The story of people taking up racing in their youth is pretty common, and often driven by parents. Karts, dirt bikes, quarter midgets, mini dwarf cars and Bandoleros all have legions of young drivers learning the ropes before they’re even old enough to hold a state driver’s license.
The story of drivers who were well into adulthood before they ever got on track is probably just as common, and any of NASA’s spec and budget-minded classes are full of people who can tell that story. However, if you’re George Staikos and your budget is a little more, well, generous, the story is the same, but the car he chose was a bit of an outlier.
“I guess the first time I ever sat in a race car, I was 40 years old. I had been doing track days for several years. We’ll call it like maybe five years before that,” Staikos said. “The majority of it was with the AMG Driving Academy. It’s their high performance driving school that they offer to the AMG customers. And, uh, quite honestly, I was pretty much always the slowest guy in the group.
“Then 2018, I was in the last level of the AMG Driving Academy, what they call pro plus. In that one, they teach you a lot more, like cornering techniques, braking techniques, passing. They even teach you about doing races, like race starts and restarts and all of that kind of stuff. Somehow something clicked, and I think I owe it partially to the car, which was the AMG GTR. I just really somehow connected with that car. Something clicked and I went from being the slowest guy in the group to the fastest guy in the group.”
When the lead instructor, Danny Kok, suggested Staikos try out a racecar, the thought had never crossed his mind, but he figured he’d give it a whirl, and not long after that he found himself at Buttonwillow Raceway testing an Adess, another kind of LMP3 car manufactured in Portugal. As you might imagine, Staikos liked the experience enough that he wanted to race and visit Buttonwillow more often, so rather than rent, he set out to find an LMP3 car of his own.
Bear in mind, that Staikos lives in Ontario, Canada, too, so there are travel expenses associated with racing in Southern California. But that’s where Kok had a shop he shared with another race team. Kok is from British Columbia, Canada, but he really liked the track at Buttonwillow because it’s great for learning, it has lots of different configurations and there’s not a lot to fixed objects in the way if you have an off. Buttonwillow dust is legendary, but the track is hugely versatile.
“I crunched the numbers and looked at what it cost to test, and I thought, if I’m going to go back again, I’m probably going to go back at least 10, 20 times. Maybe I could end up doing this once every month or two,” Staikos said. “So instead of paying to rent somebody else’s car that often, I might just buy one if I can get a used one at a good price. The guys looked around for me and they found the one that I bought.”
A team headquartered at Sonoma Raceway had decided not to continue after racing a season with IMSA, and they had two Norma M30 LMP3 cars for sale. Staikos bought the one you see pictured here.
LMP3 as a class debuted in 2015 as an entry-level class — relatively speaking, one assumes — to encourage participation for new drivers before moving up to LMP2. Adess, Ginetta, Ligier and Riley also were constructors selected by the Automobile Club de l’Ouest.
Powered by a Nissan VK50VE engine, which makes 420 horsepower routed through an Xtrac six-speed sequential padde-shift gearbox, the Norma M30 weighs just 2,500 pounds with a driver. It could be described as a fairly light, fairly powerful prototype car, which seems well suited for its original intent.
Staikos got his NASA license and began racing the M30 in NASA’s WERC endurance series and doing some sprint races in 2019. He also owns a GT4 AMG GT, which he also raced in WERC. We’ll be doing a story on that car later this year. The bug had bit so hard that Staikos wanted to get a taste of pro racing, so he registered with IMSA and after a short season in WERC, he took his first green flag in a pro race in a four-hour enduro, the Michelin Sportscar Encore at Sebring International Raceway in November 2019.
Staikos called the exercise at Sebring a “tough learning experience,” but added that he really enjoyed it. The team incurred penalties during the race, ripped an outer CV boot, and the infamous Sebring bumps caused the exhaust headers to crack and break free of the engine.
“We got a lot of seat time in, and it was running in mixed traffic too, which was nice. There were some GT3s, some LMP3s and some GT4s, and that was a good experience,” Staikos said. “And then we said, ‘OK, let’s run the season.’ So we signed up for the 2020 season, and COVID hit, I only made it through one race, and not even quite through that race.”
The race in January at Daytona ended during one of Staiko’s stints at the wheel. In mixed wet-dry conditions, the team was one of the first to change out of rain tires.
“I think we were the first car to go to slicks. I basically had almost no rain experience at all, not to mention driving in the rain on slicks. So I did OK for some number of laps, and then I dipped my right and tires into a puddle under braking. It was in Turn 6, and the car turned 90 degrees straight into the wall. So that was the end of the race for me.”
The car was surprisingly resilient, with damage limited to the nose and the steering rack.
The experience behind the wheel of an LMP3 car taught him that he needed a fitness regimen as rigorous as the car’s maintenance schedule. Staikos is in the gym three days a week with a personal trainer focusing on strength training. He’s also discovered karting is good preparation for driving the LMP3.
“It’s very tiring. I’ll give Canadian Tire Motorsports Park as the example,” he said. “Well, the g force, like when you’re driving that car on that track are just wild. Turn 2, you’re, you’re pretty much flat. It’s a light brake at the top, and then you’re flat driving down this off camber downhill, left-hand turn.”
The bonus is that driving the Norma M30 made driving his other car, the Mercedes-Benz AMG GT, feel a lot easier to drive. He tested the GT4 AMG GT at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park before he bought his own, and he found that he needed fewer crew members for racing and practice days.
“When I got my own, I did two track days with it at Mosport pretty much on my own, just with the help of a mechanic. The car was maintainable and I could do the setup and everything myself. It was that easy to deal with, compared with the LMP3 where you need a crew,” Staikos said. “I went and did two races in the National GT4 series here (Canada), opening up for NASCAR trucks within 10 days of it arriving in Canada and me prepping it. I came in second place in the first race. And then for the second race, I had pole position, fastest lap and I won.”
When COVID restrictions lifted, Staikos and Kok ran the 2021 IMSA season in the Norma, which they could do because IMSA grandfathered the car for one more year due to the closure of the 2020 season. The team finished second in every race and took the season championship.
“That was pretty cool. My first season of racing and, it got a lot of trophies. Then that car was no longer eligible for IMSA. They can run historics, but not IMSA,” Staikos said. “So I was very close to not racing the next season of IMSA because getting a new LMP3 was very expensive, and also logistically difficult at the time. In fact, it still is today. Buying new racecars is a long wait time and shipping is an issue and everything else.”
As luck would have it — and even an LMP3 car owner can use a bit of luck sometimes — Ave Motorsports found a team that was selling a couple of used Ligier new-generation LMP3 cars and found a buyer for Staikos’ Norma M30.
There are no plans to run with IMSA in 2023, but Staikos and his team are considering the 25 Hours of Thunderhill. We have seen teams run other LMP3 prototypes at the 25, but they have never won it. Maybe, with a little luck, Staikos can change that.
|2,500 lbs. with driver
|5.0-liter Nissan DK50VE/420 horsepower
|X-Trac DCT six-speed sequential, plus reverse
|Double wishbone, Ohlins TTX
|Double wishbone, Ohlins TTX
|Michelin Sport GT 31-71-R18
|Michelin Sport GT 30-65-R18
|Staikos Homes, GMS Excavating