IMSA Diverse Driver Development Scholarship winner Courtney Crone claimed her first career podium in LMP3 machinery after the inaugural weekend of the IMSA VP Racing SportsCar Challenge at Daytona.
At her third season in LMP3 prototypes, Courtney Crone was among the protagonists of the historic inaugural weekend of the brand-new IMSA VP Racing SportsCar Challenge, which replaces the Prototype Challenge.
The new format features two 45-minute races with no driver change and, alongside the LMP3 machines, a GT4-based GSX class adds the multiclass flavour.
21-year-old Courtney Crone emerged as the 2023 IMSA Diverse Driver Development Scholarship winner and therefore secured funding for a full-time drive on the IMSA platform.
Crone joined Forty7 Motorsports at the wheel of the bright red Gainsco-sponsored #99 Duqueine D08 LMP3, in her first solo campaign after two seasons in the Prototype Challenge, where Crone scored six top-10 finishes, with a personal best of fifth overall at Daytona last year.
Coming back to Daytona International Speedway where she had traditionally performed well, Crone had a brilliant start of her weekend, as the Californian ran in the top three for most of practice sessions and then qualified the Forty7 Motorsports Duqueine in third place - proving that the young woman had what it takes to fight for the podium at the iconic racetrack on the ROAR Before the Rolex 24 weekend.
While sharing the front row, Bijoy Garg (Jr III Racing) and Dan Goldburg (JDC Motorsports) overshoot the braking point at Turn 1 and went deep, with Garg ending up in a spin; Courtney Crone couldn't capitalize on her third place position as she locked up in order to avoid the spinning car in front of her. As Goldburg managed to emerge in the lead, Lance Willsey passed Crone for second - but the driver of the red #99 Duqueine then fought back on the second lap; after a wheel to wheel under braking, Crone had to cut across the grass at the Le Mans Chicane, dropping to fifth. Even though she had not hit Willsey, Crone was deemed at fault and she received a questionable drive through penalty. Crone served her drive through on lap 6 and dropped to the tail end of the pack, then caught back the LMP3 entries approximately mid-way through the race. Goldburg meanwhile had checked out in the LMP3 class, while huge battles animated the GSX field: Billy Griffin led in the Kohr Motorsports Mustang after slipping to third on the first lap, while the BMW M4 GT4s behind him traded positions and banged wheels on more than one occasion. Having climbed back to third overall, Willsey spun at Turn 6 and had to do it all again from seventh. Crone meanwhile was the fourth fastest car on track and overtook Kunzle's MLT Motorsports Ligier for eighth place, before she continued the recovery drive by chasing Willsey. The sprint race format, though, did not allow Crone to make up more positions, as she crossed the finish line in P8 after a very unfortunate first race of the season. "Today was just one of those days" - she commented on her social media. "Passing for P2 and got hit, then penalized for getting hit. But the incident was deemed not my fault after officials reviewed it", she summed up after the race. "I am bummed having to start out our year on the back foot, but we will get another chance tomorrow!" Goldburg took a dominant win, over 20 seconds ahead of Thienes and Garg - who could recover to third after the first lap tangle and set the fastest lap of the race. Mirco Shultis and Keith McGovern rounded out the top five - the latter winning a lengthy duel with Scott Neal. The Mustang of Billy Griffin won the inaugural race in the series' history for the GSX class, preceding the Accelerating Performance Aston Martin of Moisey Uretsky and the Auto Technic Racing BMW M4 GT4 of Rob Walker, after Patrick Wilmot received a post-race penalty.
But Courtney Crone was back for redemption on Sunday, as she again slotted into third place on the grid of the second 45-minute race, behind Goldburg and Garg.
Courtney had a spectacular start and grabbed second with a clean move at Turn 1, before she started to chase the JDC Motorsports Duqueine of Dan Goldburg.
The Full Course Yellow was soon deployed at the end of the first lap though, when the #54 LMP3 Ligier driven by Adrian Kunzle made contact with the tyre barriers at Turn 6. Kelly Moss Racing's Sebastian Carazo had meanwhile taken the lead in the GSX class, ahead of Uretsky and race 1 winner Griffin.
The green flag waved again with 36 minutes to go: a contact at Turn 1 involving the Duqueine of Schultis left the #18 prototype with bodywork damage but the German driver could continue, while Neal also slipped off track and down the order. While Courtney Crone had a good restart and stayed close to Goldburg, Garg was then able to pass the #99 Forty7 Motorsports LMP3 later in the same lap.
There was action all over the GSX field as well, with positions from fourth down to eighth changing by the minute. The top three in class were also separated by a few tenths of a second: Carazo, Uretsky and Griffin engaged in a spectacular battle that also allowed Wilmot to join the class front-runners. Griffin and Wilmot both passed Uretsky at the Le Mans chicane on lap 13.
Ahead, Goldburg set the fastest lap of the race and held first from Garg and Crone. Just as Garg had managed to catch Goldburg, he spun at the chicane while trying to lap the GSX leaders and dropped to fifth; Crone was through and up to second, but she also had drama on the same lap, as she had to avoid a collision between Uretsky and Wilmot, who battled for second in GSX. Crone had to take to the grass and lost second in LMP3 to Brian Thienes.
Crone, though, was faster than Thienes in the final 15 minutes of the race and, lap after lap, she closed the gap with the US Racetronics driver - but unfortunately ran into traffic and eventually lost the chance to prepare a move.
Goldburg swept the inaugural weekend of the VP Racing Sportscar Challenge with a double win at Daytona, ahead of Thienes and Courtney Crone - who made up for Saturday's bad luck and climbed on the podium, claiming her personal best result in LMP3 machinery.
Billy Griffin won back to back in GSX for Kohr Motorsports, having found a way past the Porsche 718 GT4 RS of Sebastian Carazo on the final lap. They preceded Rob Walker, Tim Probert and Todd Coleman.
"What a weekend! Capped it off with a P3!" - Crone wrote. "Was in P2 for a while but got caught up in some unlucky GSX traffic having to avoid one spinning. Just not enough laps to get close enough to second", she added.
"I am so grateful to be on the Daytona podium, and I cannot thank my sponsors and partners enough for making this happen. And of course Forty7 Motorsports for all of the hard work and amazing car."
Courtney Crone now sits fourth in the drivers' championship standings after the first double-header - and will aim to continue the positive trend at Sebring International Raceway, on March 11-12.