone had spent a considerable amount of the race in the class lead, Ruscitti found himself chasing Simpson in the closing minutes. He finally got around Simpson with a lap and a half remaining, then cruised to a relatively easy victory as Simpson came into the pits coming to the white-flag lap as he had run out of fuel.
“Phew, tough race,” Ruscitti said. “The cars are so even. Stephen braking just as late as I was, it was really, really difficult. I don’t know if he had a bobble when I popped on him and then I saw him go into pit lane, but whoa, it was like, two hours straight. Actually, four hours straight because Marco was getting pressured by Michael for the first half of the race. I think our gap never got bigger than five seconds between the two cars, so that was really, really entertaining.”
“From the first time we got this TCR, we knew it was going to be a fantastic car,” added Cirone, who has raced extensively with Mark Motors in the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada series. “We knew that once we started the program to come to IMSA and race it, we knew we were going to have tough competition. I was out there for two hours, but I think the most exciting part of the race was the last two minutes by this man. I’m so happy that we managed to bring him on board and I’m so proud of him. He helped us set up the car. If it wasn’t for him, I don’t think we would be here, so thank you very much Remo.”
Simpson and Johnson, who scored their first victory together in the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge in July at Lime Rock Park, closed out the year with yet another podium result. Luke and Tanner Rumberg completed the TCR podium with a third-place result in the No. 31 Rumcastle LLC Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR.