I have a lot of great memories from racing at Laguna Seca. It’s where I won both the Star Mazda and the Atlantic championship, which are two of my proudest achievements. It’s also where I had my first podium driving for BMW last year in the 4-hour ALMS race, so I was optimistic about our chances for the weekend.
The first two days of GS testing were fairly low key, since the TUDOR Championship wasn’t on track until Saturday. We had a positive feeling after the test sessions, but there is so much traffic in the Continental series that it’s always difficult to say whether or not we’re the quickest based solely on practice times. However, I was encouraged that our car was comfortable on old tires since tire degradation was going to be a factor for the race.
In GS qualifying on Friday night, Trent jumped to the top of the timesheet for his second consecutive pole, albeit by only a few hundredths. Considering that we were more focused on making our car good on long runs, I was feeling optimistic about rebounding with a win after the melee that happened in Sebring.
With the condensed TUDOR schedule limiting running to only Saturday and Sunday, my Saturday was the busiest I’ve been in one day all season. We normally spend long days at the track, but there are usually some breaks mixed in to recharge and refocus. Saturday was not one of those days.
I started with an 8am Fall-Line Motorsports strategy meeting, followed by a series’ drivers meeting, TUDOR practice, an autograph session, the Continental GS race, TUDOR practice, qualifying, and a TUDOR drivers meeting, getting me out of the track around 8pm. Although it was one the most intense one-day schedule I’ve had all year, it was also the most rewarding. Dirk Müller was P1 in the first TUDOR practice, Trent and I won the GS race, and I was P1 in the second Tudor practice, eventually qualifying the car on the front row in P2.
The GS win was especially rewarding because we had good speed in the first two races, but narrowly missed the win in each. The race went exactly as we had hoped, with the Camaro showing good one-lap speed, but burning its tires off late in the stint. Our work on setting the car up for long runs paid off and we were able to extend our championship lead.
Sunday was much less rewarding, although it started out promising. Tire degradation was high again for the TUDOR race, but the race was only 2 hours long. This left everyone in an interesting spot as far as race strategy is concerned.
In our morning race meeting, we discussed advantages and disadvantages of a one or two stop strategy. A one stop required some fuel saving to make it under green, but would be the clear way to go if the race ran green the whole way if tire degradation was low. However, with tire degradation being so high, running a two-stop strategy at full-rich fuel mixture and attacking the tires could work out.
I started second and settled into P2 at the beginning of the race, but felt that I could get by Magnusson as I was gaining on him in the medium and high speed corners. However, I was using up my tires quickly running in the dirty air, and eventually locked a left front going into T11. The lockup caused a flatspot, and the team quickly decided to go to our alternate strategy and run two stops rather than lose more time throughout the stint.
The strategy looked to be a good one, but it was risky as yellows could really hurt us at certain times as pit stops cycled through. However, the bigger risk was that making two stops meant we had to make up positions, not just time. Dirk took over in the pit stop and caught the #4 Corvette quickly, but the two made contact as Dirk tried to get inside him in T2, spinning the Corvette.
Dirk says the Corvette brake-checked him and turned in, leaving him nowhere to go. The No. 4 Corvette guys say Dirk came out of nowhere and slammed into him. All I know is that Dirk wouldn’t turn the Corvette intentionally, but he was pushing hard to get by to make our strategy work, and couldn’t sit losing 1-2 seconds per lap behind the Corvette. Either way, the contact resulted in a stop+60 second hold for us, giving us no shot for any kind of decent result.
My dad asked me what I thought about the weekend overall, and I told him that it was a good thing I ran two races because it meant two chances to get a result! The frustration on Sunday was offset by the race win on Saturday, but I don’t think many drivers are ever good losers.
We have a big break for the TUDOR Championship, but I’ll be back in action driving for Fall-Line Motorsports in the Continental GS class again at Lime rock in a few weeks.