Although he won’t be driving at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca for the first time in many years, SpeedSource team principal Sylvain Tremblay is still plenty focused on the task at hand heading into this weekend’s Continental Tire Monterey Grand Prix powered by Mazda.
Tremblay knows this is likely the SpeedSource Mazda SKYACTIV-D’s best chance to shine from an overall standpoint, with a car that is significantly more developed this year than last.
The Mazda punched above its weight a year ago, and the No. 07 car driven by Tristan Nunez and Joel Miller was well positioned for a top-five or top-six finish before contact at the Corkscrew took the young guns out of contention.
“There’s a lot of focus placed on this particular event, just like we did last year,” Tremblay told Sportscar365. “We have done a lot of simulation work, and we have a pretty good package there.
Without mentioning it by name, Tremblay admitted both his pair of cars and the No. 60 Michael Shank Racing Ligier JS P2 Honda should be best suited to the twisty 2.238-mile road course.
“It seems to suit an LMP2-type car. There’s another one powered by a different manufacturer that we are a little concerned about, but so should everyone else at that particular circuit.”
Last year marked one of only two races on the calendar where an LMP2 car swept to both the pole position and the race win – Canadian Tire Motorsport Park is the other.
With both Tequila Patron ESM and OAK Racing (as G-Drive Racing) now focusing on their FIA World Endurance Championship commitments this season, the LMP2-spec mantle has been left to Shank and SpeedSource.
If SpeedSource wins, it won’t be with Tremblay behind the wheel for the first time this season after serving as third driver at both Daytona and Sebring. Jonathan Bomarito heads to his home race, where he has tens of thousands of laps, paired with Nunez in the flagship No. 70 car.
Miller and Tom Long will share the No. 07, with Long pulling double duty this weekend in a different manner. The new 2016 Mazda MX-5 Cup car is slated to make its race weekend debut, with Long doing test and development work alongside the current generation MX-5 for comparison testing.
It’s been an adjustment for Tremblay, who admitted his role has changed.
“It’s very difficult. It’s killing me,” Tremblay said. “It’s the first time in 20 years that I haven’t been behind the wheel of a SpeedSource car. So it’s a difficult transition for me.
“But the guys have been great about it. I started this business to drive racecars, and now I’m not driving as often as I wish.
“But we have such talented people here, and it’s kind of my role now. I’m a steward for the brand, and we need to foster up and coming talent. There’s a lot of money invested in the ladder. Those guys need seats too, and it’s all trying to balance both sides.”
Whereas most of 2014 was spent trying not to alter the balance of the overall race and the other three classes, the early endurance races saw Mazda back within its place in the Prototype category on relative pace.
Tremblay said he hopes the field shows the Mazdas the similar amount of respect they’ve shown if they are in pole, podium or win contention.
“We’ve really paid our dues. We try to be respectful,” he said. “We’re going through our own program, and been trying not to interrupt anyone else’s.
“If you race like a jerk, you get treated like a jerk. We haven’t done that.
“We’re not trying to trip up anybody so if people have pace on us, we just let them race. So now, if we have pace, hopefully they’ll let us race also.”
The paddock consensus – and the team consensus, judging by discussions – is that this is the circuit where SpeedSource could finally take that next step.
The team has put most, if not all, its eggs into this basket with the goal of delivering a result.
And given the team’s future ambitions depending on the new 2017 P2 regulations, it might be its best remaining shot on the calendar.
“For us, it’s a homecoming, a special place,” Tremblay said. “We put out our best, best stuff for this event.”