TROIS-RIVIÈRES, Quebec, Canada, Aug. 14 — Kris Wright looked like a veteran even though he was making his first start on the unforgiving street circuit in Trois-Rivières, Quebec on Sunday, as the 23-year-old driver from Pittsburgh, Pa. posted double podium finishes in the Mazda Prototype Challenge (MPC) class in the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda series.
By finishing second in class in both 45-minute races Sunday morning and afternoon as part of the Grand Prix of Trois-Rivières, unofficially Wright moved from third to second in the point standings with his JDC MotorSports entry sponsored by PPG and Esmark Steel Group. He now has six podium finishes in 11 races, including one victory.
Since the 10-turn Trois-Rivières circuit is laid out over city streets, concrete barriers encase the entire 1.53-mile course and there are few run-off areas. Sunday's doubleheader also presented two different track surfaces, as the course was wet but drying for Sunday morning's race, and totally dry for the second 45-minute race Sunday afternoon.
Wright's team chose rain Continental tires for the first race and slick Continentals for the second race. Wright said managing the different tire compounds during the changing track conditions in the morning and conserving the car's brakes in both events were vitally important.
He was involved in several key battles during both races, and he even pulled off the feat of spinning twice in the first race without hitting a wall or another competitor, not bringing out a caution flag, and continuing unscathed. "I was just learning where the limits were with these rain tires on a drying track," he said. "I got pushed into the wall at the start of the first race, but I just rubbed the wall; there was no damage," he added. "My goal was to finish both races and earn some points. We were able to do that, so I feel we did our job."
Wright started fourth overall and second in MPC in the first race on Sunday morning. The start was wild. Kyle Masson, the overall polesitter and the leader in MPC in both the race and the overall point standings, was one of the drivers who didn't fare well in the exchange. He fell back to 11th overall and sixth in class. Wright, on the other hand, moved up to third overall and first in the MPC class, although another MPC driver, Gary Gibson, was right behind him.
Wright held the class lead from lap one through lap 22, and at one point (lap 13) he had a 4.954-second lead over Gibson. With 18 minutes remaining in the 45-minute race, however, he spun on lap 22. He was able to continue without contact, but that gave the class lead to Gibson and now Wright was in second, 7.089 seconds behind.
Wright immediately began to cut Gibson's advantage, however. He set his fastest lap of the race with a 1:06.692 on lap 29 when he was just 1.022 behind Gibson, and by lap 33 he was pressuring him and only 0.378 behind.
On the following lap both Gibson and Wright passed LMP3 driver Colin Thompson, who was second overall. While third overall in the race, Wright was running lap times that were two-tenths faster than Gibson's, but on lap 36 he spun and continued again. He remained second in class but dropped to fifth overall, but he moved to fourth overall when Naj Husain had a problem on the last lap. When Wright took the checkered flag on lap 39 he was an entire lap ahead of the driver who finished third in MPC, Stuart Rettie.
What's more, the podium finish helped him gain on his main series rivals in the point standings. Masson finished sixth. The driver who was second in the standings going into this event, Wright's teammate, Tazio Ottis, didn't complete a lap due to a crash in Saturday's preliminaries and was credited with ninth in the first race.
Sunday afternoon's race was less chaotic, but once again Wright was one of the stars due to his good battles throughout the event.
He started sixth overall and third in class. He passed the driver who was second in his class, Rettie, on a restart working lap five to nail down the position he'd eventually finish in. He had great pace too, as by lap 15 he'd set the fastest lap of the race for his class. He continued to set faster lap times than the class leader, Masson, in an effort to catch him. Wright set his fastest lap of the race on lap 21 with a 1:04.157. Although Masson got the fastest lap of the race on lap 27 and Wright wasn't quite able to draw up to him, when Masson passed Husain on lap 26, Wright had another good battle with that LMP3 driver. With nothing to gain by passing a driver that wasn't in his class, however, he backed off near the end of the race to save his tires and brakes and secure his second podium finish of the day. The race ended under a full-course caution, but Wright was 32.434 seconds ahead of the driver who finished third in MPC, Ottis, on the last green-flag lap.
"You have to save the brakes here as much as possible," Wright explained later. "I was saving my brakes most of the race until I got close enough to Kyle. Then he got past Raj's LMP3 car. I had a good battle with Raj but when my brakes started to go away a little, I backed off and let him go. It just wasn't worth it to risk the podium finish.
"It was a really good week considering it was my first time here, my first time on wet tires on a drying track, and the fact that our pace was right with Kyle several times," he continued. "I really have to thank the JDC MotorSports crew. They were up until 2:30 a.m. repairing my teammate's car after he had an accident. Despite that they still made the time to go through my car thoroughly, and they gave me a really good car today. They did an unbelievable job this weekend."
The races will be broadcast on prime time, 8 p.m. to 9 p.m., on Fox Sports 2 on Thursday, Sept. 14.
The Prototype Challenge season finale is scheduled for Oct. 4-7 during the Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta in Braselton, Ga.
"Now we'll go on to Road Atlanta and see if we can give Kyle a run for his money there," Wright said.
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