It’s been three years since Joey Hand last raced at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, but he couldn’t have picked a better way to come back.
Hand will make his return to the picturesque 2.238-mile road course this weekend for his home race with new 2015 co-driver Scott Pruett in the No. 01 Chip Ganassi Racing Riley-Ford.
Hand, of Sacramento, joins Pruett of Auburn, Calif., to create an all-Northern California lineup at the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship’s lone Northern California race.
“There’s always that home field advantage, a home track advantage, where it becomes a better race for you,” Hand told Sportscar365. “Having Scott and me being hometown guys, it’s going to be pretty neat.
“I have a lot of friends and family coming to be there again. That support and that energy goes a long way in the weekend.”
The pairing has gotten off to a decent start this season with finishes of sixth, fourth and second in succession, but Hand expects it to be a tougher challenge at Mazda Raceway this weekend.
“If nothing changes from the BoP side the P2 cars should be super quick there,” Hand said. “You never know, but it’s always how you roll off the trailer.
“We saw how the P2 cars were quick at Sebring and DP cars couldn’t quite keep up with them. But it depends how you get around, and Scott and I have a lot of time there.”
What the P2 cars may have in outright pace at Mazda Raceway, the DPs should be able to make up in from a pit strategy and fuel capacity standpoint. The Taylor brothers overachieved to finish second last year, while the No. 01 car finished a disappointing eighth.
Hand’s seven previous American Le Mans Series starts from 2006 to 2012 at Mazda Raceway were all in a GT; his last and only Prototype start at the track came in a Ruby Tuesday-backed Alex Job Racing Crawford-Porsche in 2008. Moving back to the top class, he said, makes things a bit easier in traffic.
“It’s definitely different for sure to be in the top class,” Hand said. “But it’s better that way because you get to look out in front more than you look behind.”
The other thing Hand is adjusting to through the opening months of 2015 is a reduced travel and race schedule. Out of DTM, Hand said he is missing the extra racing, but he isn’t missing all the additional travel to-and-from Europe.
“I don’t miss it, man,” Hand said of the travel reduction. “It’s been a great offseason and start to the season. I have spent more time with my kids at home, coaching baseball.
“I’ll tell you though it does feel weird to not race, or be on the road every week. Coming (to Long Beach) after about a month off since Sebring, I was ready to go racing.
“I love racing. I would race every week if it was there for me. But I do not miss that travel back and forth across the ocean.”
For now anyway, Hand said he isn’t yet missing the additional frequent flier miles.
But as he heads into this weekend, the goal is finally securing an elusive home track victory.
“That (home) energy goes a long way,” he said. “I’m sure there will be a lot of Scott Pruett wine fans, even if he doesn’t know them or not. I would say my family and friends are Scott Pruett wine fans.
“It’s cool to have a teammate where you’re so close together, and both your families are there at the same time.”