Friday dawned clear and cloudless with a beautiful sunrise over the hills at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca for the first official day of the Pirelli World Challenge Grand Prix of Monterey. How can a day like this be unlucky when it starts like this!
There’s a full schedule of races, with a new to California event – The Intercontinental GT Challenge. This will be an eight-hour endurance race on Sunday. The entries for the nineteen teams come from the US and abroad – Australia and Belgium; and the drivers come from America, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain,the Netherlands, Papua New Guinea, Portugal, and South Africa. This series has a unique concept for the four races it runs: It works with local GT3 teams in the country in which it’s running, transporting drivers and engineers instead of cars and equipment. The other events are Liqui-Moly Bathhurst 12 Hours, Total 24 Hours of Spa and the Sepang 12 Hours.
Other races on the schedule are for the Pirelli World Challenge TC class, PWC TCA/TCB Classes, Battery Tender Global MX-5 Cup and Pirelli GT# Trophy Cup USA.
Friday’s schedule called for a 90-minute practice and a pre-qualifying session for the California 8-Hour Series, two practice sessions and a qualifying session for the PWC Touring classe, a practice and a qualifying session for the MX-5 Mazdas and a 45-minute race at days end for the GT3 Porsches. All in all, a ten hour day.
The California enduro cars had two sessions, and the No.29 Audi R8 LMS was fastest in each. The results don’t list which of the three drivers turned the fastest lap, and the monitor isn’t always up-to-date. Christopher Mies/Germany was listed last. The other two drivers for the car are Connor De Philippi/USA, and Christophe Haase/Germany.
Second in the afternoon Pre-Qualifying session was Patrick Long/USA in No.58 Porsche 911 GT3R, with co-drivers Jorg Bergmeister/Germany and Romain Dumas of France.
Third fastest in the afternoon was Alvero Parente/Portugal, with Bryan Sellers/USA and Ben Barnicott of Great Britain in his first ever time at MRLS.
Left to right: No.29 Audi R8 LMS; No.59 Porsche 911 GT3 R; and No.9 McLaren 650S GT3.
The PWC TC classes have a championship is on the line this weekend. The point spread is especially close in the TCB class – three points before qualifying between three drivers: Jake Pipal/No.6 Honda, PJ Groenke/No.25 Sonic, and Canaan O’Connell/No.24 Sonic.
O’Connell has the TCB pole position with a provisional new track record lap of 1:51.488/72.2 mph. This gives him another point, which now ties him for second in the standings with teammate, Groenke and just two adrift of Points Leader Pipal. Young O’Connell, a driver instructor at Bondurant’s Driving School in AZ, said “We’re so close – PJ (Groenke) and Jake (Pipal) and I – that I can’t hold anything back.”
Legendary sports car/GT driver and 4-time PWC GT Champion, Johnny O’Connell, is getting used now to being “Canaan’s Dad.” He joked that “the kid finally took my advice.”
Left to right: Canaan O’Connell; PJ Groenke No.25 Sonic; and Jake Pipal.
The TC class races are Saturday morning and are split, with the TC class by itself, and the TCA and TCB running together. The fastest race laps of those races will set the grid for the afternoon races. Their Awards Banquet is that evening.
TC Points Leader, Paul Holton/No.71 Audi has the TC pole with a lap of 1:35.474/84.3 mph. He said “That (qualifying lap) was one of those laps where it was either going to be on the pole or it was going to be in the wall. Thankfully we got it on the pole. I don’t think I’ve sent a car off the Corkscrew as hard as I did that time.”
Eric Powell/No.23 Scion turned a 1:41.680/79.2 mph for the TCA pole. “It’s awesome to get our own race, to be the feature event. Aside from that, it’s nice to not have to worry about incidents in the Touring Car class affecting our race.”
Another championship which will be hotly contested will be the MX-5 Mazdas, who are racing for a lucrative $120,000 in prize money including $75,000 to the Saturday afternoon race winner. The provisional pole went to Nikko Reger/No.01 of Texas. Second and third were Robby Foley/No.63 of NJ and Patrick Gallagher/No.29 of Ohio. There are 19 cars in this group, including 12 Rookies.
Russell Ward/No.35 won the 45-minute race for the Pirelli GT3 Trophy Cup USA, from the pole position. Second and third finished in their qualifying position also: Loren Beggs/No.08 and Alex Kirby/No.01. All three are in the Diamond class.
The weather was sunny all day, warming up nicely in the afternoon, with the breezes ranging back and forth between gentle to stronger.
Thursday was an all-day test session. Two drivers had bad crashes, but they are alright. The cars are not and at least one is undergoing a 24-hour restoration, with more car parts on the way. As the day went on, observed one series Chief Steward, the drivers pushed the limits further and further. The SFR SCCA Course Marshals and Emergency Crews were kept busy picking up and cleaning up while the flaggers got plenty of practice with the variety of flags.
Saturday’s schedule calls for two qualifying sessions and seven races. Throw in a PWC TC Autograph session and noontime Race & Rods Parade Laps and you have another rich and full ten-hour day.