PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports is doubling down on IMSA and investing in bringing young talent to sports car racing. The California-based operation prides itself on identifying and guiding up-and-coming drivers through its ranks and has had no shortage of success in doing so. Notable alumni includes Mazda factory driver Jonathan Bomarito, and IndyCar drivers Charlie Kimball and J.R. Hildebrand, just to name a few.
With that identity still at the core of the team’s values, team owner Bobby Oergel has chosen the IMSA Prototype Challenge as the next-generation platform to cultivate that talent.
News of a transition to the LMP3 ranks was released earlier this month, as part of a team announcement headlined by an expansion to a two-car LMP2 effort for 2020 in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. The team is already campaigning the No. 52 ORECA LMP2 full-time in the WeatherTech Championship in 2019 with co-drivers Matt McMurry and Gabriel Aubry.
The timeline of a full-time IMSA Prototype Challenge effort in 2019, followed by an additional WeatherTech Championship entry in 2020 is no coincidence.
“This program for many years dating back to 1999 has had a feeder program within it,” said Oergel. “It’s usually been junior open-wheel formula cars. An LMP3 program is one of those things that’s been on the horizon for the last few years. What you’re seeing now is the first crop of a junior program, if you want to call it that, internally bringing drivers into our LMP3 program with hopes of putting them into the LMP2 program eventually as well.”
The team will make its series debut at Sebring International Raceway on March 14 with Formula Pro USA F4 Western champion Scott Huffaker staying with the team on the jump from open-wheel to LMP3. Fellow open-wheel prospect Calder McWhinney also recently tested the team’s No. 52 Ligier JS P3.
Huffaker and McWhinney are just two of the latest young open-wheel drivers to embrace IMSA and the LMP3 platform, joining recent Michelin IMSA SportsCar Encore at Sebring winner and 2018 F3 Americas champion Kyle Kirkwood, and season-opening Daytona winner Neil Alberico.
When surveying the current motorsports landscape, Oergel landed on IMSA Prototype Challenge and its burgeoning LMP3 platform as the ideal series to develop talent while also having a clear ladder to his WeatherTech Championship program, if sports car racing is the route his young drivers want to take.
“The scenario that makes LMP3 make sense in the current environment is the cost per mile and budgetary needs are very attractive,” said Oergel. “There is lots of valuable track time, a heavy and high-horsepower car and a path into the future if sports cars are your forté and want and will.
“Regardless if it is or isn’t, it’s still a very good platform to springboard to the next step, even if it’s back onto the open-wheel side of the fence. It’s part of the ladder system and training programs to prepare these drivers and/or their sponsors and partners for the future.”
You can see the debut of PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports’ “junior program” in action at Sebring with the IMSA Prototype Challenge race on Thursday, March 14 at 12:35 p.m. ET (live, IMSA.com). The Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts will be broadcast on Saturday, March 16 starting on CNBC at 10:30 a.m. ET with more coverage throughout the day on the NBC Sports App and NBCSN. The entire race can be streamed live on the NBC Sports App.