Sebring, Fla. (15 March 2021) - After a day of unfortunate circumstances, Jr III (“Junior Three”) Racing completed its weekend at Sebring International Raceway on Saturday - the second stop on the 2021 IMSA Prototype Challenge calendar.
The No. 3 Copps Industries Ligier JS P320 of Greg and Eric Palmer led the two Jr III Racing entries with a 12th place result, as the No. 33 Airbnb Ligier JS P320 of Ari and Natasha Balogh were classified 15th at the finish.
Saturday began with a 15-minute qualifying session to set the grid for the one hour, 45-minute race. Just two minutes into qualifying, the red flag was deployed as IMSA officials called the field of prototypes to pit lane. With just a few minutes available to set their starting position, Ari Balogh laid down the 10th fastest lap, while Greg Palmer was unable to get a lap in which forced the No. 3 to start for the back of the grid in 16th.
The Jr III Racing crew was primed to work up the running order as the green flag was waved.
Racing the No. 3 Copps Industries machine, Greg Palmer battled door-to-door with a competitor in the first four corners on Lap 11. A spin in Turn Five left the No. 3 LMP3 with front wing damage, but Palmer was able to continue. Setting a string of personal best lap times at Sebring, Palmer raced forward to run as high as sixth before handing over the controls to his son, Eric Palmer on Lap 24.
Tasked with bringing the No. 3 home to the checkered flag, the younger Palmer reentered the field in eighth. A subsequent pit stop under caution to make repairs on the No. 3 Ligier saw Eric Palmer looking to make up lost ground when he returned to action. The practice and preparation that the young college student has been undertaking were evident as he set times that were over one second faster than he had done at the track in the past.
Holding on to make it to the finish on the notoriously bumpy circuit, Eric Palmer crossed the finish line in 12th. A post-race penalty for incident responsibility of the early on-track contact moved the No. 3 Copps Industries Ligier back into 13th.
“With the damage we had, Turn One was especially hard with the car not gripping to the track surface at all,” said Eric Palmer. “Our overall downforce, aero and grip of the car were impacted which caused us to slide through all of the corners. When I got into the car, I was first trying to catch people to make up positions. I pushed the No. 3 Copps Industries Ligier as much as I could, but 12th was the best we could do given the circumstances.”
ri Balogh took the green flag from 10th in the No. 33 Airbnb Ligier. The elder Balogh maneuvered through the 17-turn course, running as high as fifth before bringing the Ligier to pit lane on Lap 24 for a driver change, fuel and four new Michelin tires.
Natasha Balogh left the pits and took to track on board the No. 33 Ligier, but her run ended shortly thereafter as a rear tire lock up on cold tires forced her off track and caused an early retirement for the Airbnb entry.
“The Jr III Racing team is an incredible group to be around and work with each race weekend,” said Natasha Balogh. “We were so close to showing what we are capable of doing on track, but luck was not on our side today. I feel for the crew and we all are disappointed to have an early retirement but I am okay and we will regroup. Our focus is on Mid-Ohio now.”
Jr III Racing will head to Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for a two-day test before the IMSA Prototype Challenge field heads to the Ohio course for the mid-season stop on May 14-15th.