16-year old a strong contender

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SEBRING, Florida: Although only 16-years old, Austin Versteeg enters the 2016 Mazda Prototype Lites Presented by Cooper Tires a veteran and for many reasons, because he has the experience, composure and talent to be a strong contender for the Lites 1 Drivers Championship.

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Versteeg, from Sandy, Utah, has moved to reigning Lites 1 Team Champion JDC Motorsports for his second season in the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) Official Development Series. He was one of the breakout young stars in the 2015 championship, finishing fourth in the season standings despite jumping to the powerful, high-downforce cars straight from a stellar karting career.

Lessons learned last year have set the table for a possible championship challenge this season for Versteeg, who was quickest overall in testing February 23-24 at Sebring International Raceway in the No. 7 JDC Motorsports car. The season gets underway with the first two rounds March 16-18 during the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh From Florida.

“I definitely think I have matured,” said Versteeg. “Especially by the end of the season, having that year under my belt, it was such a big learning experience, making that big jump from karting to IMSA Prototype Lites.”

Versteeg hopes to make the next step in his career with JDC. The team has won the last two Team and Driver Championships in Lites 1, with Misha Goikhberg taking the title in 2014 and Kenton Koch winning in 2015.

One of Versteeg’s top challengers almost certainly will be JDC teammate Clark Toppe, who won three races last year as a rookie and finished second to Koch in the standings. Toppe is the top returning driver in the championship.

They may be new teammates, but Versteeg and Toppe have known each other and been friends since they first met as karting rivals in 2008.

“Of course, when we go out on track, we want to beat each other,” Versteeg said. “But that’s just what it is. That’s what racing is. I think it’s a really good atmosphere to have Clark on here with me, him pushing me, me pushing him.”

THE TIMES

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