Young American driver Matt McMurry stepped into a prototype for the very first time this past weekend at the high speed Road America circuit, and despite his total unfamiliarity with the higher downforce cars and substantially higher top speeds, he finished an impressive 6th and 5th in the two races featuring 22 and 21 entries respectively.
“We were so impressed with Matt and how he methodically built speed. He was fast straight away in practice 1 with the eleventh best time, and by practice 3 was fourth fastest, just a second off the track record,” said Brent O’Neil, director of Performance Tech Racing, which runs teams in the Copper Tires Protoype Lites Championship and The American Le Mans Series.
The Amazing Flameless Candle-sponsored entry experienced a fuel pickup issue throughout qualifying, stunting possibilities and leaving McMurry seventh for the start of race 1. He would start fifth for race 2, based on second best qualifying time or best time from race 1.
“Qualifying was disappointing because we had the speed to be somewhere between third or fifth, and to be in a better position for a podium during the races. In a spec series like this one, qualifying position is critical,” said McMurry. “Even so, it was a good experience to have to fight for race positions and work my way forward. I really enjoyed it and learned a lot.”
The 30-minute race 1 was marred by repeated cautions, offering only about five green flag laps. McMurry was passed by an Antonio Downs during a restart, but managed a re-pass up the hill to turn 6, and then passed another competitor later. He made a valiant late brake try on the final corner for 5thplace. But the inside line didn’t provide grunt for the drag race to the checker, and he finished 6th.
In the longer 45-minute race 2, once McMurry shook the cars attacking from behind, he ran down Daniel Goldberg and Mikhail Goikhberg, reducing a 4-second gap to 0.7 at the finish, and putting on quite a show for what was the best battle on the track at the time.
“Most everybody in this series has 20 or more Protoype Lites races under their belts, not to mention experience in The American Le Mans Series and many other top level leagues. For Matt to come in here, run in a car that has much higher speed and downforce than what he’s used to, and to be an immediate podium contender was nothing short of amazing,” added Jonatan Jorge, driver coach for Performance Tech Racing. “He’s just 15 years old.”
McMurry is also competing in his first season of the Cooper Tires U.S. F2000 Championship powered by Mazda, which is part of the Mazda Road to Indy program. He scored his first top 10 finish in the ultra-competitive open wheel series at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course two weekends ago, amidst a field where the average age of drivers is 18 years old. In 2012, he participated in Formula Skip Barber as a 14-year-old and had eight podiums, again against older competition.
Photo by Richard Prince.