With the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship field back to an all-class race Sunday at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, traffic management will again be one of the biggest keys to the race.
A year ago, Prototype/GT Le Mans and Prototype Challenge/GT Daytona were split into a pair of two-hour races, both of which ran cleanly.
The PC/GTD race had only two cautions for seven laps, and the P/GTLM race ran caution-free. The P/GTLM race at Long Beach two weeks ago repeated the latter feat, albeit with only 17 cars that started.
Now with the field back to 35 cars for the Continental Tire Monterey Grand Prix Powered by Mazda in a single two-hour, 40-minute race, picking spots in traffic may make things hairy.
“Last year was kind of like an old GRAND-AM race, keeping it simple with those two classes,” said Ricky Taylor, co-driver of the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Corvette DP. “But it was hard enough to get a clear lap last year.
“This year, it’s already a short track, and I think it will be a nightmare. The race is going to be a totally different dynamic. You’ll have to be much more creative in traffic.”
Corvette Racing’s Jan Magnussen, who along with co-driver Antonio Garcia look for their third straight win at Mazda Raceway, said the extra traffic puts a premium on rolling off with a strong setup and deciphering the data.
“You know you won’t get many clear laps,” Magnussen said. “So you’ll have to look in the data much more carefully to find the data you need.
“You really have to work on setup and fine-tune your driving style when there are a lot of cars. In traffic, the rhythm keeps getting broken and you have dig a little deeper.”
The PC and GTD teams are back in the same race after a year’s hiatus, although a good amount of the drivers and teams participated in the four or five-class races at Mazda Raceway during the American Le Mans Series era.
PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports is the only PC team to have run in every PC race at Mazda Raceway in the same team guise, and won the race with Luis Diaz and Mike Guasch in 2013.
Team principal Bobby Oergel, who’s had a wealth of drivers in his No. 52 Oreca FLM09 since 2010, has a good shot to win his second race at Mazda Raceway with Guasch and Tom Kimber-Smith, both of whom seek their third straight win to open the TUDOR Championship season.
“The biggest thing I try to convey to our guys is there’s more to lose than gain by making moves that are mid-to low-percentage compared to other tracks,” Oergel said.
“With everyone at full concentration levels at a technical and busy track like Laguna, the cars you’re trying to overtake are not always aware of you being there and ready to pass; this usually ends badly when you assume they know you’re there.”
GTD driver Townsend Bell, who shares the No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 458 Italia with Bill Sweedler and has raced in both GTD and ALMS GT (now GTLM), said the GTD field should be plenty capable in traffic.
“It should be a bit better, since the field isn’t as big as it would have been last year as an all-class format,” Bell said. “The PC cars were quite a bit quicker last year. We didn’t seem to have much of an issue.”
Both Taylor and Oergel are optimistic that cleanliness and improved driving standards will rule the day, rather than yellows and overly optimistic moves.
“I personally believe this year will be better than most people expect,” Oergel said. “Both of the GT classes are very quick as compared to years past, and the caliber of most of the drivers are better as well in all the categories.”
Added Taylor, “It’s going to make the racing a lot more exciting I think, although it might be more yellows. It’s good for the fans, good for the show to keep everyone in the big event.”