To be honest, coming in to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, I wasn’t sure what to expect. The GTD class of the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship is insanely competitive, and there are so many good cars and great teams that it only takes one small mistake to fall way down the order.
Even though we won the last race in Sebring, Sunday’s race kicked off a very different part of the year, the sprint season. We were able to win Sebring by a great team effort on all fronts, but at both Sebring and Daytona, we’ve never had the fastest car. Now that we’re racing in short races, the speed of the car is super-important, and I wasn’t sure how we’d do.
Luckily, John Potter’s group has been well aware of that fact, and we’ve done a ton of work over the last several weeks developing the car. In the GTD class, the devil is in the details, and our crew did a great job of developing several little pieces.
Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca is an awesome track. It’s located in a beautiful area, and if time allowed it’s definitely a place I’d spend more time in. It’s a great area for mountain biking, and I can name a few hills I’d love to bomb on my street luge.
Because it’s an old track and the wind can bring a light layer of sand over everything, it’s fairly low grip. It means you really have to dance carefully over the corners, and with all of the elevation changes you’re turning blind in to several spots.
It takes a lot of skill to do well here, and I’ve been fortunate enough to have a few wins. One interesting thing I thought about before the weekend, but didn’t want to mention, is I’ve been on the podium with Magnus EVERY YEAR since we started, and I quietly thought we could do it again.
This was a strange weekend from a scheduling point of view. All four of the TUDOR classes would practice at the same time, but due to pit space, they split the race in two… with our GTD class only racing with the Prototype Challenge group.
The weekend was also really condensed. We only had two practice sessions on Saturday, then straight in to qualifying, and the race on Sunday.
Qualifying went really well, and then went to crap in a matter of moments. Basically, IMSA allows either driver to qualify the car, which means I was able to get in and set a lap down.
The opening few minutes went really well, we were up to P3 and looking really good when a red flag came out during the session, forcing us all in to the pits. Since we were sitting third, and you have to start on the same tires you qualify on, we figured there wouldn’t be enough time for anyone to post a good time once the session resumed.
In the old days, if you had a long red flag, the series only mandated five minutes of “green” qualifying, which meant the other cars were only going to get a lap or two in once the session resumed.
Unfortunately, that rule changed to a minimum of 10 minutes, and to be honest we forgot, so our competitors were able to get several laps in at the end, which we didn’t expect. I sat in the car and watched us drop from third to ninth in a matter of a minute. It was frustrating, but at least we had good tires.
During the race, John did his usual excellent job to manage the start of the race, and the yellows fell perfectly to get me in the car during a caution. As always, I have to mention what an excellent job the guys did on the stop, as we moved up three spots during this, and I was in a good position to contend.
The way the race was forming, once I got in we had two strategies we could opt for: 1. Save all the fuel you can and hope to get a yellow to go the distance, or 2. Drive flat out and make one more stop.
We’ve tried both strategies in the past, and with only one other class on track we made the call to go flat out knowing we’d stop. Looking back, it was the right call.
With a little under 30 minutes to go, we were in our fuel window and looking for the right time to pit when BOOM, a bunch of cars got together in front of me at the corkscrew. I was lucky to avoid the mess, but I instantly ducked in to the pits because I figured there would be a yellow. There wasn’t, but it was still a great time for fuel and tires.
Another great stop and I was pushing hard to catch back up. Everyone in front of me either had to make another stop, or was trying to go the distance on fuel, so I had to sprint hard knowing I had fresher tires and could gain on everyone with the advantage of fresh rubber.
All of a sudden in the last two laps I went from seventh third, and it was because we made our call so early and committed to it.
The only sad part was for my good friend Spencer Pumpelly. The 45 car was the class of the field all weekend, and I feel bad that he lost the race out of fuel. It benefitted us, however, and for the third year in a row we’re on the podium!
We’re now tied for the point lead, and it’s because of such an awesome group. On to Detroit!