Tonis Kasemets showed he had the measure of the IMSA Prototype Challenge field at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park on Sunday. Twice.
The Estonian dominated the first hour at CTMP, then fended off a late challenge following the only full-course caution of the 90-minute race for Le Mans Prototype 3 (LMP3) cars. He won for the second straight time this season and extended his championship lead.
Starting from the pole position, Kasemets steadily pulled away from the pack in the No. 60 Wulver Racing Ligier JS P320, building a cushion of more than 50 seconds as the race ran under green-flag conditions. Until, that is, Danny Formal slid off track in Turn 5 in the No. 46 CT Motorsports Duqueine D08 with just under 25 minutes remaining to bring out the only yellow of the race on the 2.459-mile, 10-turn road course.
Racing restarted with 13 minutes to go, and soon after, Parker Thompson (No. 14 Sean Creech Motorsport Ligier) and Patrick Kujala (No. 77 O’Gara Motorsport/Change Racing/US RaceTronics Ligier) maneuvered through lapped traffic and were hot on Kasemets’ tail. Both contenders closed within a half-second of the leader until Kasemets responded.
He stretched the gap to more than two seconds before easing off on the final lap and crossing the finish line 0.512s up on Thompson, who shared the No. 14 with Lance Willsey.
“The young guns — the future stars — it’s hard to keep them behind but I used everything I had in my book and did what I could,” Kasemets said. “It was tough.”
The 48-year-old race winner was one of only three solo driver entries in the race. Knowing the demands of CTMP, Kasemets worked on his endurance by going cross-country skiing in the interim between the last Prototype Challenge race at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in May and this weekend’s event.
“We were slightly behind because we did not test here,” Kasemets said, “So it took us quite a lot of work to get the ride height right because it’s very demanding. Almost every corner is over 100mph. You’ve got to hold your breath and then you’ve got to learn how to breathe again. It takes everything you know.”
It was a remarkable recovery to second place for the No. 14 Sean Creech entry, considering the team was assessed a stop-and-go penalty for its pit stop falling 0.5s shy of the minimum time. Thompson, the 24-year-old native from Red Deer, Alberta, charged back to reach the second step of the podium to the delight of the Canadian crowd.
“We were quick on track and we were a little [too] quick in the pits – under one second,” Thompson said. “We took that drive-through penalty, which was too bad, but kept my head down and picked them off one by one.
“Once I got back up on the podium after a drive-through penalty, I was fairly content,” added Thompson, racing in his homeland for the first time in three years. “Every Canadian’s dream is to stand on this podium. This is the most legendary track that we have to offer. Big shout-out to [IMSA] for getting us back to Canada; it’s awesome to be back. You see the Canadian fans; they’ve been dying to have a race.”
With the win, Kasemets expanded his points lead to 120. Memo Gidley and Alexander Koreiba, who finished fifth Sunday in the No. 23 AL Autosport with JDC MotorSports Duqueine, are second in points. The No. 77 of Kujala and Brian Thienes crossed the finish line in third place, but was moved to the rear of the field when post-race technical inspection revealed that the plank on the bottom of the car exceeded maximum permitted wear.
A recap of Sunday’s race airs at noon ET Sunday, July 10 on USA Network.
Two races remain on the Prototype Challenge schedule. Next up is VIRginia International Raceway from Aug. 26-28.