Lites: IMSA series preview

IMSA Prototype Lites season preview

COOPER TIRES PROTOTYPE LITES SEASON PREVIEW

#4 Eurosport Racing Elan DP02: Antonio Downs
#4 Eurosport Racing Elan DP02: Antonio Downs

Photo by: Darren Pierson

Sebring, Fl. (March 14, 2011) -- The story of 2011 for the Cooper Tires Prototype Lites Championship could be a tale of two expectations: returning veterans ready to establish themselves as championship contenders versus newcomers intent on making their mark in the series.

Many veteran teams have re-signed for the full 14-race season, including Ferrari of Houston, Performance Tech, Speed Promo and Eurosport Racing. Coming on board for the first time are Wilzig Racing in Lites 2and former Star Mazda champions, JDC Motorsports, with longtime team driver Gerry Kraut, in Lites 1.

Returning veterans compete for the title in Lites 1 and Lites 2

The Lites 1 championship may very well come down to the only two drivers in the series who will have to stare each other down over Thanksgiving dinner – Antonio and Lucas Downs, who finished second and eighth, respectively, in the 2010 title chase. Between the three brothers (including Matt, who will race selected events in 2011) they have competed in 121 Lites races, with 10 victories.

As Antonio Downs begins his fifth season in the series, he has two dreams unfulfilled – winning a championship and filling the podium with all three Downs brothers. The closest they’ve come is last year’s second race at Mosport, with Lucas getting the win and Matt (racing in select events in 2011) second – but Antonio finished fourth. Racing with and against his brothers remains a career highlight for the Minnesota native.

“It makes the racing 100 times more fun,” said Downs, driving the #4 Eurosport Racing/Lamex Foods Élan DP02. “We’ve got a sibling rivalry but it’s very friendly – we get along great so it makes being at the track better and being away from the track better. It’s always fun to talk to people about your day who can really relate – and it certainly adds to the dinner discussions!

“We raced all through our childhood. My Dad drove for Eurosport, so I’ve known those guys since I could walk. When we decided to have our crack at racing, there was no other option, we knew it would be Eurosport - and we’ve been racing whatever they raced for 20 years.”

Downs returns to the series in 2011 with some unfinished business. He’s raced in the series for years, but always sees avenues for improvement. That’s what keeps him coming back.

“I don’t think a race car driver is ever completely happy with how they’ve done. Even from lap to lap, it’s ‘how much more can I push’ and ‘how much faster can I go’? So it’s just that mentality, to keep pushing forward. It’s always been my goal to win the championship, but there are some fast guys coming into the series this year. It’s going to be tough to be a part of the championship hunt this year.”

Lucas Downs, driving the #79 Eurosport Racing/Member’s Mark Chicken Élan DP02 agrees. But with a young family and career obligations, it’s getting harder to commit to racing full time.

“We expect to be competitive every weekend. We have a lot more experience than many of our competitors, so we’re hoping to be up front. But the plan for me is just to be competitive and have fun – it gets harder, as you get older and have a family and work, time becomes a problem. So that time has to be valuable -that’s my priority this year, be competitive and have fun.”

Jim Garrett, driving the Speed Promo West WR100, finished third in the Lites 2 championship in 2008 and 2010. The Austin, Texas resident hopes to build on that success in 2011 - so much so that’s he’s ready to issue a challenge.

“I am so excited about the 2011 season!” said Garrett.” After coming in third overall last year, we are really working hard to raise our game to the next level and compete for the Lites 2 championship. With so many podium finishers coming back for the full year and the number of strong new faces it should be a real challenge. We’ve put together a great car, team, and coaches to get our best results yet. For everyone else the line can form to the rear!”

New teams join the fray

JDC Motorsports has a long and storied career in the Star Mazda and F2000 series, including Star Mazda titles in 2009 and 2007. The team decided to expand into the sports car arena in 2011, with Gerry Kraut behind the wheel. Team Principal John Church looks forward to joining the sports car ranks.

“IMSA Prototype Lites is a great way to expand JDC Motorsports’ racing horizons,” said Church. “We couldn’t help but notice the growth of Prototype Lites over the past two years and believe this series is well positioned to continue that growth. We want to be a part of this growth. And I haven’t seen Gerry this excited about the upcoming season in years!”

Kraut hopes to parlay his F2000 and Star Mazda career into a successful run in the Lites championship, in the #55 Dougherty & Co./Dougherty Funding Élan DP02.

“I was most interested in being part of the American Le Mans series because of the quality of the organization and its exclusive focus on road racing,” said Kraut. “Prototype Lites appeals to me because they are sophisticated sports racers that compete in a well-managed series at great venues. Lites can be an end in and of itself or provide a step to the next level of prototype racing with the ALMS.”

The newest full-time entrant on the Cooper Tires Prototype Lites scene is New York’s Alan Wilzig, driving the #15 Wilzig Racing West WR100. Wilzig raced motorcycles throughout his adult life, until sanity struck five years ago in the form of his son, Siggi.

“I rode bikes knee-down on racetracks for 15 years,” recounts Wilzig, “then five years ago, we had our first child. That coincided with my introduction to the Radical chassis, which showed me that a racecar can be as much or more fun than a motorcycle. Then a business associate showed me how the West was specifically designed as a Radical-beater. And that was it.”

Wilzig has long watched and supported the Lites parent circuit, the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón – and Wilzig makes no bones about how excited he is to be racing with the series.

“I chose Lites for the same reason the fans choose ALMS and have always supported IMSA: the love of the cars. For me the appreciation begins before I even enter the cockpit. Just looking at my West Race Cars prototype is a thrill for me. I like driving a car that exists solely for racing.”

The Prototype Lites mission is two-fold: present an opportunity for semi-professional race car drivers to compete in a world-class environment while also providing an avenue for drivers to move up the ladder into the LMPC or LMP classes in the American Le Mans Series Presented by Tequila Patrón. The series is divided into two classes: Lites 1, featuring the Élan DP02 chassis, powered by a 2.3-liter, four-cylinder Mazda MP2 engine; and Lites 2, utilizing the West WX10 and WR1000 chassis, with either a Kawasaki ZX10R or a Suzuki GSXR motor.

Round 1 takes to the Sebring pavement at 4:15pm EDT on Thursday, with Round 2 on Friday at 2:05pm.

-source: imsa

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