Unexpected win for Ligier over Cadillac!

Laguna Seca seems to attract great racing like nothing else if last Sunday’s two-hour-and-40-minutes sprint is to be taken into consideration as what we witnessed was an up-and-down dramatic roller coaster that went to the wire across the board and left many googling online dictionaries for superlatives. The Monterey Peninsula again hosted a brilliant showcase of multi-class sports car racing as three classes of cars — Prototype, GT-LM, and GT-D — battled it out. It was a game of differing strategies, late stops for fuel, tight near-misses and daring overtakes. In the end, unexpected contenders rose to the occasion to take the victory in two of the three classes while in the last it was a story of continued consistency.

In qualifying, as ever, Ricky Taylor was head and shoulders above everyone else as he piloted the No. 10 Cadillac sponsored by Konica Minolta to an earth-shatteringly quick 1:16.853, eight-tenths off the next Caddy. The margin was even bigger before Christian Fittpaldi’s late 1:17.682 to beat VisitFlorida.com Racing’s Marc Goosens who only managed a 1:17.730. Dane Cameron and Eric Curran’s No. 31 was fourth quickest while Jose Gutierrez made it two LMP2s in the top five with his time in the No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsport Ligier. The two Nissan ESM DPIs followed next while the banana-yellow ORECA of JDC-Miller Motorsports was bog last.

Continue reading for the full story.

The Battle for the Pole

BMW seemed bound to get at least the pole in GT-LM but, ultimately, ended up third and fourth

BMW seemed bound to get at least the pole — if not the whole front row — in GT-LM but, ultimately, ended up third and fourth. That’s because a pumped up Toni Vilander, back in the car that was wrecked at Le Mans in June, found speed for an amazing 1:21.914, the only lap under 1:22. Dirk Mueller was second via a 1:22.156, Ford having won at Laguna Seca last year (granted, with the No. 67 car, not the 66). Just behind was John Edward’s BMW No. 24 who beat Alex Sims’ best lap by 0.001 seconds! It’s worth noting that this was Risi Competizione’s first pole in IMSA competition since 2015.

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The qualifying looked less-than-stellar at the other end of the GT-LM field

The qualifying looked less-than-stellar at the other end of the GT-LM field. Both the works Porsches and the works Corvettes struggled for speed with Porsche managing sixth and eight and Corvette seventh and ninth. The last remaining Ford was obviously fifth fastest and was looking to cause an upset yet again.

Paul Miller Racing was again, for the third time in 2017, the class of the GT-D field with Madison Snow lapping the 2.24-mile-long road course in just 1:24.469, thus edging out both the Alegra and the Park Place Motorsport Porsches. A slew of Lexus, Lamborghini, BMW and Acura cars followed suit while the sole Ferrari was ninth, the sole Audi 12th (which will not return in 2018) and the best of the Mercedes 13th.

Prototype

The race got underway under the clearest of skies and Ricky Taylor did not wait a moment to begin and gap the field

The race got underway under the clearest of skies, and Ricky Taylor did not wait a moment to begin and gap the field. He kept it going lining up near-qualifying pace laps until the gap was over 9 seconds. Then there was a safety car than bunched everyone up again and then the first round of stops.

Jordan went out still ahead and was very much in contention until the second series of stops when the team encountered an issue with the right-front tire. It proved troublesome to tighten the nut up and that lost Wayne Taylor Racing the lead in favor of Action Express Racing with their No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac. The second AXR Cadillac wasn’t far behind either, as was the VisitFlorida.com Racing No. 90 Ligier.

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A little bit behind, the two Extreme Speed Motorsport Nissans had a difficult weekend

A little bit behind, the two Extreme Speed Motorsport Nissans had a difficult weekend, so difficult that even Pipo Derani made a mistake at one point and went off the road by quite a margin. The Ligier-based prototypes finished sixth and eighth overall with the No. 2 ahead of the No. 22. Between the two Patron-sponsored entries was the No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen car. The Pla/Gutierrez Ligier ran quickly during its home race but a series of spins, a couple due to Pla over-driving in an effort to get a lap back on the leader, meant P7 was all they could get in Monterey.

Meanwhile, the JDC-Miller Motorsports outfit made the best out of the trouble that befell those mentioned previously to finish fourth overall, just ahead of the No. 5 which lost pace in the last 40 minutes due to high tire degradation, especially at the rear. So, now, the top three...

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It was an uphill battle for WTR after their long second pit stop as he had fallen to fifth overall after that moment

It was an uphill battle for WTR after their long second pit stop as he had fallen to fifth overall after that moment. The American managed to climb back to third, but it was Action Express’s No. 31 and the No. 90 Ligier who were going to fight for victory. Renger van Der Zande entered the final stint behind Dane Cameron, but his were the fresher tires because Whelen Engineering elected to only change two tires to gain track position. This proved costly later on as Cameron’s pace plummeted and he even went off-course in the second-to-last corner.

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The result keeps Curran and Cameron in the championship fight, but only mathematically

Traffic management was key, and the Dutchman managed to get a run on Cameron with under five minutes left to run on the uphill run to the Corkscrew. Want happened next had everyone gripping to their seats and the more seasoned followers having a déjà-vu. Renger went on the inside of Dane and put down an almost identical reproduction of Alex Zanardi’s “The Pass” on Bryan Herta in 1996. After the Ligier was by, it became obvious that Cameron was holding on for dear life as the gap at the end was over 2.2 seconds – all gained in a lap and a bit.

The result, however, keeps Curran and Cameron in the championship fight, but only mathematically. That’s because leaders Ricky and Jordan Taylor hold onto a 29-points advantage going into the season finale at Road Atlanta. It’s not an impossible job, though, as a retirement for WTR and a win for AXR No. 31 would make Curran and Cameron champions for the second season on the trot! We just have to wait and see, though the Taylors are clear favorites.

Top 5 Prototype class results

Pos No. Drivers Team Vehicle Laps
1 90 Goossens/Van Der Zande Visit Florida Racing Ligier LMP2 114
2 31 Cameron/Curran Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac DPi 114
3 10 Taylor/Taylor Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R Cadillac DPi 114
4 85 Goikhberg/Simpson JDC-Miller Motorsports ORECA LMP2 114
5 5 Barbosa/Fittipaldi Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac DPi 114

GT-LM

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In the end, it was a fuel run to the flag as we’ve seen last year from Westbrook and the No. 67

The premier GT division again delivered, or should I say, delivered as per usual. In the end, it was a fuel run to the flag as we’ve seen last year from Westbrook and the No. 67. This time, though, it was a BMW in that role. The No. 24 M6 GTLM was spun off as the car went into Turn 1 for the very first time and had to continue from the last place overall. Martin Tomczyk and John Edwards, however, rebounded also thanks to a courageous pit stop strategy. They were in part helped, unwillingly though, by team-mate Bill Auberlen who spun in the sand aboard the No. 25 with just over an hour left to run. It was right after Edwards made his final stop and it helped the American save some vital fuel.

At the time, the surviving BMW wasn’t leading, that honor going the way of the pole-sitting No. 62 Risi Ferrari. The Prancing Horse had to give way with over 30 minutes to go when Toni Vilander pitted. Edwards then took the lead and never looked back, managing to have the lightest foot of them all. It was clear that the BMW’s pace had dropped but keeping track position proved vital. Vilander managed to rejoin in fourth and pass the No. 3 Corvette and the No. 911 Porsche. Then he slashed through a seven-seconds gap to get right behind Edwards on the run down to the flag. The two cars were almost side-by-side going under the checkered flag, and the American’s margin of victory over the Finn was just 0.152 seconds.

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The Prancing Horse had to give way with over 30 minutes to go when Toni Vilander pitted

It was the first North-American win for former DTM driver Tomczyk while Vilander and Fisichella were happy with another podium – the team finished on the podium every time the car actually crossed the finish line this season. The No. 911 Porsche, which had the same strategy as the class winner, finished third ahead of the No. 3 Corvette. The C7.Rs lacked pace since qualifying and were nowhere even after half-distance, but the championship-leading Garcia/Magnussen ‘Vette bounced back to score an important fourth place ahead of the No. 67 Ford.

The second of the Fords was sixth ahead of the ever unlucky No. 912 of Bruni and Vanthoor. They were, still, better off than the No. 4 which suffered all race from damage incurred in the first corner of the first lap when Gavin was hit from behind by the GT-D pole-sitter. It’s worth noting that John Edwards’ final stint was 76 minutes long.

Top 5 GT-LM class results

Pos No. Drivers Team Vehicle Laps
1 24 Edwards/Tomczyk BMW Team RLL BMW M6 GTLM 110
2 62 Fisichella/Vilander Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE 110
3 911 Pilet/Werner Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR 110
4 3 Magnussen/Garcia Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C7.R 110
5 67 Briscoe/Westbrook Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT 110

GT-D

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Paul Miller Racing started the race on the back foot as the No. 48 Huracan hit the back of the No. 4 Corvette

As I just mentioned, Paul Miller Racing started the race on the back foot. The No. 48 Huracan hit the back of the No. 4 Corvette. The former ended up with a missing headlight and bent hood while the other needed a diffuser change. Elsewhere in the class, Alegra Motorsport retired with a technical failure while Patrick Long was fighting for a podium position.

As the race progressed, the unlucky lot at CORE Autosport seemed poise for a luck turnaround as they led for roughly half of the race. The No. 54, though, had to pit with just three minutes left on the clock while the three cars that followed managed to stretch their stints. Also unable to stretch its stint was the No. 96 Turner BMW. This left the No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari out in front with Alessandro Balzan literally driving on fumes on the cool-down lap.

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Balzan and Nielsen now only need to finish at Petit Le Mans to be crowned champions again

It was all worth it, though, as himself and Christina Nielsen now only need to finish at Petit Le Mans to be crowned champions again. The situation is also echoed in GTLM. Behind the Scuderia Corsa 488 GT3 was the No. 93 of Andy Lally and Katherine Legge who came back from a poor qualifying session. The Park Place Motorsport Porsche showed that the 991 GT3-R felt good around Laguna Seca and finished third ahead of the No. 54 Porsche, the No. 96 BMW and the No. 50 Porsche of MacNeil and Jeanette. Bryan Sellers and Madison Snow only finished seventh.

Top 5 GT-D class results

Pos No. Drivers Team Vehicle Laps
1 63 Nielsen/Balzan Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3 107
2 93 Lally/Legge Michael Shank Racing/Curb-Angajanian Acura NSX GT3 107
3 73 Lindsey/Bergmeister Park Place Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R 107
4 54 Bennett/Braun CORE Autosport Porsche 911 GT3 R 106
5 96 Klingmann/Krohn Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3 106

Full Results

Check out the full results from Laguna Seca: http://results.imsa.com/Results/17_2017/23_Mazda%20Raceway%20Laguna%20Seca/01_IMSA%20WeatherTech%20SportsCar%20Championship/201709241405_Race/03_Results%20-%20Unofficial.PDF

What’s Next?

The season will end on a high, as it always does, with the 10-hour-long Petit Le Mans on Braselton’s Road Atlanta.

References

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