The last two races of the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship have been polar opposites on the car count and caution scale.
On March 15, the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring witnessed a starting field of 63 cars spread in all four classes, with 12 cautions slowing the race for more than five of the 12 hours.
A month later, April 12 in the Patron Showcase on the streets of Long Beach, just 21 cars started from the Prototype and GT Le Mans class. The 100-minute race ran caution-free.
Put that down to a number of different factors, but in reality, the truth of where the series should be in terms of cautions and car count on a typical race weekend should fall somewhere in the middle – say maybe 40 or so cars, and four or five cautions over a standard two-hour, 45-minute race.
All of that brings us to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca this Sunday, where the field is at 54 total cars, but split into two races: P/GTLM once again with a field of 23, while PC/GTD have their own 31-car race earlier in the day.
Both races are two hours, a difference from years past where races in Monterey have been either 2:45, four, or six hours.
One of the big talking points this weekend in the paddock has been the schedule, with a condensed two-day format, all cars then practicing together and then breaking off into separate races.
It’s produced, as you’d expect, a range of differing opinions on how Sunday’s races will shake out.
For Scott Pruett, who along with Memo Rojas seek their third straight win this season in the No. 01 Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Ford EcoBoost Riley, he’s optimistic the cleanliness of Long Beach can carry over to the P/GTLM race.
“I really enjoyed what we did at Long Beach and that was more because it was reminiscent of what we did last year,” Pruett said. “While I would like to see them building the field, at the same time, I would like to keep the simplicity for the fans where they only have to understand the Prototypes race against the Prototypes and the GTs race against the GTs and they don’t have to learn all those different classes.
“When you look at the fact that there were zero yellows coming off a plagued race at Sebring, I think that’s the right direction,” he added. “A lot of it is the quality of the drivers understanding what to do out there.”
Overall polesitter Johannes van Overbeek was equally optimistic that unless the Prototype leaders hit a pack of GTLM traffic late in the race, traffic won’t be a major issue.
From the GTLM perspective, Corvette Racing’s Oliver Gavin said not having GTD removes potential passing opportunities, since those cars can be used to the overtaking driver’s advantage.
“With only P and GTLM within the mix, there’s not the same variation,” he said. “If GTD was there, that would have mixed it up. You can often use them as a pick. Long Beach was fairly nice, but it’s hard to pass there and oftentimes some help is required.”
Added BMW Team RLL’s John Edwards, “Hopefully we can race it out amongst ourselves, unlike Long Beach where we had some prototypes in the mix. It’s only a two-hour race, and Long Beach went green the whole race, so every second is going to count.”
The PC/GTD race is more of a wild card than P/GTLM, since it will mark the first time this split will occur.
“I don’t think it will be that different a race to be honest,” said PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports team principal Bobby Oergel, whose No. 52 Oreca FLM09 is in PC. “Just on yellows, the pace car will be picking up the PC cars in the lead. It’s really the same number of cars, roughly the same as last year.”
Sebring GT Daytona class winner Andy Lally put on his fortune-teller cap – it’s something you could envision Magnus Racing doing in one of their trademark, off-the-wall videos – to attempt to forecast the future.
“There’s likely going to be 2 yellows in our GTD race, and 1 in P. All where guys get stuck in the gravel,” Lally said. “And both races are probably going to end up being a bit anticlimactic.”
Jeroen Bleekemolen, in Riley Motorsports’ new SRT Viper GT3-R, offered a slightly more optimistic viewpoint.
“There’s not so many PC cars so overtaking us, so traffic is not likely to be as big of an issue as it normally is,” he said.
We’ll see how the pair of Continental Tire Monterey Grands Prix shake out after this first split day of racing.