ALTON, Va. – Even Stevan McAleer didn’t think he could do it.
When he spun out of the lead in slippery conditions behind the safety car with 32 minutes remaining in the one-hour, 45-minute IMSA Prototype Challenge race at Virginia Int’l Raceway, McAleer didn’t think there was any way he’d be standing atop the victory podium spraying champagne. But his No. 43 Robillard Racing Norma M30 was fast.
That was proven earlier Saturday when the Scot put the car on the pole position. And while he surrendered the lead to Mike Skeen on the first green-flag lap in the race, McAleer remained in contention.
The spin handed the lead to Kyle Masson in the No. 19 Performance Tech Motorsports Ligier JS P3, but McAleer managed to get going again, losing only two spots. When the green flag came back out with under 13 minutes remaining, McAleer quickly got past Nikko Reger in the No. 55 Forty7 Motorsports Norma M30 and into second place, and then out-dragged Masson down the back straight to retake the lead.
A final full-course caution period bunched up the field behind McAleer, but he pulled away at the drop of the green flag to win by 1.439 seconds over Skeen. It was McAleer’s second IMSA Prototype Challenge victory of the season and his first since Sebring International Raceway in March.
“I knew we were fast,” McAleer said. “There was a couple of cars in front, but that was the quickest 360 I’ve ever done in my life. I was trying everything not to go around again because that would have been it. I came on the radio and said, ‘Just tell me Mike and Austin (McCusker) are not in front of me,’ and they said, ‘They’re behind.’ I said, ‘OK. Let’s put a little bit of a crazy last 10 minutes in and see what we can do.’”
Skeen led most of the race in the No. 23 Gilbert/Korthoff Motorsports Norma M30. He was the last one to make his pit stop, which came with 42 minutes remaining, but he rejoined the race well behind the leaders. He benefited from late full-course cautions to get close, but came home second in what was just his second IMSA Prototype Challenge race of 2019.
While the top two finishers ran the entire race solo, Masson shared the No. 19 entry with Canadian driver Dean Baker. They ended up sharing the final spot on the podium with a third-place showing.
No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports Norma M30 co-drivers McCusker and Rodrigo Pflucker came into the race with a healthy lead in the overall LMP3 championship standings, and while their eighth-place finish was not spectacular, they maintained a healthy lead with just one race remaining.
McCusker and Pflucker now lead No. 4 ANSA Motorsports Ligier JS P3 co-drivers Leo Lamelas and Neil Alberico, who fell out of the race early and finished 22nd, by 27 points, 150-123. McAleer moved from fifth to third in the standings and is 29 points behind heading to the season-ending race at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta on Friday, Oct. 11.
In the Bronze Cup class, Kris Wilson – making his first IMSA Prototype Challenge start – came away with the victory in the No. 3 Jr III Racing Ligier JS P3.
“This is my maiden voyage in this car and with this team,” Wilson said. “It was great, interesting conditions. Dry on the front, wet on the back, lots of people going off, even on the pace lap.
“I’ve been in GT cars for almost 20 years now. The last time I was in a prototype was in the ‘90s, so it was a lot different than nowadays. It’s a different driving style. It’s about trying to twist my brain around and figure out how to drive this kind of car again, but I don’t know if the old prototypes were anything like these. These are just awesome. There’s so much aero and everything else.”