An emotional day for the opening of the IMSA Prototype Challenge 2022 season ended with an exciting winner.
Veteran driver Tonis Kasemets collected 60 Wulver Racing Ligier JS P320s from a lap below to win the three-hour mixed race at Daytona International Speedway. Afterwards, the tearful Kasemet dedicated the victory to Priit Pallos, a close friend whose funeral was also held on Saturday. Pallo was for a long time the head of the automobile federation in his Estonia and of Kasemets.
The return from Kasemets and co-driver Bruce Hamilton broke a conclusion of the storybook for no. 23 AL Autosport with JDC MotorSports Duqueine D08. Memo Gidley, who suffered serious injuries in an accident eight years ago during Rolex 24 in Daytona, and teammate Alexander Koreiba, making his first start of any kind on the track, dominated most of the forward race than to settle for a still inspiring third. the end of the country.
This race is for Priit Pallo. We had a legend dead in Estonia, the funeral took place today, Kasemets said. This (victory) is for him.
Gidley kicked him off the pole position he won in Friday’s qualifiers, but quickly handed over the lead to Kasemets in wet conditions. The track began to dry out during the first hour, so much so that Gidley radioed his crew to switch to excellent Michelin tires in the dry state when Koreiba took the wheel with just under two hours left.
Despite his lack of experience in LMP3, Koreiba exploded the competition and left the entire field one lap down in the next hour. He made his last pit stop with 58 minutes left, the team decided to double the same Michelin group. Moments later, the second and final full-course care for an off-road vehicle was ordered. He allowed those cars that had not made their final stops, including Kasemets’s teammate Bruce Hamilton, to return to the first lap and get under the yellows.
Kasemets replaced Hamilton for the last period after light rain started falling again. The 47-year-old’s vast experience in prototypes and excellent conditions shone through. He quickly climbed from sixth place to the restart and did a quick job passing the newborn Koreiba to lead the race heading towards the bus station 22 minutes ahead.
Patrick Kujala, who shared No. 77 US RaceTronics Ligier with Brian Thienes, overtook Koreiba for second place with 17 minutes remaining. Kasemets won by 3,928 seconds on the checkered flag.
Bruce did a devilish job in his period as we asked him, Kasemets said. It was phenomenal. The car was tied, the team was incredible. We never gave up, we made a bold strategy, completely off the field this week. We took care of our things; we did not care what anyone else did. He was rewarded.
An element of the bold strategy was for Kasemets to start the race, something Hamilton usually does.
In that middle period, Hamilton said, my job was to make sure I took him home and gave him something to finish. I did and it worked. I’m still in shock, I do not know what to say. Daytona is a fantastic place!
Koreiba was still delighted with third place in his Prototype Challenge debut.
“I thought it would be a quiet cruise and we would set off towards the sunset,” said the 24-year-old from Missouri for his first period. But when we got that yellow and it piled up on the field, I knew it was going to be a tough ride for us. I did not know it would be so difficult. The overall grip was definitely lacking in the second phase, especially with the mixed conditions that came. I just got addicted to it in the end.
For Gidley, nothing could extinguish the joy of running a prototype back on the 3.56-mile Daytona Road. Nor seeing a possible victory that slips into slippery conditions.
I feel good! he said. It was definitely a last minute deal and I have not been back to Daytona for a long time. And I have not driven a prototype for a long time either. To get back with a limited amount of exercise, it was just great to get back in the car.
I felt comfortable and climbing on the pole was wonderful. I just felt good, then to have such a strong car in the race. Very happy for AL Autosport and it’s good to be with JDC. I have known those guys for a long time, but I have never competed with them as a team. It’s like a dream come true now.
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