Norman Nato laps Road Atlanta in Tequila Patron ESM Nissan DPi
Norman Nato ended his first day competing in the WeatherTech Championship with the fastest overall lap. | Photo: Phillip Abbott / IMSA

It took just three IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship practice sessions for Norman Nato to find the top of the timesheet during his debut event in the series.

A closely contested third practice outing ahead of Saturday’s 10-hour season finale at Road Atlanta concluded with France native Nato at the head of the 14-car Prototype division.

On the penultimate of 55 laps during the nighttime session for the No. 2 Nissan Onroak DPi from Tequila Patron ESM, Nato turned in a 1:11.457 lap. As the new mark to beat after three practices, the lap gave the No. 2 entry an advantage of nine-hundredths of a second over its sister car, the No. 22.

Outgoing ESM driver Pipo Derani completed the sweep of the top two spots for the Nissan-powered DPi challengers ahead of Ricky Taylor, Filipe Albuquerque and Jonathan Bomarito who ensured each DPi manufacturer was represented in the top five.

The Acura, Cadillac and Mazda hardware pedaled by those drivers were 0.116, 0.045 and 0.003 seconds apart from one another on their best laps, creating one of the most impressive results sheets of the 2018 WeatherTech Championship season.

Though separated from the lead group by 0.342 seconds, the second Mazda Team Joest entry was sixth and followed by the AFS/PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports and Wayne Taylor Racing entries — 0.056 and a mere 0.006 seconds further back.

After leading the way in Practice 2, Colin Braun landed 10th in the ORECA 07 fielded by CORE autosport as the DPis excelled under the night sky.

Corvette Sweeps Top GTLM Positions

Ford occupied the top positions with its pair of GT Le Mans machines to begin Thursday’s running but Corvette Racing returned the favor by day’s end, lowering the fastest lap of the day in the process.

Tommy Milner and the No. 4 Corvette C7.R led the way with a 1:17.847 on the car’s 46th of 55 laps which saw Thursday’s previous best GTLM time be slashed by nearly half a second.

At 0.281 seconds off the pace of the leading Corvette, Ryan Briscoe ensured a Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT ended the session in the top three while Alexander Sims and Sebastien Bourdais completed the top five in the leading BMW Team RLL entry and the second Ford.

The nine-car GTLM division is the only one of the three to have all its competitors lap within the same second during Practice 3.

P1 Motorsports Rises in GTD

P1 Motorsports, competing in its fourth WeatherTech Championship race of the season, traded 14th- and ninth-place results in the first two Motul Petit Le Mans practices for a chart-topping effort in Practice 3 with its Mercedes-AMG GT3.

Felipe Fraga was the driver who put the car atop the class of 14 cars during the night outing and did so by 0.106 seconds over Sheldon van der Linde in the Audi R8 LMS GT3 from Montaplast by Land-Motorsport.

The fastest full-season GTD car was the No. 14 Lexus RC F GT3 which landed third thanks to Kyle Marcelli’s fastest lap.

The cars in championship contention from Paul Miller Racing and Meyer Shank Racing were 14th and ninth, respectively.

The trio of classes will return to the track at 11:15 p.m. EDT Friday for a final practice outing before the final qualifying of the year commences at 5 p.m.