Sunday started out warm and sunny and just grew hotter as the day wore on. It was downright scorching mid-day, and a nearby brush fire blew a smokey brown cloud over the track. It was contained and the skies cleared somewhat with a late afternoon breeze.
The race got off to a rousing start, with the Pace Car doing a proper burnout worthy of a drag racer, leaving a smokey trail into Turn Two.
It was an Audi parade for the race, with an Audi always in the lead – with one brief exception. Often there were two or three Audi’s at the front.
Kelvin van der Linde of South Africa won the California 8-Hour International GT Challenge Sunday at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, driving the No.44 Audi Sport Team Magnus USA Audi R8 LMS. He made a daring pass in Turn Five on then-leader, Christopher Mies of Germany in No.29 Audi Sort Team Land USA Audi RS LMS. Pole sitter Team Land, with drivers Pierre Kaffer and Markus Winkelhock of Germany, had led the majority of the race including almost all of the first six hours. It wasn’t until the seventh hour that another car took the lead, but not for long. The No.11 Belgian Audi Club WRT from Belgium led at the top the hour, with Team Magnus and Team Land on his heels.
Finishing third was Bryan Sellers of USA in No.9 K-PAX Racing USA McLaren 650S GT3, with co-drivers Alvaro Parente of Portugal and Ben Barnicoat of Great Britain. Their car was decorated with sayings from Pokemon Go, a favorite of the owner.
Winning the GT3 Pro-Am Class was its pole sitter, Jeroen Bleekmolen of The Netherlands, with teammates David Calvert-Jones of Australia and Tim Pappas/USA in the shiny metallic green No.54 Black Swan Racing USA Porsche 911 GT3 R. They led most of the race and turned four of the class fastest laps, finishing fifth overall, two laps down. The other fast lapper was class runner-up, No.77 Calvert Dynamics/GMG Racing USA Porsche 911 GT3 R with an all-America driver line-up: Michael James Lewis, Preston Calvert, and Andrew Davis. They finished eighth overall, six laps down. They were the only leader that wasn’t an Audi or GT3 car. This was in the first hour during a short-fuel pit stop.
Jeff Westphal of the US won the GT4 Class in No.26 Rearden Racing USA Porsche Cayman GT4-R, with fellow Yanks, Jeff Kearl and Sean McAlister. They finished eleventh overall, 28 laps down. Second in class was Andy Lee in No.8 HKG Racing/GMG Racing Porsche GT4 Clubsport MR, with an all American driver lineup: Carter Yeung and Jon Miller.
Winning the Invitational Class was one of the two MARC Cars from Australia – No.193 with Jake Camilleri, Hadrian Morral and Morgan Haber. They finished ninth overall, 20 laps down. They were the fastest once, but their teammates were fastest in class the rest of the race. That would be No.194 with drivers Keith Kassulke of Papua New Guinea, Ryan McLeod of Australia and Will Rodgers of USA. They finished second in class, tenth overall, also 20 laps down.
To say there was great speed differentials in the cars would be an understatement.
It made for lots of blue flagging.
There wasn’t much in the way of position changes during the eight-hour race. Sixteen of the 19 cars finished with the top three cars on the lead lap – 314. Three cars failed to finish, due to mechanical problems.
I didn’t get to follow the race as closely as usual, as I spent much the day moving from corner to corner, relieving corner workers. I got to see the cars and track from new perspectives, and gained a new appreciation for standing on a corner in the blazing hot sun with no shade.
It was a safe race without much drama. Alls well that ends well. And the endurance series might be back again next year.