Daytona Beach, Fla. (23 January 2021) - Jr III (“Junior Three”) Racing battled back from early adversity in the Scouts of America 145 at Daytona International Speedway to take the checkered flag on the opening round of the 2021 IMSA Prototype Challenge (IPC) season on Saturday.
The No. 3 Copps Industries Ligier JS P320 of Greg and Eric Palmer led the Jr III Racing lineup with a tenth-place finish on Saturday. The team’s sister entry of Ari and Natasha Balogh came home 12th in the No. 33 Airbnb Ligier JS P320.
Qualifying was slated on Saturday in what was a short two-day event during the IMSA’s Roar Before the 24 weekend. Entering two LMP3 machines which featured one father-son pair - Greg & Eric Palmer - and one father-daughter pair - Ari & Natasha Balogh - Jr III Racing extended its family focus as the 2021 season officially kicked off.
Fathers, Greg Palmer and Ari Balogh, qualified their respective cars in the 15-minute session. With rain arriving just ahead of the session, the pair navigated a wet racing surface with Balogh completing his first IPC qualifying effort in 12th, with Palmer close behind in 14th on the starting grid.
As the field filed into turn one at the start of the one hour, 45-minute race, the Jr III Racing drivers looked to make forward progress to open the stint.
But just as Balogh was making progress in the No. 33 Ligier, an off track excursion caused front nose damage and brought out the first full course caution.
Balogh took to pit for a replacement nose, and returned to the track three laps down under green flag conditions. Balogh utilized the open track and a large gap to the competitor behind to push the Ligier during the remaining 49-minutes of his opening stint.
The elder Balogh handed over the mended No. 33 to daughter Natasha Balogh on Lap 24. The 21-year-old rookie headed back out to the 2.5-mile course in 12th. Balogh returned to pit lane on Lap 25 to serve a drive through penalty for a pit lane speed violation.
Taking her first professional race laps at Daytona, Balogh ran door-to-door and learned race running alongside the sister No. 3 Ligier for 16 laps. Despite a quick off in the closing moments of the race as the track conditions continued to change, Balogh quickly recovered to cross the finish line in 12th.
“Today was incredible,” said Natasha Balogh. “I only had maybe 45-minutes of track time before our race, so I am very happy with how I performed today. My goal was to be consistent and I was able to do that while inching closer to the marks I want to hit. There is a lot I want to work on physically and mentally to prepare myself for the next time I am in the car. But to experience this series and this track this weekend was a phenomenal time.”
Jr III Racing’s second entry saw Greg Palmer navigate the early caution periods to advance seven positions to sit seventh. It wasn’t long after that when two competitors ahead collided leaving Palmer with nowhere to go. Escaping without major damage,
Palmer did have to return to pit lane to fix slight damage to the right side of the nose. Quick action by the Jr III Racing crew allowed the No. 3 to return to track repaired and remaining on the lead lap.
The elder Palmer worked his way back through the field to tenth position before handing over the car to his son Eric Palmer on Lap 25.
ric Palmer utilized the high line atop the 31-degree banking and executed a clean pass through lapped traffic. The second-year Jr III driver pushed the Ligier’s capabilities for 29 laps and gained two-seconds with each lap around the 2.5-mile track. Palmer brought the No. 3 Copps Industries Ligier across the finish line 10th in class to continue the Palmers streak of top-ten finishes in IMSA Prototype Challenge competition.
“The biggest thing I have learned this weekend is that the new Ligier is a tough car!” said the elder Palmer, Greg. “We had early contact that caused us to lose the front dive plane but we were still able to drive it while running competitive laps. The car is remarkably strong and predictable, which is all I could ask for as a driver. It felt great to be back on track competing in IMSA again. Each time we are able to in the car our driving skills continue to get better. I am already looking forward to Sebring.”
“When I got into the car there was some damage that I wasn’t sure how it was going to affect the aero of the car,” said Eric Palmer. “Luckily it did not change and I was able to get up to speed quickly. Racing at Daytona is very intense especially when you go up into the high line like I did today. A high line pass is something you always see on TV, but being able to be the one making that pass was truly a highlight of my racing career.”
The Jr III Racing Ligier stable will head to Sebring International Raceway for the second round of the IMSA Prototype Challenge season on March 17-19th.