The IMSA Prototype Challenge kicked off its 2022 season at Daytona, with Courtney Crone claiming a career best finish in the series in wet-dry-wet conditions.
Courtney Crone returned last weekend to IMSA Prototype Challenge, having made her debut in the series in 2021. Despite her young age, Crone already has a wide variety of experience in diverse forms of racing – from sports cars to single seaters and midget cars. She was part of the W Series selections in late 2019, as well as shortlisted for the IMSA Diversity Program. The 20 year old driver joined Jr III Racing for the 2022 IMSA Prototype Challenge season, sharing the Ligier JS P320 with Terry Olson. At the Daytona season opener last weekend, Crone wasn't the only female driver on track, as Hanna Zellers will also be entering the full season with Ave Motorsports with GRS Autosport. Zellers, who had stepped on the podium of the 24 Hours of Dubai just a few days before, shared the #61 Ligier with George Staikos. Zellers had to battle a physical issue before the weekend, as she was not feeling well following the trip to Dubai: "This week started out rough as I wasn’t sure if I would be able to drive because I picked up a nasty flu in Dubai", she wrote. "But Thursday morning I showed signs of recovery so the weekend was a go." Part of the Roar Before the Rolex 24, the Prototype Challenge's curtain-raiser was the only endurance race of the year, with a 3-hour race kicking off the season at the world-famous Daytona International Speedway. A total of 20 cars hit the track in rainy conditions on Saturday, with Gidley/Koreiba starting from pole position in the JDC Motorsports Duqueine alongside Dickerson/Sarchet in the MLT Motorsports Ligier. George Staikos put the #61 Ave Motorsports Ligier in P15. Just behind them, Terry Olson qualified the #3 Ligier he shares with Courtney Crone in 16th position. The extremely tricky conditions resulted in a series of spins and off-track moments for half the field in the opening laps: Kasemets led the pack in the #60 Wulver Racing Ligier, having started from third. He was followed by Gidley (#23 JDC Duqueine) and Tony Ave in the #44 Ave Motorsports. More LMP3 machines spun or hit the wall by lap 3, and a Full Course Yellow halted the action when Saurino crashed in the #57 Ophanium Motorsports Ligier. Terry Olson, meanwhile, had started on rain tyres and managed to stay out of trouble, steadily making his way up the order until P11. George Staikos settled in 14th position in the hectic first stages. Kasemets extended his early lead, but conditions dramatically changed when he track started to dry during the first hour: Gidley pitted and went on the dry tyre, leaving Alexander Koreiba behind the wheel. In his stint, Koreiba passed George Hamilton and pulled away, putting almost the entire field one lap down. Jr III Racing opted to remain on wet weather tyres after their first stop, as Olson had managed to recover up until third place. With two hours remaining, Courtney Crone got in the driving seat and - having initially rejoined in P6, she gained the top-five despite the drying track. Meanwhile, Hanna Zellers had also started her stint in the #61 Ligier and held P16. Unfortunately, her weekend went from bad to worse when she had a technical issue at Turn 6 and her car came to a halt. She returned to the pits and retired. "My co-driver George kept progressing all weekend and did great in tricky conditions." – Zellers said. "Unfortunately we had something break in T6 in the drive train so we were unable to continue and we had to retire." After a second caution, Crone was called in again and went for slicks. The yellow flag allowed the cars that had not pitted yet to get back into the lead lap – including Bruce Hamilton and Tonis Kasemets. The latter returned behind the wheel for the final stint and quickly moved up the order: he would claim the lead with 22 minutes to go, having passed Koreiba at the Bus Stop Chicane. Koreiba lost second place to Patrick Kujala as well – the Finn having gained significantly in the final stop. Conditions became tricky once again in the final minutes, as the rain returned to hit the track. Courtney Crone had run consistently in fifth place and kept cool, perfectly managing the difficult conditions. She crossed the finish line in P5, securing her best result in the series. “It was a great day and even better to be able to take home a solid result” – commented Crone. “This is my best result in IMSA Prototype Challenge ever and I am happy to have done it with Terry (Olson) and the Jr III Racing team." "The track conditions were ever changing and hard to navigate but I put my head down and focused on what I needed to do. A big thank you to my team Jr III Racing, my teammate Terry Olson, and all of my supporters that helped me get here. Without Cusick Motorsports, Gnarly Jerky, Myobrace, Lohla Sport, and Bob Simmons Dealerships I wouldn’t have been able to be in this position.” Olson – at his third Top-5 with the team - also had words of praise for Crone's performance: "She did a stellar job and I am so proud to be her teammate", he stated. "The entire Jr III Racing team did a phenomenal job and executed perfectly in the pits. A great team effort and just the beginning for us.” The next IMSA Prototype Challenge race will be at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, in 15 weeks' time: Courtney Crone and Hanna Zellers will in fact return behind the wheel of their #3 and #61 Ligier LMP3 prototypes on May 13-15th.