Via a mix of good strategy from the pit box and good defense in the final 15 minutes of the race, Stevenson Motorsports’ pairing of Andrew Davis and Robin Liddell scored their second straight Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge win at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
In ST, Mazda MX-5s completed their second straight podium sweep at the track, with Freedom Autosport winning in class for the second consecutive year after Andrew Carbonell made a last lap pass on teammate Tom Long at Turn 10 of 11 on the 2.238-mile road course.
Stevenson strategist Mike Johnson called Davis, in the No. 6 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28.R, in for his first stop with two hours and four minutes remaining in the two-hour, 30-minute race.
“Quick thinking in the pits got us the advantage. Once the call came in, I knew we had something,” Davis said.
The second stop with 57 minutes remaining, when Davis handed over to Liddell, ensured the car was good to go to the checkered flag and net leader once the then-top-three cars pitted for their final stop later in the last hour.
The top three had been the second Stevenson Camaro, the polesitting No. 9 car driven by Matt Bell and Lawson Aschenbach and the pair of Multimatic Motorsports Ford Mustang Boss 302Rs.
Liddell got by Jade Buford, in the No. 158 Mustang, for third on Lap 60 only moments before the third full-course caution of the race for an Aston Martin Vantage that was stopped on course exiting Turn 5.
After the fourth full-course caution of the race which flew with 18 minutes to go, Liddell had to hold off BJ Zacharias (co-drove with Brad Jaeger) in the No. 14 Doran Racing Nissan 370Z, who himself had his hands full with a hard-charging Billy Johnson in the No. 15 Mustang he shared with Scott Maxwell.
“We struggled a bit trying to balance (the car) out,” Davis said. “I’m not sure we quite had the pace. But we kept our Stevenson Motorsports Camaro up front. The crew worked their butts off.”
Johnson got by Zacharias for second on the inside at Turn 11 with just over five minutes remaining and hounded Liddell to the finish, but was unable to pass the Scotsman for the win. Liddell won by 0.552 of a second.
ST witnessed a fabulous race-long battle between the Mazdas, with the No. 26 Freedom Autosport Mazda MX-5 of Carbonell and Liam Dwyer emerging victorious over the team car, the No. 25 car driven by Long and Britt Casey Jr., and the No. 34 Alara Racing Mazda of polesitter Justin Piscitell and Christian Szymczak.
Szymczak made several attempts on Long, but when he lost momentum, fell into the clutches of the second Freedom Mazda driven by Carbonell.
Once Carbonell got past Szymczak, he set his sights on Long. When Long left the door open at the penultimate corner, Turn 10, Carbonell came through on the inside for the lead and the win.
It marked Freedom’s second straight win in the event, after Carbonell and Randy Pobst won in ST last year. The win for Dwyer is his second and comes a year after he made his Continental Tire Challenge debut.
“After the last caution it was a sprint to the end; with three other Mazda MX-5s that made it extremely difficult,” Carbonell said. “It is hard to pass another Mazda. We all handle the same, brake the same, hope someone makes a mistake. It kind of came to us. For me, for Liam, for Mazda, it is an incredible day for us.”
Arguably the drive of the race beyond the Mazdas came from the No. 44 CRG-I Do Borrow Honda Civic Si pairing of Sarah Cattaneo and Owen Trinkler. Cattaneo qualified fourth but the car failed post-qualifying tech inspection. From the rear of the 28-car field, the pair carved their way through up to their original starting position.
The fourth Mazda in the field, the No. 5 CJ Wilson Racing Mazda MX-5 driven by Stevan McAleer and Chad McCumbee, ran in podium position for most of the race but fell back to fifth at the finish after one or two off-course excursions when engaged in battle with the Freedom and Alara Mazdas.
The top Porsche Cayman in the field finished eighth, the No. 42 Team Sahlen entry driven by Wayne Nonnamaker and Jeff Segal. The top two cars in ST points entering the weekend, the No. 83 Next Level European Porsche Cayman and No. 64 Team TGM BMW 328i, finished 13th and 12th respectively after qualifying positions outside the top 20.
The series has an extended break until the last weekend in June, for the fourth round of the season at Watkins Glen International.
RESULTS: Round 3