J TAYLOR ON IMSA POLE & DUSTY DRIVING

Dust Cloud

Saturday at WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca, it was sunshine from the moment the sun crested over the Turn Nine hill and bathed the paddock in light, bringing out the shades at 7:30am. Today there is more practice, an 8am warm-up for a 5:45pm race, qualifying and three races. Busy Day!

The day started out frisky and none of the morning sessions went uninterrupted. The drivers kicked up their heels … and a lot of dust and gravel. The corner workers got a work out with a rainbow of flags – Red, Yellow, Green, Blue, Yellow/Red, and White. The SFR E Crew were kept busy retrieving.

Amused Visitors at F&C Meeting

Porsche Driver Coach Craig Stanton & Race Director Randy Buck

SCRAMP (Sports Car Racing Association of Monterey Peninsula) CEO, Tim McCrane and IMSA Driver Advisor, Elliot Forbes-Robinson visited, amused and educated us at the 7am morning meeting of the SFR SCCA Flagging & Communications Crew, with IMSA Official, Jo Ann Jensen, Jim Swintal, Pirelli Porsche Race Director Randy Buck and Driver Coach, Craig Stanton. Lots to go over with all the IMSA rules, ways and means.

Jordan Taylor

No.10 Konica/Minolta Prototype Cadillac

In IMSA WeatherTech Qualifying, Jordan Taylor/No.10 Konica/Minolta Cadillac has the pole position for Sunday’s America’s Tire 250 Race for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. His lap was 1:16.181/105.758, a new track record – breaking the one set last June by his brother, Ricky Taylor – 1:16.853. There are thirteen Prototypes in the race. This was Jordan’s tenth (or 11th) IMSA pole, his second WeatherTech Championship pole, and his first pole at this Laguna Seca track since 2015. The team hasn’t won at Laguna Seca since 2013. Jordan and teammate Renger Van Der Zande are fourth in the Driver standings. Cadillac is leading the Prototype Manufacturer Standings. Thirty-four drivers qualified.

Jordan hasn’t had a victory this season, and hopes this pole will remedy that. He said “We’ve been putting ourselves in a good position to win all year. Getting pole certainly helps. I guess it’s time for us to get a win and get ahold of this championship.” He said “Action Express is our main competition.”

Jordan said “It was a good lap, we have had a good Cadillac all weekend. Renger was fast in practice all week. I had a good qualifying set-up that worked over one lap, but in practice we were working on a car that would handle for the whole race. It is nice to start from the pole. We will work from the front and see if we can control it. Laguna is always a low grip track, you are always sliding around. We focused on the handling toward the end of the stint. Renger is going to finish the race and developed a set-up that best suits him, so hopefully we have the car set-up right so he can battle for the win.”

Oliver Gavin

Oliver Gavin/No.4 GTLM Corvette

Oliver Gavin/No.4 Corvette Racing Corvette C7 R took the GTLM pole position ahead of seven competitors. It was his first-ever pole position at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. He’s had more than 50 career poles in various series.

For awhile during the fifteen-minute Qualifying session, he and teammate, Jan Magnussen/No.3 were 1-2, before Dirk Mueller/No.66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT inserted himself to be the filling in a Corvette sandwich.

Gavin is the ninth different driver to get the pole position in ten races. He and teammate, Tommy Milner are fourth in the GTLM Driver standings with 252 points.Their fellow Corvette, No.3 with Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen, is leading the standings with 269 points. Gavin and Milner won their 2015 IMSA class at Laguna Seca in 2012.

Gavin said “It was nice to get back to P1. It’s always great to get pole position here at Laguna Seca. Thanks to everyone at Corvette Racing and the crew. It takes a massive effort from everyone on the team to get back to P1. It’s nice to have this moment for the guys on our team. It gives everyone a nice little fill-up going into the race tomorrow.

“I’m thrilled, but this is only a small step in trying to achieve what we want to achieve tomorrow, and that’s a victory. Once the green flag drops tomorrow, this is all kind of forgotten. We have a very good race car; obviously it fell in nicely for qualifying. The Corvette C7.R has been strong all year. We’ve had an amazing team, great strategy and pit stops. We just need to execute tomorrow. The competition is at an all-time high in GTLM, and to be able to beat those guys is pretty satisfying. But the real work is ahead for tomorrow.

“We’ll be pushing like crazy at the start and we’ll work hard tonight to make sure we have everything covered and we’re fully prepared for the race.

On there being so many different GTLM pole winners, Gavin said “It speaks to the level of competition in the class. We’ve obviously got a good race car and an amazing team. It’s great for the guys. GTLM competition is at an all-time high and beating them (other competitors) feels good.”

Katherine Legge

Katherine Legge/No.86 GTD Acura

Katherine Legge/No.86 Meyer Shank Racing w/Curb-Agajanian Acura NSX got her first WeatherTech IMSA pole position with a time of 1:24.456. She said it was nerve-racking the last five minutes waiting to see if anyone topped her time. She credited her team for giving her such a good car. “First pole in a GT car for me, so I’m over the moon over that. The team gave me a great car, so thanks to them. Now it’s all about tomorrow. We really need a good result here and Petit [Le Mans] to be in with a shot at the championship.”

Legge is in a tights point battle with Bryan Sellars and Madison Snow in No.48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3. Sellars and Snow are 18 points ahead of Legge. Her co-driver, Alvaro Parente is further behind in the standings.

IMSA WeatherTech sportscars had an hour-long morning practice. Ranger Van Der Zande/No.10 Konica/Minolta Cadillac was the fastest overall and the fastest Prototype, narrowly shading his Friday fastest overall time, to clock a 1:16.605/105.172 mph. His co-driver is Jordan Taylor. The No.911 Porsche Team Porsche 911 RSR with Patrick Palet and Nick Tandy was quickest in the GTLM Class, at 1:22.839/97.258 mph. The No.58 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911GT3 R driven by Patrick Long and Christina Nielsen was tops in GTD, at 1:24.619/95.212 mph.

The Lamborghini Race was marred by a jarring accident at the bottom of the Corkscrew on Lap Four. LB driver Sheena Monk/No.7 had no brakes and drove straight into the tire wall and flipped, landing right side up. The SFR Emergency Crew and IMSA Medical Team responded to the driver, and the SFR Course Marshals and Track equipment arrived to repair the damaged tire wall. “Monk was transported to a local hospital for further evaluation, and she was awake and alert.”

The Red Flag lasted most of the race, which featured driver changes. The race restarted, there were driver changes, and then another incident so the Pace Car took the Checkered Flag ahead of Pro Driver, Taylor Prolo/No.50 US Race Tronics. His co-driver is Edoardo Piscopo, who qualified the car. Trent Hindman/No. 1 Wayne Taylor Racing turned the fastest lap in the class at 1:25.651. Unfortunately he and co-driver Johnny Cecotto DNF.

ProAm driver, Loria Spinelli/No.71 P1 Motorsports, had led until the restart after the Red Flag and their driver change to JC Perez. They won the ProAm class, finishing fourth overall. Spinelli turned the fastest class lap of 1:25.515

Brian Thiennes/No.17 US Race Tronics won the Am Class, driving alone. He finished sixth overall. Damon Ockey/No.09 US Race Tronics turned the fastest class lap of 1:27.302.

Mark Proto and Parris Mullens won the LB Cup Class, finishing eighth overall. Brett Meredith/No.66 P1 Motorsports drove alone and turned the fastest class lap of 1:27.776.

Fourteen drivers finished the race, with 13 on the lead lap. Only 15 laps were completed in the 50-minute race, due to the half hour or so Red Flag time. Two drivers were penalized time for short pit stops – No.67 PPM in the Am class and No.71 P1 Motorsports in the ProAm class.

Next up the two-hour race for IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge and 45-minute race for Pirelli Trophy West U.S.A.

THE SUN ALSO RISES

South Boundry Sunrise

Despite the ground hugging fog greeting early arrivers at WeatherTech Laguna Seca Friday morning for the Continental Monterey Grand Prix, the schedule started on time with Porsche Pirelli Trophy West U.S.A. The drive into the track on South Boundary Road was downright scary, but upon cresting the hill overlooking the paddock it was clearer…enough so that it was picturesque but clear enough to race.

It soon lifted and the sun shone, with blue skies and light breezes. It was low seventies, warmer than Thursday.

Four series are competing this weekend – IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, IMSA Lamborghini Trofeo, and Porsches. Friday calls for Practice for all, and Qualifying for Lambos and Porsches.

The IMSA race has been held at Laguna Seca 1974 when it held the Inaugural Monterey Triple Crown. Just now “experts from USA Today and fans” voted the Continental Monterey Grand Prix the fifth Best Motorsports Race in the World, behind such International events as the Indianapolis 500, Daytona 500, Monaco Grand Prix and 24 Hours of Le Mans. This race on the iconic 2.238-mile elevated road course is traditionally the penultimate race of the IMSA season. Ten International races made the list, and the only other American venue besides Daytona was the USGP at COTA. Next year the fiftieth Anniversary of IMSA will be celebrated as the featured marque at the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion.

Several of the sessions were punctuated with Red Flags to bring in the cars, while their fellow competitors were being retrieved out of gravel pits mostly in Turns Two and Eight/Corkscrew area. The lunch-time on-track activities were mostly canceled so that track maintenance could be performed in the Corkscrew area, removing three Dissuaders after one was taken out at Turn Eight.

The Konica Minolta Cadillac No.10 DPi was the fastest WeatherTech IMSA Prototype and overall sportscar in the morning practice, with drivers Roger Van Der Zande and Jordan Taylor, turning a 1:16.882/104.794 mph. Second and third Protytpes were Dane Cameron & Juan Pablo Montoya/No.6 Acura Team Penske Acura DPi; and Johannes van Overbeek & Pipo Derani/No.22 Tequila Patron ESM Nissan DPi.

In the GTLM class, Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook were fastest in No.67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT at 1:23.644/96.322 mph. Second and third were Joey Hand & Dirk Mueller in the No.66 team Ford GT; and Earl Bamber & Laurens Vanthoor/No.912 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911.

Bryan Sellers and Madison Snow were the top GTD team in No.48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3 at 1:25.403/94.338 mph. Second and third in class were Ben Keating & Jeroen Bleekemolen/No.33 Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports Mercedes; and John Potter & Andy Lally/No.44 Magnus Racing Audi.

No.10 Konica Cadillac P

No.67 GTLM Ford GT

No.48 GTD Lamborghini

Left to Right: No.10 Konica Minolta Prototype Cadillac; No.67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing GTLM Ford GT; and No.38 GTD Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini.

In the afternoon Dane Cameron/No.6 Team Penske Acura pipped his teammate,Helio Castroneves/No.7 Team Penske Acura at the very last minute – literally, with a time of 1:16.885 – just barely not quite as fast as the Konica Cadillac from the morning session. Castroneves was second in the afternoon, with No.5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac in third with Filipe Albuquerque and Joao Barbosa.

In the GTLM class, the No.66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT was tops with Joey Hand & Dirk Mueller at 1:23.427/96.670 mph. Second and third in class were teammates Briscoe and Westbrook in No.67; and Oliver Gavin & Tommy Milner/No.4 Corvette Racing Corvette.

Park Place Porsche was the fastest GTD team with drivers Patrick Lindsey and Joerg Bergmeister in No.73 Porsche at 1:25.148/94.620mph.

Dane Cameron/No.6 Prototype Acura

No.66 GTLM Ford GT

No.73 GTD Porsche

Left to Right: Dane Cameron/No.6 Prototype Acura; No.66 GTLM Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT; and No.73 GTD Park Place Porsche.

Watching this group go through the Turn One radar trap near the end of the first hour-long session, I saw 149 mph pop up on the cross-over bridge sign.

In the Continental Challenge Group, practicing for Saturday’s WeatherTech Raceway Laguna 120 race, Gary Ferrera and Kris Wilson were fastest overall in the morning session and in the Grand Sport Class at 1:33.123/86.517 mph in No.99 Automatic Racing Aston Martin. Second and third in GS were Dillon Machavern & Spencer Pumpelly/No.28 RS1 Porsche Cayman; and Alan Brynjolfsson & Trent Hindman/No.7 Multimatic Motorsports Ford Mustang.

Quickest in the Touring Car Class were Roy Block and Pierre Kleinubing/No.75 Compass Racing AudiRS3 at 1:35.501/84.363 mph.Second and third in TCR were Russell Ward & Damien Faulkner/No.33 Winward Racing/HTP Mercedes AMG and Robin Liddell & Andrew Davis/No.71 Rebel Rock Racing Camaro.

Mike LaMarra and Matt Pombo were the fastest of the Street Tuner class cars,in No.73 MINI USA Mini JCW, at 1:39.853/80.686 mph. Second and third were Nick Galante and Devin Jones in No.81 Veristor/Logistics BMW; and Colin Mullan & Mark Pombo in No.52 Mini USA JCW.

The Porsche group was the largest field, with 38 entries. They have six categories within the series: Diamond, Diamond Masters, Platinum, Gold, Bronze and Silver. In the first practice, Michael Zukeack/No.2 GT3 Cup was fastest overall and in Diamond Master at 1:31.013. Sean McAlister/No.00 GT3 Cup was the fastest Platinum at 1:31.405; Jonah Yokubatis/No.43 GT3 Cup in Diamond at 1:31.538; Will Lin/No.5 GT3 Cup-Gold at 1:34.347; Steve Goldman/No.9 Cayman-Bronze at 1:35.564; and Chris Bellomo/No.67 Cayman at 1:36.897.

In the second practice, a somewhat different cast topped their respective classes, as the times got faster. Loren Beggs/No.08 GT3 Cup was the quickest Porsche and in Diamond at 1:19.934. Preston Calvert/No.7 GT 3 Cup-Diamond Master at 1:19.152; Mcalister in Platinum at 1:29.841; Lin in Gold at 1:32.845; Laura Ely/No.09 Cayman-Bronze at 1:34.887; and Bellomo in Silver at 1:35.853.

In the Super Trofeo series morning practice, Trent Hindeman and Jonathan Cecotto/No.1 Wayne Taylor Racing were the fastest in the Pro Class at 1:24.211/95.673 mph. JC Perez and Loris Spinelli/No.71 P1 Motorsports were the fastest ProAm Team at 1:24.380/95.482 mph. Brian Thienes/No.17 US Race Tronics was the fastest Am driver at 1:26.240/93.422 mph. Brett Meredith/No.66 P1 Motorsports was the fastest in the LB Cup Class at 1:28.990/90.535mph.

In the afternoon, the speeds were a tad slower. P1 Motorsports drivers Perez and Spinelli were fastest overall and in ProAm at 1:25.264/94.494 mph. The fastest Pro drivers were Brandon Gdovic and Shinya Sean Michimi/No.46 PPM at 1:25.845/93.852 mph. Damon Ockey/No.09 US Race Tronics led the Am class at 1:26.429/03.218 mph. Sheena Monk/No.7 Wayne Taylor Racing was the fastest in LB Cup at 1:29.195/90.327 mph.

Thursday was the Promotors Test Day, which included the Porsches, Lamborghini’s and Continentals. At day’s end, the IMSA sports cars fueled in pit lane, with the Emergency Crew and Pit Marshals from San Francisco Region Sports Car Club of America standing by. While this was ongoing, those team members not involved with fueling went for their Track Orientation Walk.

No.6  IMSA Prototype fueling

SFR E Crew at Pit Lane fueling

No,63 IMSA GTD fueling

Saturday’s schedule calls for Practice and qualifying for IMSA and Continental Series, as well as three races – Lamborghinis, Continentals and Porsches. The day starts at 8am and goes to 6:30pm, with a 50-minute lunch. The excitement never ends!

EVEN FASTER SATURDAY

Alexander Rossi/No.27 Honda. Photo by Nico Matamoros

Alexander Rossi/No.27 Honda. Photo by Nico Matamoros

Another beautiful day in Southern California for the 44th running of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. The Verizon IndyCar Series had its morning practice, in preparation for the mid-afternoon qualifying session.

Alexander Rossi/No.27 NAPA Auto Parts Andretti Autosport Honda was the fastest IndyCar driver, at 1:06.6105/106.632 mph – faster than the fastest time of 1:08.4112/103.562 mph set Friday morning by Scott Dixon/No.9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. He set it on Lap 12 of the 15 he ran.

Every driver went faster Saturday morning.

Second through fifth were Joseph Newgarden/No.1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet – who led twice and much of the session, Will Power/No.12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.28 DHL Andretti Autosport Honda-who led once, and Simon Pagenaud/No.22 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet.

Joseph Newgarden/No. 20 Chevrolet

Will Power/No.12 Chevrolet

Simon Pagenaud/No.22 Chevrolet

Left to right – Team Penske drivers, Joseph Newgarden, Will Power and Simon Pagenaud. Photos by Nico Matamoros.

Also leading early on was Graham Rahal/No.15 Total Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda.

Yesterday morning’s fastest driver, Dixon, and Max Chilton/No.59 Gallagher Carlin Chevrolet turned the most laps – 20.

Jordan Kind/No.20 Chevrolet. Photo by Nico Matamoros

Jordan Kind/No.20 Chevrolet. Photo by Nico Matamoros

Despite his bringing out the Red and Checkered Flag, Jordan King/No.20 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet was the top Rookie. He missed the apex and drove straight into the tire wall. It was the second Red Flag. Earlier, there was another Red Flag to retrieve Zachary Claman De Mello/No.19 The Paysafe Car Dale Coyne Racing Honda. That took 10.19 out of the 45-minute session.He turned the fewest laps – 11.

James Hinchcliffe/No.5 Arrow Electronics SPM Honda was late going out. He finished twenty-first. All 24 drivers were on course.

Other fumbles including Veach driving into a runoff area and in need of a restart.

The minimum car weight for an IndyCar is 1620 pounds. The average weight for an IndyCar driver has been determined (by IndyCar) to be 185 pounds. So if a driver, such as Zach Veach or Takuma Sato weighs less, he must make up that difference in ballast, and conversly, if a driver (and there is at least one) weighs more, he can reduce weight in the car. Confidentiality precludes IndyCar indicating which driver is the heaviest.

Friday afternoon the IndyCar paddock was filled with queues of fans lined up for autographs from their favorite drivers. When I came in to watch, I was asked if I was allergic to bees. Evidently a hive had occupied a now cordoned-off corner and was being relocated. Only in California.

Juan Pablo Montoya and Joey Hand

Juan Pablo Montoya and Joey Hand.

In the BUBBA burgers Sports Car Grand Prix at Long Beach, only two IMSA classes are competing: Prototypes and GTLM.

Juan Montoya/No.6 Acura Team Penske Prototype is on pole for Saturday afternoon’s 100-minute race. He broke last year’s record set by Ricky Taylor, with a time of 1:12.922. JPM’s co-driver is Dane Cameron. This is the first pole for Honda in its third race since entering the IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship this season.

Joey Hand/No.66 Ford GT Chip Ganassi Racing has the GTLM pole, and set a new track record of 1:16.869. He admitted he lost his second mirror on the wall. His co-driver is Dirk Mueller.

The top four Prototype drivers broke the existing track record. Montoya said “I just really love this car. This car reminds of a Formula One car, so balanced, so nice to drive.”

Montoya and fellow Penske IMSA driver, Helio Castroneves, were inducted Thursday into the Long Beach Motorsports Walk of Fame and had their name plaques installed, commemorating their LBGP winning history. Montoya said that was such a great honor.”“It’s unbelievable. I came here two years ago to see Roger get inducted. It was huge, huge names here. You don’t realize when you race and you win races, you never do it to be here. To get recognized for everything that you’ve done, it’s amazing.” Montoya won his first of 15 IndyCar races at the 1998 LBGP, and ran five races in Long Beach.

Castroneves raced 13 times since 1998, with one victory, three poles and currently holds the IndyCar qualifying track record of 1.06.2254 seconds/ 106.980 mph, set last year.

During the IMSA sessions there had been a lot of track limit violations, going over the new blend lines. No one seemed to know why.

Jimmy Hague, Chad Raynal, & Bill Ockerland.

Jimmy Hague, Chad Raynal, & Bill Ockerland.

Jimmy Hague/No.16 won the 11-lap HMSA Historic Trans Am Series Challenge in his 1970 Ford Boss 302 Mustang, after starting third. The Margin of Victory was a close 0.628 seconds, ahead of runner-up Bill Ockerland/No.25 1968 Ford Boss Mustang, who started fourth. Ockerland turned the fastest race lap – 1:40.396/70.569 mph. Early on, Hague had set the race’s fastest lap of 1:42.148.

Finishing third was Pole Sitter Chad Raynal/No.64 1969 Chevrolet Camaro.

Tomy Drisi/No.1 1970 Chevrolet Camaro finished third on the track, but was Disqualified.

No.16 1970 Ford Boss 302 Mustang

No.25 1968 Ford Boss Mustang

No.64 1969 Chevrolet Camaro

Twenty-seven started the race, and several failed to finish all the laps. John Hildebrand/No.49 1964 Pontiac GTO had a failed transponder, so didn’t show on the results. He had to pit early for overheating.

Autograph queues

DIXON & NASR FASTEST FRIDAY MORNING

It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. Sunny blue skies, nary a breeze, and lots of noisy race cars filling the streets down by the harbor. What more could one ask! The Verizon IndyCar Series is the headliner, with five other series adding to the very full bill of fare for the 44th running of the country’s oldest street race. Last year’s attendance was 183,000, and GPALB President, Jim Michaelian, said Thursday that ticket sales are strong and everything is on track for as good or better attendance this year.

Filling the dance card, besides IndyCars this weekend, are the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, Pirelli World Challenge, Historic Trans-Am, Stadium Super Trucks, and Motegi Racing Super Drift Challenge. There also will be two-seater IndyCar rides, two concerts, a Go-Kart track, and lots of other fun activities including the Lifestyle Expo. Something for everyone … and warm weather.
Scott Dixon's No.9 Honda

Scott Dixon/No.9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, who led twice, was the fastest of the 24 IndyCar drivers on track. His best time was 103.562 MPH/ 1:08.4112. He turned it on Lap Nine of the 14 he ran.

Second through fifth were Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.28 DHL Andretti Autosport Honda, Alexander Rossi/No.27 NAPA Auto Parts Andretti Autosport Honda, Simon Pagenaud/No.22 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet,and James Hinchfliffe/No.5 Arrow Electronics SPM Honda. All but Hinch led once during the session. Also leading early one was Max Chilton/No.59 Gallagher Chevrolet.

Zach Veach's No.26 Honda

Zach Veach/No.26 Group One Thousand One Andretti Autosport Honda was the fastest Rookie, in thirteenth place. There are seven Rookies this weekend, nearly a third of the field.

There was a Red Flag lasting 5.07 minutes of the 45-minute session, to retrieve Gabby Chaves/No.88 Harding Chevrolet who stalled in the Queen’s Hairpin. He got back out and was twenty-first for the session. Kyle Kaiser/No.32 Juncos Racing Chevrolet went off course, stalled and had to be push started. He was last for the session.Charlie Kimball/No.23 Tresibe Chevrolet drove off and stalled, near the end. There wasn’t time to push him. He finished twenty-second.

There will be another 45-minute IndyCar practice Friday afternoon, followed by an Autograph Session in the paddock.

The Indianapolis 500 Roster is filling up. Thursday Dreyer & Reinbold announced JR Hildebrand will drive No.66 Chevrolet, a number special to JR. Sponsorship will be from Salesforce. JR will be teammates with Sage Karam, making this D&R’s first time for a two-car team at the Indy 500. Both cars are new and the team has requested shakedown time in the car. So far the answer has been no, but they’re still hoping.

The Weathertech IMSA Series was first on track Friday morning, and Felipe Nasir/No.31 Cadillac ended up fastest at 1:13.582. Teammate Felipe Albuquerque in No.5 was second, followed by Helio Castroneves/No.7 Acura. For much of the session Ricky Taylor was fastest in No.7 Acura.

Ryan Briscoe was the fastest GTLM car in No.67 Ford GT Chip Ganassi Racing at 1:17.898, followed by Dirk Mueller in the sister car, No.66. Earl Bamber was third in No.912 Porsche GT Team. The next session for IMSA is qualifying late afternoon.

FOG

Foggy Paddock

Sunday morning’s heavy dense coastal fog in Monterey delayed the start by two hours for the third and final day of the Mazda Road To Indy races at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. With practiced tweaking by the mob of involved Stewards, Race Officials and Track staff, the schedule was adjusted, keeping the announced order of races for the five series. The series retained most if not all of their promised track time, with the day slated to end 55 minutes late.

Again the SFR SCCA volunteer race marshals gave up their lunch hour for another, now familiar, Grab and Go drill. The sun broke the fog at 11 am, with the help of a languid breeze. The temperatures were in the low sixties.

Sunday’s schedule called for seven races, with at least one race per series; and two series have two races, morning and afternoon.

The races, in order, are: Pro Mazda Series Presented by Cooper Tires – Pro Mazda Grand Prix of Monterey Presented by Allied Building Products; IMSA Prototype Lites Presented by Cooper Tires; Global MX-5 Cup Invitational; Cooper Tires USF2000 Powered by Mazda – Cooper Tires Grand Prix of Monterey Powered by Mazda; Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires – Mazda Indy Lights Grand Prix of Monterey Presented by Cooper Tires; and then the second race of the day for Pro Mazda Championship and IMSA Prototype Lites. Now that’s a mouthful!

One of the amazing things about this weekend is that there is such a plethora of young talent, drivers honing their skills and doing some incredible racing. All this talent and energy, which will develop and rise to higher levels. The sad thing, to me, is that the better they get and higher up they go, the fewer the chances become of getting a good ride. All dressed up and no place to go. Forty-two of the 82 drivers (mostly young and mostly male) are Americans, and the rest hail from 22 other countries far and wide. Let’s wish them luck and opportunities.

Foggy Sunday

42 AND COUNTING

TGPLB Logo

Jim Michaelian

It’s April 15th and while many Yankees are slaving away on their income tax forms due Monday, the North American racing world is converging on sunny Southern California for its annual rite of spring – the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. This year the granddaddy of all American street races turns 42; and it still has the same sponsor – the longest corporate sponsorship in motorsports history, we’re told. And the good news from Jim Michaelian, grand poobah of the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach, the contract, currently through 2017, has been resigned in a multi-year deal. His words: “It will be around for a long time to come.”

This year the schedule calls for the Verizon IndyCar Series-the headliner race, WeatherTech IMSA Series Bubba Burger Sportscar Grand Prix of Long Beach, Pirelli World Challenge, Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race, SPEED Energy Stadium Trucks Presented by Traxxas, and the Motegi Racing Super Drifting Challenge. This year there is no IndyLights race – it was too expensive for them. The schedule starts each morning on or before 8am and goes into the evening with the Drifting. Sunday Stadium Trucks end the show after the IndyCar race.

Max Papis's car

This is the 40th and last year for the Pro/Celebrity race-the longest running corporate-sponsored charity race. Toyota is moving its headquarters from nearby Torrance CA to Plano TX. So the finale will be a blowout – bringing back many former drivers including Al Unser Jr, Jimmy Vasser, Adam Carolla, Eddie Lawson, Max Papis, Mike Skinner, Rod Millen, and MS Dara Torres who won the Celebrity races in 2002.

Celebs Parked on Street

Thursday afternoon all the drivers took to the track for a Walk-Around, which also included various forms of two and four wheel vehicles.

CORE Racing Team

Wayne Taylor Racing Cart

Will Fitchner

The paddock was busy Thursday getting set up, with cars going through Tech, getting tires, fueling the cars, various systems checks, circuit inspections being completed, and people getting back into the swing of things.

Will Power 's car in Tech

Radios

James Hinchcliffe's car being fueled

Friday calls for practice for all groups and qualifying for Pro/Celebs, IMSA and Drift. The day started at 7:40am with IMSA practice and will end with Drifting, finishing at 9pm. How would you like to be a corner worker with that schedule? Let’s hear it for those hardy volunteers in White!

The weather forecast is for warm and sunny, increasingly so each day, with ocean breezes. History says it’s never rained on race day.

UNSUNG HEROES

TURN 12

There are more than 300 SCCA volunteer race marshals and officials working the 41st Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. Many of them have worked many of these events dating back to the F5000 and F1 days – an annual trek. They come from SCCA Regions up and down the West Coast, from across the country, and from abroad. Such is the lure of The Beach. They all pay their own way, buy their uniforms, and work long hours in a variety of specialties. Their day starts before sunrise four days in a row, and with the late night Drifting Demonstrations, some work until 10pm. All for the love of the sport.

Thank you one and all!

Bill Galey

SCCA Marshals

SCCA Pit Lane Marshals

Fire Safety Marshal

Peter West Ambulance Marshal

Pit Lane Marshals

Cal Club Tow Truck

41 … BUT WHO’S COUNTING

Welcome LBGP

This weekend marks the forty-first running of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, long considered the grandfather of American street races. The event started out with a FIA qualifying F5000 race and then moved to Formula One. Thirty-two years ago indycars began, under various banners … CART, Champ Car and now IndyCar.

The schedule, as always, is full with something for most everyone. In addition to the Verizon IndyCars, also racing this three-day weekend are the IMSA sanctioned TUDOR Championship Series, SCCA Pro Racing Pirelli World Challenge Series, Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires Series, ToyotaPro/Celebrity Race, KMC Wheels Super Drift Drift Challenge Series, and Robby Gordon’s SPEED Energy Off-Road Series.

Robby Gordon

Robby Gordon, along with Bryan Herta, was inducted into the Long Beach Motorsports Walk of Fame Thursday. This is the tenth year of honoring those who have made legendary contributions to the sport. Gordon has raced in four different series at Long Beach – IndyCar, Indy Lights Trans-Am, and last year for debut of the Formula Off Road Series. At Long Beach, he won in Indy Lights, Trans-Am and Off-Road, and finished third in IndyCar. In two more – different – series away from Long Beach, Gordon has won three victories each in NASCAR and the Baja 1000 Off Road race.

Herta has raced IndyCars and Indy Lights at Long Beach, winning the 1993 Lights Championship. He ran five Indianapolis 500 races, coming in third in 2005. As an IndyCar team owner, Herta’s driver, the late Dan Wheldon, won the 100th Anniversary running of the Indy 500.

Twenty-three drivers are entered for the Long Beach IndyCar race, with some new faces after the first two races of the season – at St. Petersburg and New Orleans.

Rocky Moran Jr of Pasadena CA is replacing Carlos Huertas in No.18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda. Huertas raced the first two races with Dale Coyne Racing. That announcement came Friday morning. Little was known about the change, other than a Tweet by Curt Cavin of the Indianapolis Star, saying that “Coyne told me that Huertas is a possibility for the Indianapolis 500. Carlos isn’t racing here ‘for business reasons.’

Sebastian Saavedra of Colombia is making his first appearance this year, driving No.8 AFS Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet for Chip Ganassi Racing Teams. Rookie Sage Karam, Ganassi’s development driver, raced the car in the first two races this year, and will race again at the Barber race, the Indianapolis 500 and all the remaining race until the season’s finale at Sonoma Raceway in August. Karam is the 2014 Indy Lights Champion.

Missing this weekend is Simona de Silvestro of Switzerland, who had raced the first two races in No.25 Andretti Autosport Honda, finishing fourth at New Orleans and eighteenth at St. Pete. She is expected back for the Indianapolis 500.

Empty IndyCar Tech

In the IndyCar paddock all the teams were beavering away while their drivers and Crew Chiefs were at the obligatory morning meeting. All the IndyCars had gone through the IndyCar scrutineering process on Thursday, so Friday the Tech Crew were “just sitting and looking pretty.” During the weekend, sometimes after on-track sessions, the teams will bring back a car to be checked. Otherwise, it’s all good.

The first IndyCar practice is 12:30pm PDT, with the second session at 3:45pm local time. Each session is 45 minutes.

World Record for Kept Secret

Ed Bennett, Jim France, Don Panoz & Scott Atherton.

Ed Bennett, Jim France, Don Panoz & Scott Atherton. Photo courtesy GRAND-AM.

Today’s Media Conference at Daytona to announce the “historic, landmark merger” of the American Le Mans Series and GRAND-AM Road Racing was long on hope and short on details; but there are sixteen months to make it happen for one American sports car racing series.

The Fab Four were present for the big announcement – JIM FRANCE, vice-chairman NASCAR & GRAND-AM founder ; SCOTT ATHERTON, President & CEO, Panoz Motor Sports Group; Dr.DON PANOZ, ALMS founder; and ED BENNETT, Grand-Am CEO.

Other notables on hand included ED BROWN, president and CEO of Patron; COLETTE BENNETT, national sports marketing manager for Rolex; chairman and CEO of NASCAR, BRIAN FRANCE; CEO of the International Speedway Corporation, LISA FRANCE KENNEDY; NASCAR president; MIKE HELTON; NASCAR board member, GARY CROTTY; MARK REUSS, President, GM North America; JIM CAMPBELL, General Motors US Vice President of Performance Vehicles and Motorsports; JOHN DOONAN, Motorsport Director, Mazda North American Operations; BETH PARETTA, director of marketing and operations, SRT Motorsports; ANDRE OOSTHUIZEN, VP marketing, Porsche Cars North America; International Motorsports Association, chief operating officer, SCOTT ELKINS; President and general manager of Road Atlanta, JEFF LEE; president and general manager at Sebring International Raceway, TRES STEPHENSON.

In opening remarks, France pointed out that this was a new world record for a kept secret in motorsports – six months and 14 days.

What we know:

  • The new entity will take effect in 2014 starting with the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona and then onto The 12 Hours of Sebring, events which now can be co-promoted.
  • Probably a 12 race schedule
  • The impetus for joining sports car series started with Ed Brown of Patron talking with Jim France, who then happened to run into Atherton at an industry gathering … and meetings began
  • American Le Mans Series; Chateau Elan Hotel and Conference Center; GRAND-AM; International Motor Sports Association, Road Atlanta and Sebring International Raceway will be combined into a new entity, which also includes Panoz Motorsports Group.
  • The new organization has a Board of Directors: Chairman, Jim France; Vice Chairman, Don Panoz; and members Lisa France Kennedy; Ed Bennett; Scott Atherton; and NASCAR Vice President/Deputy General Counsel, KAREN LEETZOW.

What we don’t know:

  • Name – Branding
  • Classes and categories
  • Schedule for 2014
  • Technical rules and regulations
  • Broadcasting
  • Relationship with ACO and FIA
  • Staffing
  • Officiating
  • Communications
  • Future of the eight groups within ALMS and GRAND-AM:
    ALMS’ CooperTires Prototype Lites Powered by Mazda Series, Ferrari Challenge, IMSA, IMSA GT3 CupChallenge by Yokohama Series, and Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada by Michelin.
    GRAND-AM’s Continental Tires Sports Car Challenge, Rolex Sports Car Series, and TOTAL Performance Showcase

A sampling of the many sound bites:

France said “We do not have a name. We will be going through a plan. We have got some ideas on how to come up with a name for the new combined series.”

Panoz said what was being created is the American Sports Car Series, stressing the American part. “We have to take care of our own business, our own market, addressing our sponsors, our fans, our teams, and that’s exactly what we are going to do. Of course we are going to pay attention to what’s going on around us, but we’ll be acting responsibly in our own best interests.”

France ended the session by saying “And at the end of the day, we’ll find a way to race and compete with each other and figure things out.”

FANTASTIC FRIDAY & ROOKIES RULE

Each day the weather and ambiance just gets better at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Friday was the third of a four-day weekend – the American Le Mans Monterey Presented by Patron. Both IMSA an SCCA Pro Racing have series competing this weekend.

Friday the weather was already in the low sixties and try sunny for the first ALMS hour-long practice session.

Earlier there were two races and one qualifying session for support series.

Rookie TRISTAN NUNEZ/Performance Tech Elan DP02, 16 1/2 years old from South Florida, won from the pole position in the Cooper Tires Prototype Lites Championship Series. He  led all 17 laps. Nunez also was first in the L1 class. His Margin of Victory over runner-up ANTONIO DOWNS/Eurosport Racing Elan DP02 was 2.821 seconds in the half-hour race.

SCOTT TUCKER/Level 5 Motorsports West WR1000 won the L2 class, finished fourth overall. Within the overall field, there are eleven drivers in the Masters Class. The top placing Masters driver was CHARLIE SHEARS/Comprent Motorsports Elan DP02.

Nunez has had six consecutive poles in the series. The IMSA rules require the drivers start on their qualifying tires. With the track getting dirty from all the sand and dust on the track from drivers’ off-course excursions, most drivers ran a fast qualifying lap and  parked, waiting to see how it shook out.

IMSA Lights has a second race on Saturday.

The IMSA Lites field has fifteen American drivers and two from Canada in the Lites 2 category.

In the SCCA Pro Racing Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup race, Rookie ELLIOTT SKEER won the early morning 45-minute race. He started second and got past pole sitter, Rookie STEVAN MCAleer, finished in second place, 3.001 seconds behind.

Friday was a very full day. Besides the two afore-mentioned races, there was the SCCA Pro Racing World Challenge Pirelli race, the IMSA GT3 Cup race, and more practice for ALMS prior to its qualifying at the end of the day.

Last year’s ALMS Race went into the night, ending at 7:30pm, as it will this year.  But this year, the race’s end will still be daylight edging into twilight/dusk. The sun didn’t set until after 8pm Thursday night. And what a beautiful sunset it was!

JUSTIN BELL

JUSTIN BELL

 

While it was still daylight at the end of Thursday’s activities, TARO KOKI, ESPN3 Pit Reporter, eventually after much discussion and what appear to be coaxing from racer/TV Broadcaster, JUSTIN BELL, rode a miniature trike from the Corkscrew down the hill towards Turn Eleven. What we who were watching from the Media Center didn’t know that Bell was originally slated to take the ride, but chickened out. At least that’s the story I heard from ESPN. Way to go, Justin!