2017 California 8 Hours at Laguna Seca - Race Report
The longest race ever held at Laguna Seca!by Mihai Fira, on
Last weekend, the Monterey Peninsula and many more GT racing fans watched as the longest race ever held at Mazda Speedway Laguna Seca unfolded under the sunniest of skies with a large array of both American and European entries in what was the third round of the SRO-organized International GT Challenge.
Blancpain GT Series organizers SRO (Stephane Ratel Organization) have been looking to expand their GT racing empire for a few years now. First, former BPR Global GT Series founder Stephane Ratel looked to have a hand in the Bathurst 12 Hours and, more recently, the Sepang 12 Hours entered under SRO’s control. The Malaysian race, though, will be part of the IGTC for the final time this year and it will be replaced come 2018 by a 10-hour-long race at Suzuka, replacing in a way Super GT’s blue riband event, the Pokka 1000. In turn, Sepang will be part of a so-called “Pacific 36 Endurance Cup” championship centered around three events: the existing Bathurst 12 Hours, the Sepang 12 Hours and a proposed race of the same length at Hampton Downs in New Zealand.
With these races under SRO influence (or organized by Ratel’s men), the logical step was to link them all in a world championship of sorts. The inaugural season took place last year and for 2017 four races were planned: everything kicked off at the Bathurst 12 Hours with round two being Blancpain Endurance Series’ most emblematic race, the Spa 24 Hours. Another hiatus was then in order as everyone geared up for last weekend’s race – the first ever 8 hours race at Laguna Seca. We’ve previously seen four hours worth of racing around Laguna Seca in the American Le Mans Series days but never a professional race double that duration.
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The weekend was also interesting as it was shared with the Pirelli World Challenge which held its touring car-based races
The weekend was also interesting as it was shared with the Pirelli World Challenge which held its touring car-based races. Also, some PWC regulars ran in the California 8 Hours such as K-Pax Racing, who worked round the clock to get their McLaren 650S GT3 ready after Alvaro Parente’s crash at Sonoma last month, TRG, Black Swan Racing as well as Magnus Racing, the latter running with strong factory support from Audi and a trio of works drivers. There were in total 19 cars at Laguna Seca, mainly GT3 cars although there was a healthy GT4 pack as well as a pair of INV class cars: the two MARC Cars Australia Mazda 3 V8s. Sadly, Nissan’s planned participation with Team RJN and its pair of GT3-spec GT-Rs fell through after the British squad was unable to get one of their cars ready due to a crash it sustained in the last Blancpain Endurance Series round.
The GT3 cars were devided in two: the Pro lineups ran in “GT3 Overall” while the Pro-Am teams ran in a sub-class of the same name. The GT4 cars, of which there were Porsches, Aston-Martins as well as a sole Ginetta, ran all together. Of the European contingent, Land Motorsport and W Racing Team were notable entrants.
Qualifying followed the slightly unusual format of a longer session followed by a shorter super pole session
Qualifying followed the slightly unusual format (for a race with a small field anyway) of a longer session followed by a shorter super pole session. After the former, it was Peter Kox aboard the No. 93 RealTime Racing Acura NSX GT3 who was on top. The Dutchman, though, was pushed down the order during the super pole session.
Christopher Haase was quickest for Audi Sport Team Land and took the pole with a 1:23.961, the only time in the 1:23 bracket and 0,195 seconds quicker than Markus Winkelhock who went on to share the front row in his No. 44 Audi Sport Team Magnus Audi R8 LMS. Porsche’s all-star lineup of Jorg Begmeister, Patrick Long and Romain Dumas ended up third fastest aboard the No. 58 Porsche Motorsport North-America by Wright entry. Also beating Kox’s benchmark time was the No. 11 WRT Audi and the No. 9 K-Pax Racing McLaren.
First in the GT3 Pro-Am class was the Black Swan Racing No. 54 Porsche peddled by Jeroen Bleekemolen. The two INV class MARC Cars Mazdas proved quicker than any of the GT4 cars lapping roughly one second apart of each other. The No. 07 TRG Aston-Martin Vantage of Derek DeBoer, Michael Davis and Greg Milzcik was quickest in GT4. That’s because it was the only GT4 car to take part in the super pole as both the sister TRG car and the No. 99 Vantage failed to participate due to issues in earlier sessions.
Race day was bright and sunny, and the race got underway without any incidents
Race day was bright and sunny, and the race got underway without any incidents. The No. 29 Land entry was hassled during the first few laps by the two other Audis, the K-Pax McLaren and the Wright Porsche but eventually started to pull away. That was after the race had already went through its first safety car procedure following a troubled start from the No. 99 Vantage. The car stopped out on track after just two laps and Charles Espenlaub needed to be towed back to the pits. The GT4 car returned to the track later in the second hour.
Less than half an hour later, and just after an interview with RealTime’s Peter Cunningham, Peter Kox slowed to a crawl aboard the No. 93 Acura which seemed to be leaking fluids. The car stopped first for an unscheduled stop before being pulled into the garage because it kept smoking and leaking. The rule in place at this event for pit lane repairs stated that you can only keep your car on pit lane for 10 minutes if you need to make small repairs, anything longer having to be addressed back behind the wall.
Every team had to stop after 65 minutes to refuel, no matter if their tanks could be filled to go longer
Sadly, the No. 93 – which was also supposed to be driven by fresh ADAC GT Masters champion Jules Gounon – was retired soon after, somewhat contradicting the team’s claims about the reliability of their Acuras. Still, RealTime kept pushing with the No. 43 NSX which featured a throwback livery to Cunningham’s 1997 GT World Challenge-winning Acura NSX.
The race had more rules in place regarding the pit stops. For starters, every team had to stop after 65 minutes to refuel, no matter if or if not their tanks could be filled to go longer. Thus, it made little sense to go with a full fuel since you were also obligated to stay on pit lane for at least 117 seconds, so there was no gain from not refueling and you had the added burden of having to make an off-schedule stop. By the time the first pit cycle came into view, it was Land’s Chris Mies out in front with a lead of over 20 seconds. Alvaro Parente was second in the K-Pax McLaren with Jake Dennis third in the WRT R8 LMS.
After three hours, the length of a normal Blancpain Endurance Series race, Land’s place was still at the top of the standings
After three hours, the length of a normal Blancpain Endurance Series race, Land’s place was still at the top of the standings. Christopher Haase had all but kept Mies’ lead intact but it was the No. 44 on P2 ahead of the No. 43 Acura. Tom Dyer was followed on the road by the No. 11 WRT Audi and the K-Pax McLaren taken over by Laguna Seca debutant Ben Barnicoat. Black Swan Racing retained its first place in GT3 Pro/Am while the No. 3 TRG Aston led GT4.
Things started to heat up as the race entered its second half. The three Audis got nearer to each other with the passing of every perfectly executed stop. It got so tight that, with six hours in the book, as much as a WEC race, Chris Mies led by just three seconds over Kelvin van der Linde in the No. 44 Magnus car of the same make and model. Robin Frijns was third in the WRT car making it an Audi 1-2-3 overall. Barnicoat was fourth for McLaren with Patrick Long fifth for Porsche, both still very much in contention for victory.
Things started to heat up as the race entered its second half
Sadly, the Wright Motorsport Porsche of Long, Bergmeister and Dumas had to retire which left only the No. 9 McLaren to fight the three Audis. With that being said, the 650S never had the measure of the Audi and there was a difference in the Audi camp with the Land car seemingly doing the best job around the track, Mies praising the team’s work on damper setup. The contest, though, closed up and by the time of the last round of stops, 65 minutes before the end, two of the Audi teams decided to gamble.
Thanks to the very short pit straight, Land and WRT managed to gain time by not respecting the 117-seconds pit stop quota and then doing the drive through penalty associated with breaking that rule. The drive through took them less than 25 seconds to complete and, coupled with a lightning-quick stop, they managed to increase their advantage over Magnus which played by the spirit of the rules until the end.
Sadly, the Wright Motorsport Porsche had to retire which left only the No. 9 McLaren to fight the three Audis
Land and WRT however never got to enjoy the advantage of their strategic master stroke. Frijns and Mies were fighting with almost nothing between the two of them when they made contact after claiming the same bit of real estate through traffic. Both left the asphalt and, while Mies rejoined the track, Frijns got stuck. As a result of that, the fourth and final caution period was called and the No. 11 got back going after losing two laps.
The Land car kept the lead on the restart, a mere 40 minutes before the end. It wasn’t to be, frustratingly for the team that had dominated the event, because Kelvin van der Linde found the door opened and passed Mies with 20 minutes to go. The South-African who incidentially won the Nurburgring 24 Hours earlier this year alongside Mies and De Phillipi, went on to win for Audi Sport Team Magnus Racing with team-mates Markus Winkelhock and Pierre Kaffer. It was another high-level victory for John Potter’s operation after previously succeeding in the Daytona 24 Hours.
Kelvin van der Linde, who incidentially won the Nurburgring 24 Hours earlier this year, went on to win for Audi Sport Team Magnus Racing
Black Swan Racing, meanwhile, reigned supreme in the GT3 Pro/Am category, Tim Pappas’ No. 54 finishing fifth overall and the highest placed Porsche behind the No. 43 RealTime Acura. Second in Pro/Am was the No. 77 Calvert Dynamics/GMG Racing Porsche 991 GT3-R. The No. 193 MARC Cars Australia Mazda 3 V8 was first in the INV class finishing ninth overall with drivers Hadrian Morrall, Jake Camilleri and Morgan Haber. In spite of holding a stronghold in GT4, TRG barely managed to get on the class podium at the end with the No. 3 car. Ahead of Kevin Buckler’s Vantage was No. 8 HKG Racing/GMG Racing Porsche in second. Winners were Jeff Westphal, Sean McAlister and Jeff Kearl for Rearden Racing.
Top 10 Results
|1||44||GT3||Audi Sport Team Magnus||Kaffer / Van der Linde / Winkelhock||Audi R8 LMS||314|
|2||29||GT3||Audi Sport Team Land||De Phillippi / Mies / Haase||Audi R8 LMS||314|
|3||9||GT3||K-Pax Racing||Parente / Sellers / Barnicoat||McLaren 650S GT3||314|
|4||43||GT3||RealTime Racing||Eversley / Dyer / Cameron||Acura NSX GT3||313|
|5||54||GT3 ProAm||Black Swan Racing||Bleekemolen / Calvert-Jones / Pappas||Porsche 911 GT3 R||312|
|6||11||GT3||Belgian Audi Club Team WRT||Leonard / Dennis / Frijns||Audi R8 LMS||312|
|7||17||GT3||GMG Racing||Udell / Henzler / Muller||Porsche 911 GT3 R||312|
|8||77||GT3 ProAm||Calvert Dynamics / GMG Racing||Calvert / Davis / Lewis||Porsche 911 GT3 R||308|
|9||193||Inv||MARC Cars Australia||Camilleri / Morrall / Haber||Marc Mazda 3 V8||294|
|10||194||Inv||MARC Cars Australia||Kassulke / McLeod / Rodgers||Marc Mazda 3 V8||294|
Check out the full results from the Califonia 8 Hours.