The Ford GT scores its first win in the GT-LM class

Racing at Mazda Speedway Laguna Seca is always exciting, so the fact that last weekend not one, but two races were in store as part of the IMSA Weathertech Sportscar Championship round four was a great treat. And, under perfect blue skies, the two two-hour-long races did not disappoint.

Qualifying for the first race of the weekend saw Mazda continue its dominant run that begun in practice by locking up the front row of the grid with their Multimatic-built prototypes. They were the only ones to lap the track in under one minutes and 19 seconds. Although impressive, it’s worth noting that almost 25 years ago, the mighty GTP machines would go around the same track in under 1:12. Behind the Mazdas were the Chevy DPs as well as Michael Shank’s Ligier JS P2 and the Elan-powered DeltaWing Coupe.

GT-LM saw Ford’s party ruined by a magnificent last lap by Daniel Serra who put the No. 68 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GTE on pole, narrowly beating the two Ford GTs. It’s worth noting that Monterey was chosen by Michelin as the venue to debut their new GTE compounds for the IMSA series which are, in fact, the same as those used in the World Endurance Championship. These tires are made with mid-engined cars in mind and, as such, do not favor front or rear-engined machines such as the Corvette or the Porsche 911.

PR1 / Mathiasen Motorsport claimed the pole in Prototype Challenge while the Alex Job Racing-run No. 23 Porsche 991 GT3-R took pole. Spain’s Alex Riberas beat Scuderia Corsa’s Christina Nielsen who put the team’s 488 GT3 in the front row – her best qualifying effort to date.

Keep reading for the full story.

The P / GT-LM race

2016 USCC Laguna Seca Race Report
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As the 17 cars rolled down into Turn 1 to start the race, Ryan Dalziel was just beginning to roll out of pit lane. VisitFlorida.com Racing’s Corvette had to also do a drive-through before it could mount an attack on the overall leaders. Up front, little drama unfolded as the Mazdas quickly dispatched from the rest of the field, their advantage stretching to just about 10 seconds by the time of the first caution period. An errant tire that found its way to the middle of the track in the Corkscrew was the cause of the disturbance and, following its removal, the race got back to green flag conditions.

This caution marked also the time for the first round of pit stops throughout the field, but this didn’t alter the order in the two classes as the Mazdas kept their leading positions, as did Daniel Serra in the Scuderia Corsa 488 GTE. Not long after, the second caution period rolled along following an incident in Turn 10 between Wayne Taylor Racing’s Corvette and the identical car of championship leader Christian Fittipaldi. Ricky Taylor initially passed Fittipaldi in Turn 9, the Brazilian losing the rear end as he tried to take back the third spot in Turn 10. This meant that Taylor was pushed by the out-of-control No. 5 car straight into the gravel. Their weekend was basically down as the cars lost two laps before they got going again.

This second caution was seen as an opportunity for some crews to stop again. BMW had made its second stop much earlier so Dirk Werner’s No. 25 stayed out and gained track position. He soon found himself second overall, just behind Sean Rayhall’s DeltaWing. The BMW was soon passed at the restart, but one Mazda was missing from the leading pack. It was the #55 which encountered problems on pit lane as the crew was unable to properly attach the fuel hose to the car, which meant the pit stop took longer than expected. More drama was on the menu for the SpeedSource squad as the No. 70 stopped trackside due to fuel pump failure with less than an hour gone.

Before that happened, Jonathan Bomarito was looking quite racy aboard the No. 55. He first moved past his team-mate to get up to fifth. Then he passed Marc Goossens for fourth after one more lap, and then both Eric Curran and Sean Rayhall moved up to second overall, 5.5 seconds behind Ozz Negri who took over from John Pew.

The retirement of the No. 70 Mazda brought the safety car out for a third time. BMW’s Dirk Werner pitted during this caution which, in turn, handed the lead over to Risi Competizione. Alessandro Pier Guidi also opted to pit in the Scuderia Corsa 488 which meant that behind Risi’s car there were the two Fords, Patrick Pilet’s No. 912 Porsche and the two Corvettes. Gavin passed Pilet in robust fashion through Turn 11, pushing the Porsche off the road. Retaliation following the events at Long Beach? Maybe.

Fisichella pitted from the lead with 49 minutes to go. with the Italian keeping the old tires on the car and taking only fuel. This left the two Fords up front while Bomarito had closed up on Ozz Negri for the race lead. The two battled briefly before Bomarito spun out in Turn 10. He managed to get back on the asphalt and plunged right into the pits, same as Negri did. This meant that Eric Curran had moved up to first but not for long as Belgium’s Marc Goossens found a way by the No. 90, which leading the race with little under 50 minutes to go. At the end of that lap Gossens came in, with Curran following on his footsteps two laps later.

With the Corvettes out of the way, as well as the Mazda, Negri was able to run away to a 30-second victory in the No. 60 Michael Shank Racing Ligier. This marked the first win for the team since the 2012 24 Hours at Daytona when Shank won with a Riley-Ford which was crewed also by the late Justin Wilson.

Behind Negri came Goosssens, Curran and Bomarito but the big story was being written in GT-LM. The final pit stops put the two Fords up front, followed by Garcia’s Corvette No. 3 and Pier Guidi’s Ferrari. while Makowiecki in the No. 912 was fifth. Gavin’s race in the No. 4 was ruined by a pit infringement that was penalized with a drive-through. As the Ford’s stint grew longer and longer, it seemed that the two Chip Ganassi Racing-run cars might make it to the end. This was, indeed, the case for the No. 66 car which was skillfully driven in fuel-saving mode for an hour by Richard Westbrook. Joey Hand couldn’t make it without a splash, which was also needed by Garcia who lost his podium spot. This elevated Pier Guidi up to second and Makowiecki to third, which is how they finished.

While this maiden win for Ford owes itself more to the fuel efficiency of the car than to pure pace, this alone could be a factor at Le Mans where, over the course of 24 hours, stopping less might be the key to victory in an ultra competitive 12-car strong GTE-Pro category.

P / GT-LM Top 10 Results

Position Class No. Drivers Make Laps
1 P 60 Pew/Negri Jr. Honda HPD Ligier JS P2 80
2 P 90 Goossens/Dalziel Chevrolet Corvette DP 80
3 P 31 Cameron/Curran/ Chevrolet Corvette DP 80
4 P 55 Nunez/Bomarito Mazda Prototype 80
5 P 0 Legge/Rayhall DeltaWing DWC13 80
6 GTLM 67 Briscoe/Westbrook Ford GT 79
7 GTLM 68 Guidi/Serra Ferrari 488 GTE 79
8 P 10 R.Taylor/J.Taylor Chevrolet Corvette DP 78
9 GTLM 912 Bamber/Makowiecki Porsche 911 RSR 78
10 GTLM 3 Garcia/Magnussen Chevrolet Corvette C7.R 78

For the complete results click here.

The PC / GTD race

2016 USCC Laguna Seca Race Report
- image 674623

The second showdown of the day was much less eventful, with only one major incident marking the 120-minute long race which got on to a clean start. Robert Alon kept his lead going into Turns 1-2, as did Alex Riberas in GT-D, despite running door-to-door with Christina Nielsen who, in turn, was then pressured by Brandon Davis’ Aston-Martin entered by The Racer’s Group.

Alex Popow and James French were running second and third in PC, French aptly moving past Popow and then overtaking Alon to take the class lead. French headed the category in the No. 38 for the entire length of his stint close to the half-distance point when the only safety car period occurred. It was caused by an off-course excursion by Tim Pappas in the No. 540 Porsche 991 GT3-R which was stuffed in the gravel at Turn 4.

Renger van der Zande emerged first in the Starworks Motorsport No. 8 ORECA, followed by Tom Kimber-Smith who took over from Alon and Kyle Marcelli who got into the No. 38. Kimber-Smith soon moved past van der Zande in traffic as Stephen Simpson undertook Marcelli for third place. The No. 85 JDC-Miller Motorsport car then came under the clutches of Colin Braun, CORE Autosport’s driver being on a charge after team-mate Jon Bennett started from pit lane. Braun ultimately slipped past Simpson and finished third behind van der Zande an Kimber-Smith.

Mario Farnbacher took the No. 23 Porsche from Riberas and was able to stay ahead, despite Alessandro Balzan’s best efforts aboard the Scuderia Corsa 488 GT3. Balzan was in turn closed in by Jens Klingmann’s BMW M6 No. 96. This meant that the Ferrari had to attack while also watching over its defense. In the end, Klingmann lost third place in favor of James Davison, the TRG-AMR driver finishing behind Farnbacher and Balzan. Klingmann crossed the line fourth, with the other Turner BMW losing a lap early on due to a mechanical problem.

PC / GTD Top 10 Results

Position Class No. Drivers Make Laps
1 PC 52 Alon/Kimber-Smith ORECA FLM09 82
2 PC 8 van der Zande/Popow ORECA FLM09 82
3 PC 54 Bennett/Braun ORECA FLM09 82
4 PC 38 French/Marcelli ORECA FLM09 82
5 PC 85 Goikhberg/Simpson ORECA FLM09 82
6 PC 20 McMurry/Mowlem ORECA FLM09 81
7 PC 88 Kvamme/Freiberg ORECA FLM09 80
8 GTD 23 Farnbacher/Riberas Porsche 911 GT3 R 79
9 GTD 63 Nielsen/Balzan Ferrari 488 GT3 79
10 GTD 007 Davison/Davis Aston Martin Vantage GT3 79

For the complete results click here.

Next up on the IMSA Weathertech Sportscar Championship schedule is the Grand Prix of Belle Isle in the heart of Detroit. The 100-minute race will feature all the classes except the GT-LM category. This is due to the fact that the race, which will take place on the fourth of June, is close to the 24 Hours of Le Mans and some of the GT-LM contenders will take part in the French endurance classic.

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