It was mission accomplished for ANSA Motorsports at the Michelin IMSA SportsCar Encore. Not only did the team win the four-hour event with co-drivers Roman De Angelis and Kyle Kirkwood to secure the $10,000 winner’s prize and a $5,000 Michelin tire credit to apply for 2019, it did so after expanding from the one Ligier JS P3 LMP3 prototype it fielded throughout the 2018 IMSA Prototype Challenge season to three for the Michelin Encore.
The rapid expansion meant a multiplication of crew and resources within a relatively short period of time. It also meant the team had to find additional drivers for the endurance race.
To help fill some of the remaining seats at Sebring International Raceway, ANSA Motorsports and Team Owner Patrick Otto-Madsen called upon a trio of former Team USA Scholarship winners and open-wheel prospects who had relatively little or no sports car racing experience entering the weekend. They included race winner and 2018 F3 Americas champion Kirkwood (2016), 2018 F4 U.S. champion Dakota Dickerson (2015), and Neil Alberico (2011, 2013), who has raced in Indy Lights each of the past three seasons.
“This whole deal came together last minute when Patrick called me and said ‘Hey, how would you like to drive the car?’ and we were able to put something together with Ligier and Onroak,” said Kirkwood in victory lane following the race. “Everything about that race was impeccable. I had never driven an LMP3 car before, that was the first time on Friday that I had even sat in the car.
“I’m kind of disappointed I didn’t get into sports car racing before this.”
The IMSA Prototype Challenge has seen a number of young open-wheel standouts join the series over the years and Otto-Madsen feels there could be more on the way as the series shifts to an LMP3-only format beginning with the 2019 season.
“I think the Ligier JS P3 is a fantastic platform and just an excellent product when it comes to driver development,” Otto-Madsen said. “Having only one class next year in 2019 makes it even more interesting. We expect to have 20-25 car grids all year long just in IMSA Prototype Challenge, so it definitely makes this platform very interesting for these young guys. We really do hope that the quality and quantity of drivers and cars will make IMSA Prototype Challenge the place to be in terms of a development ladder for the young kids.”
While endurance sports car racing was completely new to Kirkwood, Dickerson had some experience with ANSA Motorsports in World Challenge, but no exposure to IMSA as a competitor prior to the Michelin Encore.
“I have a big interest in sports car racing, like a lot of the guys I look up to from karting, working with Joel Miller, Marc Miller and those guys and following their career path,” said Dickerson. “Sports car racing has definitely been an interest of mine and I love watching it through all the IMSA racing and everything. I definitely want to pursue it in the future if formula car racing doesn’t work out, but this type of weekend to me was like a perfect kind of get my feet wet type of experience.”
Much like Kirkwood, Dickerson wasted little time getting up to speed posting the fourth-fastest lap in practice Saturday afternoon. The race didn’t go as well for Dickerson and Alberico, joined by 2018 IMSA Prototype Challenge champion Jon Brownson, as a clutch issue midway through the race resulted in a 12th-place finish, but Dickerson showed pace equivalent to some of the race leaders during his stint.
“Getting to know the whole organization, not just IMSA but sports car racing as a whole for me, it was a perfect weekend,” said Dickerson. “It was perfect for me to get acclimated to the car and the whole format of racing. And then just getting to know everybody within the paddock too, it’s obviously a huge learning experience, not only on the track, but off the track and learning the operations. I was super impressed with how professional IMSA was and well it was run from the get-go.”
A number of former Team USA Scholarship winners already have made the transition to sports car racing, including current household IMSA names Tristan Nunez (2012), Trent Hindman (2011), Connor De Phillippi (2009), Joel Miller (2007), Dane Cameron (2006), Bryan Sellers (2001), Joey Hand (2000) and Andy Lally (1999).
Perhaps the next Team USA Scholarship winner to transition to sports cars and find success in IMSA will come out of the ANSA stable, thanks in part to the inaugural Michelin IMSA SportsCar Encore.
One thing is for sure, Otto-Madsen would love to have one or two of them in an IMSA Prototype Challenge car next year as the team plans to field a minimum of three cars next season.
“I think the price point of IMSA Prototype Challenge is very good and it really allows them to develop,” he said. “We’ll definitely be knocking on some doors to see if we can grab some of these guys some sponsors so that we can move them forward in their career.”