BRASELTON, Ga., Oct. 6 — Kris Wright came to Road Atlanta with a job to do on Thursday and Friday in the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda season finale doubleheader. Despite some mayhem around him, the young star from Pittsburgh kept his wits about him, recorded two class podium finishes of second in both 45-minute races with his JDC MotorSports No. 7 sponsored by iHeartRadio and MasterTech, and secured second place in the Mazda Prototype Challenge (MPC) division’s championship.
The twin runner-up finishes made five consecutive second-place results for Wright, who had eight podium finishes in total during the season, including one victory this summer at Watkins Glen International in Watkins Glen, N.Y. He started the Road Atlanta doubleheader with only a one-point lead over his teammate, Tazio Ottis, in the MPC driver point standings, but he ended up with a seven-point advantage, 177 to 170, after 13 races in a season that began in March with another second-place finish in the season opener at Sebring, Fla.
The 2017 championship was out of reach, but Wright was determined to stay in front of Ottis to secure the runner-up honors despite being a rookie in this very competitive series. The track was new to him too, as he’d tested there once in another car but never raced on the demanding, 2.54-mile, 12-turn road course near Atlanta.
He got the job done. Ottis was 0.063 ahead of Wright in the first practice session on Wednesday, but that was the only time he edged ahead. Wright had better results in the other practice session and qualifying on Thursday, and he finished ahead of him in both races on Thursday afternoon and Friday morning.
Wright qualified second in class with a time of 1:21.849 to earn the second starting spot for Thursday’s race, with a Le Mans Prototype 3 (LMP3) car between he and Ottis. There were several yellows in the race but there continued to be a buffer of at least car between the pair, sometimes two, until there were only two minutes remaining in the race.
At that point the LMP3 car between them, which was driven by Michael Watt, had a problem, which put Ottis right behind Wright. Ottis still couldn’t get by, however, and Wright took the checkered flag 1.099 seconds before Ottis did on lap 28.
Wright set his fastest lap of the race 10 laps earlier with a 1:22.171.
“We all struggled during the first race; I think it was due to all the different types of tire compounds on the track since we raced later in the day,” Wright noted about his first race. “The times were off at least by a second. It’s challenging to pass at this track as well so that added to the intensity of the on-track battles.”
Wright started second in class in Friday’s race too, but this time there were two other MPC drivers, Robert Masson and Michal Chlumecky, between he and Ottis. All sorts of problems erupted at the start to bring out a caution flag, and Wright dropped to fifth in class while narrowly avoiding an accident.
Ottis was sixth for the restart on lap five with 34 minutes remaining in the race, but it didn’t really matter. Wright passed Chlumecky, Stuart Rettie and Robert Masson within two laps to regain second by lap seven, and he was still in that position when the checkered dropped to end the 2017 season on lap 27. Gary Gibson ran in third place in class, three or four seconds behind Wright, but he was under pressure from the driver who was fourth in class, Rettie. Gibson succumbed to the pressure on lap 22 and went off course at the exit of Turn 7 to give third to Rettie, but Wright was 1.512 seconds ahead of Rettie at the checkered on lap 27. Ottis placed fourth in class.
Wright’s best lap in Friday’s race was a 1:21.782 on lap eight.
“My car was very good in Friday’s race,” Wright said. “I went from second to fifth at the start though. Two cars split me at the start and went around me. I really wanted to keep my car in one piece, so I let them go. They were bumping into each other as we went up the hill. One spun out in front of me, and I had to avoid him; that was my closest call.
“I knew I was faster than they were, so I wasn’t worried,” he continued. “I just tried to drive a clean race. On the restart I passed one guy in Turn 5, and the other two going into Turn 10, to get back into second.
“I just wanted to finish both races, and we did,” he concluded. “I want to thank our new sponsor, iHeartRadio, as well as MasterTech for their support all year. I had an excellent year with JDC MotorSports, and I want to thank them for their hard work too. I hope to work with them in the future too.”
The doubleheader supported Saturday's Motul Petit Le Mans for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
The Prototype Challenge races at Road Atlanta will be broadcast live on imsa.com and imsa.tv. A tape-delayed broadcast on FOX Sports 2 will enjoy prime-time coverage from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 26. All times are Eastern.