Pit strategy was the name of the game in Saturday’s IMSA Prototype Challenge race at Sebring International Raceway and the No. 7 VOLT Racing with Archangel team played it to perfection.
With just under an hour remaining in the one-hour, 45-minute race, the team brought its bright yellow Ligier JS P230 with Alan Brynjolfsson at the wheel down pit road for service and to install co-driver Trent Hindman in the cockpit. A few moments later, the third full-course caution of the day came out when Indy AJ Miller spun into the Turn 17 tire barrier.
The No. 7 machine was just outside the top 10 when the FCY came out, but the top nine cars – including the No. 21 Muehlner Motorsports Duqueine D08 of Moritz Kranz that led throughout the first hour – headed to pit lane just as the green flag came out with 47 minutes to go.
That promoted Hindman to second, just behind new leader Stevan McAleer in the No. 43 Robillard Racing Duqueine, who took over the lead a few seconds before yet another full-course caution came out for a Turn 7 incident involving Natasha Balogh in the No. 33 Jr III Racing Ligier.
The green flag flew again six laps later. Hindman found his way past McAleer before the end of the first lap and set sail, cruising to a 9.390-second victory over Rasmus Lindh in the No. 6 Performance Tech Motorsports Ligier.
“It ended up being perfect, but I think we got pretty lucky with that second yellow in there,” Hindman said. “I don’t think we would have made it on fuel. I ran out of fuel, pretty much, coming out of the last corner. It was super, super close.
“We’ve been having some radio problems today too, so just trying to keep tabs on what’s going on – you don’t really realize how much you really need it until you don’t have it – so that made things, definitely, more complicated than they needed to be. But, big thanks to the VOLT Lighting/Archangel crew. We put a lot of work into this car since Daytona, a lot of development, just a lot of learning, mostly. I’m just glad all the hard work paid off.”
It was the first IMSA Prototype Challenge victory for Hindman and Brynjolfsson, who have previously won races together in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge. Hindman also won the 2019 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GT Daytona (GTD) title.
“It’s awesome to get a win so early in our evolution into the LMP3 category,” Brynjolfsson said. “I knew we had a great car. Trent showed that he was one of the fastest, or the fastest driver out there, and I was confident in our team and strategy. I had a really easy job just to be clean and that’s it. So, it was a pretty easy race for me and I give all the credit to Trent, the team and the car.”
Lindh and co-driver Dan Goldburg came home second in the No. 6 machine. Already poised for a podium result, Lindh moved into second place when McAleer served a drive-through penalty for passing under full-course caution.
Dakota Dickerson and Josh Sarchet completed the overall and P3-1 class podium with a third-place showing in the No. 54 MLT Motorsports Ligier. Naveen Rao and Matt Bell finished fourth in the No. 1 WIN Autosport Duqueine, while Kranz and co-driver Laurents Hoerr wound up fifth in the No. 21 entry.
In the P3-2 class, Francesco Melandri and Nigel Greensall claimed the victory in the No. 24 Sean Creech Motorsports Ligier JS P3. It was the first win in the series for both drivers.
“It means everything to me,” Melandri said. “It’s my first pro race. We’ve been practicing and wanted to run in 2020. We all know what happened there. So, it’s just fantastic to come out. Sean Creech Motorsport put a great car together for us, and I couldn’t be happier co-driving with Nigel successfully for the first time out.”
“It’s wonderful,” Greensall added. “I’ve been coaching Franceso for a little while. We’ve just been developing and developing and his skills are really coming on. He’s driving some fantastic stints. With Sean Creech, I’ve worked with him for over 10 years now. I love this Sebring circuit. It’s my favorite track in the world, I think. It feel like home.”
The 2021 IMSA Prototype Challenge six-race season reaches its halfway point with the next round, scheduled for May 14-16 as part of the Acura Sports Car Challenge weekend at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.