In many ways, the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season has been “baptism by fire” for AFS/PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports.
While the PR1/Mathiasen part of the equation has been around the WeatherTech Championship for several years, it was brand new territory for AFS and its longtime driver, Sebastian Saavedra, a veteran of IndyCar competition.
The team paired Saavedra with fellow Colombian Gustavo Yacaman, a driver who has had some familiarity and success in the WeatherTech Championship, but this would be Yacaman’s first full-time run in a few years.
Being the only team in the series to field the Ligier JS P217 Gibson LMP2 car added to the challenge. The drivers and PR1 owner Bobby Oergel had nothing but good things to say about the Onroak Automotive personnel they worked with on the chassis, but strong results were hard to come by.
On top of that, the level of competition in the Prototype class reached an all-time high – at least in WeatherTech Championship history, if not the entire history of IMSA.
So, in an effort to turn things around and finish the season strong, the team will bring a new car to WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca for Sunday’s two-hour, 40-minute America’s Tire 250.
The No. 52 entry now will be an Oreca 07 Gibson LMP2 car, which has won each of the past three Prototype races.
“We’ve had small sparks of greatness, such as Mid-Ohio (where the team finished sixth) and Detroit (eighth), but really never anything to showcase the talent of everybody inside the team,” Saavedra said.
“Kudos to Bobby on taking the huge commitment on such a late scenario and still looking for ways to show what we have.”
Even with the new car, though, nobody involved with the program is under any illusion that good results will come easy. It’s tough out there. Then again, that’s part of the attraction.
“Especially this year, the competition has just risen to a new level that – at least in my time – I have never seen before,” Yacaman said. “There’s so many high, high-level teams involved at the moment and there’s so much manufacturer support and so many good drivers, as well.
“The level that the series and the class has at the moment, I have never seen in the past five, six years. It’s just very, very cool to be part of this new IMSA that is happening with some of the best endurance drivers in the world.”
This weekend’s race is the closest thing the Frenso, Calif.-based program has to a “home” track.
It’s also a place where the team has won previously, winning the ALMS Prototype Challenge class in 2013 and the WeatherTech Championship PC race in 2016.
“It’s definitely a homecoming event that we get to enjoy a lot more with friends and family that never get to come to our events, really,” said Oergel.
“Some of the local patrons and sponsors that we have that are able to make the trek to some of the bigger events, this is obviously nice for them, as well, because their friends and family can come.”
This will be Yacaman’s second WeatherTech Championship appearance at the track and his first since finishing fourth there in 2014. It’ll be Saavedra’s first race there, but he did get some recent track time to help with the learning curve prior to the weekend.
“I’d never been in a series that has raced out there,” Saavedra said. “As a strategy, we found an amazing racing school that allowed us to do a track day last week. That allowed me to familiarize myself with the racetrack itself and be able to optimize arriving with a brand-new chassis and brand-new everything.
“We didn’t want to be behind the gap with everything else. It was a pretty good strategy from the whole team.”
Saavedra was impressed with the racetrack, which is an opinion he shares with his co-driver.
“Laguna Seca is obviously one of the iconic tracks of North America,” Yacaman said. “The Corkscrew is a very famous corner, so it’s always a lot of fun to get racing over there.”