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

PENSKE POWER

Will Power

The times were faster by far in the second practice for the Verizon IndyCar Series at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. Ultimately, last year’s champion, Will Power/No.1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, was the fastest. His time was 1:07.5485, and unofficially nearly three-tenths faster than last year’s record of 1:07.8219 set last year by Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.28 DHL Honda.

Second through sixth were Simon Pagenaud/No.22 Penske Truck Rental Chevrolet; Helio Castroneves/No.3 Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet; Scott Dixon/No.9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet; Juan Pablo Montoya/No.2 Verizon Team Penske, and Josef Newgarden/No.67 Hartman Oil CFH Racing Chevrolet.

Graham Rahal

Will Power

Simon Pagenaud

Little bit of a pattern there. All four of the Penske drivers in the top five, and the top six cars were Chevrolets.

The top Honda, in seventh place, was Graham Rahal/No.15 Steak n’ Shake Honda; or, as he put it “the best of the rest.”

Among the other fastest drivers during the 45-minute session were Newgarden, Charlie Kimball/No.83 Novo Norodisk Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, and Dixon.

Again, Stefan Coletti/No.4 KV Racing technology Chevrolet was the top Rookie, in fifteenth place.

Seventeen of the 23 drivers were faster than the fastest lap set in the first session by Scott Dixon/No.9 Target Chip Ganassi Chevrolet – 1:08.6458; and all but one were faster then they were in the first session. Eighteenth fastest driver, Kimball, turned the exact time as did Dixon in the morning session. The Friday combined practice times were the same as the second session.

Friday, IndyCar announced some Aero Kit modifications effective this weekend: Chevrolet to add a tether to the winglets, or remove the winglets, from its front wing assembly; and Honda to implement additional reinforcements to its rear wheel guards.

IndyCar said it will continue to be proactive in its review of aero kit performance, as part of its commitment to deliver an entertaining on-track product through the season. The first step was last week with mandated structural upgrades. IndyCar will continue the process as the season progresses, and opportunities for improvements are identified.

The new IndyCar aerodynamic bodywork kits, aka Aero Kits, were a topic of discussion – serious and humorous. One definition of pundit is “a person who offers to mass media his opinion or commentary on a particular subject area” and that fitted Power and Rahal during the post-practice media conference. Their witty comments and ripostes on various subjects such as manufacturer rivalry, driving skills, and especially the aero kits amused the media. I hope someone got a good transcript.

Power said it was “no big deal not to have the rabbit ears on his Penske. Little bit more front wing, and that’s it. The aero kits give us little gains on tracks like this. It makes things a bit faster everywhere. Qualifying will be tight, on reds (Bridgestone option tires,) but it could be doable to break the track record.”

Power saw it “as a positive that IndyCar is making adjustments to the aero kits.” Rahal said “Fan and driver safety is important. We need to make it stronger so it doesn’t just fall off.” Pagenaud said “It’s important and needs to be fair to both manufacturers. Rahal added “And so it’s not a huge cost to the teams … even the big teams like Penske.”

Rahal’s team repaired his morning gear box problem, making the second session more to his liking. On the apparent Chevrolet domination, Rahal said “The (Honda) guys are working hard on it, and I guess we’ll just have to work harder.”

Rookie Rocky Moran, Jr/No.18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda was the only driver who failed to go faster in the second session. The Red Flag came out mid-way through the session, when he and Carlos Munoz/No.26 AndrettiTV Cinsay Honda spun. Munoz continued, but Moran backed into the concrete barrier. He got out and walked to the Response Vehicle, while his car was towed away.

Kimball kissed the left side of his car on a concrete barrier and pitted to have his left rear tire checked/replaced. Rahal appeared to have repeated Kimball’s mishap, but kept on going with no problems. He admitted later he “ate Turn Eight.”

Carlos Munoz

Charlie Kimball

Francesco Dracone

Having the dubious distinction of being last in both sessions was Rookie Francesco Dracone of Italy, driving No.19 Honda for Dale Coyne Racing. His new-for-the weekend teammate, Rocky Moran, Jr. was twenty-second of the 23 drivers.

The late afternoon weather was still warm, mid-seventies, but the breeze also went stronger, up to 20 mph.

Saturday IndyCar has its final practice at 10am PDT, followed by qualifying at 2pm PDT.

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.

THREE SCCA RUNOFFS VENUES ANNOUNCED.

Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca

Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca will be the site of the 2014 Sports Car Club of America National Runoffs. SCCA President & CEO JEFF DAHNERT made the announcement via live streaming broadcast Wednesday noon from the noted Northern California race track.

Also present for the announcement were GILL CAMPBELL, President/CEO of SCRAMP-Sports Car Racing Association of Monterey Peninsula; and DEAN CASE of Mazda Motorsports.

SCCA is moving to an annual and geographic Runoffs rotation. For 2015, the Runoffs will be at Daytona International Speedway on the road course, and back at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in 2016. Mid-Ohio hosted twelve Runoffs, from 1994-2005.

Jeff Dahnert

Jeff Dahnert

“The future of the Runoffs has been a topic of discussion amongst the SCCA Board of Directors and the National Staff for well over a year,” Dahnert said. “We had two goals for the event moving forward – to move the event around the country geographically, and to continue to visit the country’s top tracks. We’ve accomplished both.”

Dahnert acknowledged the hard work of SCCA Vice President Club Racing, TERRY OZMENT, who has labored for the past year on the selection process.

This is the first time since 1968 that the event has been on the West Coast. In 1964, the now long-gone Riverside International Raceway hosted the Inaugural Event. For six years back in the day, the Runoffs rotated back and forth between Riverside and Daytona International Speedway.

SCCA, founded in 1944, is the premiere club racing organization in the United States, with more than 60,000 members divided among 115 regions in the 50 states. The National-licensed drivers are the most experienced in club racing, and there are 28 National classes competing in this year’s Runoffs at Road America.

No specific 2014 dates have yet been announced, only that the Runoffs will be held during the ‘usual time’ which means mid-September to mid-October. Campbell said it is hoped that all the pieces in the Rubik’s cube puzzle of scheduling will be in place by August or September of this year.

Campbell and BO BERESIWSKY, SCRAMP Vice President of Facilities and Event Operations, have been trying for eight years to host this event. This is truly the sports car enthusiasts’ heaven. Campbell likened the Runoffs to the Super Bowl or the Olympics of amateur racing. Dahnert compared and contrasted club racing with professional racing – like NCCA to NBA.

Campbell said the Runoffs will have a huge economic impact on the Monterey Peninsula. Among other things, that means 7500 hotel room nights, plus all the business for the locals who cater to visitors and people in town for a week. MRLS will be promoting spectators for the three-day back to back weekend days of racing.

As MRLS is the furthest West drivers have had to tow in the past 45 years, it is somewhat of an unknown how the car count will go. One the one hand is the long tow for the Easterners – a tow the West Coast drivers have had to make for years. On the other hand, there is the pent-up demand by the Left Coast drivers wanting a race closer to home. But, even using a low-end number, Dahnert estimated there would be a pretty significant number of entrants. Ozment said there will be a Tow Fund, and details are being worked even as we speak.

This year’s Process to Runoffs includes running the new Majors series within one of the four US areas, or qualifying the traditional way by running local National races.

Laguna Seca will be just the seventh Runoffs venue. Other circuits hosting the Runoffs were Road Atlanta for 24 years, Mid-Ohio-12, Road America-five including 2013, Topeka-five, and three each for Daytona and Riverside.

“The SCCA Runoffs embodies the true essence of sports car racing,” Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca CEO & General Manager Gill Campbell said. “This is a great platform for amateur road racers and we are proud to be a part of the crowning of a National Champion.”

The 2014 event will hold special synergy for Mazda, as Mazda serves as both the track’s title sponsor of Laguna Seca, and as the official car of the SCCA. Mazda also has more cars/engines at the Runoffs (25 percent) than any other manufacturer.

“Club Racing is the heart and soul of Mazda Motorsports,” Mazda Motorsports Director John Doonan said. “We are proud to help bring the biggest club racing event in the country to our home track for 2014.

GOOD MORNING ST PETE!

IndyCar Showcar in Harbor Window

Harbor Sun Rise

Morning comes early at the street circuit at St. Petersburg and things are bustling, getting ready for day two of the Honda Grand Prix. The sun is coming up over the harbor, teams are unpacking and setting up. In the IZOD IndyCar paddock, teams are pushing their cars through the line for Scrutineering. In the support paddock, cars are getting ready for their morning sessions.

The weather is definitely overcast but away from the harbor, the temperature is quite mild and fresh – from a slight breeze and the drying tarmac after Friday night’s rain.

It’s a nice, long walk from inside the track in the Media Center, over the Honda Bridge to the support paddock, which seems to go on for miles.

Ganassi Banner Going Up

Tire Carrier

IndyCar Tech Line

By the time IndyCar has its third and last practice, the Cooper Tires USF2000 Series and the Pro Mazda Championship Series will have held their Qualifying sessions for races later in the day.

Alex Figge & Andy Lee

Alex Figge & Andy Lee

Alex Figge

Alex Figge. Photo by Mark Weber

The Pirelli World Challenge Series had its qualifying late Friday afternoon, for its late Saturday afternoon race. ALEX FIGGE/K-PAX Racing Volvo S60 took the GT and overall pole position, with a lap of 1:15.686/85.616 mph. It was tough and go for GT pole position, with Figge besting JAMES SOFRONAS/GMG/Mobil 1 Audi R8 LMS. Fifteen of the 40 WC cars are in the GT category. In the larger GTS group, JACK BALDWIN/Motul/Stoptech Invoice Prep Porsche Cayman S took pole in a frantic competition. The long-time veteran racer lapped the 1.98-mile street circuit at 1:20.467/80.530, a record break time. Outside front row driver, ANDY LEE/Best IT Chevrolet Camaro and third-placed GTS driver, PETER CUNNINGHAM/Acura/HPD/RealTime Racing Acura TSX were faster than the existing track record. Baldwin’s log-time buddy, BUZZ McCALL/GT Sport Racing with Goldcrest Porsche Cayman S came out of a long retirement to run the race. Alas, his day ended with a hard hit to the Turn Three wall. McCall was alright, but the car was night. It was determined too damaged to repair for Saturday’s race.

RACING RARIN’

Andretti Autosport drivers: James Hinchcliffe, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and EJ Viso

Andretti Autosport drivers: James Hinchcliffe, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and EJ Viso

After a six-month long hiatus from racing, the IZOD IndyCar community is rarin’ to go. Driver after driver after driver referenced the long off-season and how eager he or she is to get back to the new season and even better racing.

What could be better than the season’s opener on Florida streets for the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. It’s a full bill, with Firestone Indy Lights, SCCA Pro Racing Pirelli World Challenge, Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, Cooper Tires USFF2000 and Historic Sportscar Racing.

The weather is lovely and promises sunny and warm most of the time. Although isolated thunderstorms are predicted throughout the weekend, who knows. Fingers crossed.

IndyCars have a full complement of 25 drivers running all nineteen races. Thirteen run Chevrolets, and twelve drive Hondas. One driver, TRISTAN VAUTIER/Florida Lottery/cw Schmidt Peterson Honda is the only IndyCar Rookie, but as the 2012 Indy Lights champion, he’s already run the St.Pete street course. Vautier isn’t the youngest kid on the block … or in the IndyCar paddock. That honor falls to JOSEF NEWGARDEN/Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda, who will be 23 this year. At the other end of the spectrum, DARIO FRANCHITTI/TargetChip Ganassi Racing Honda is the most senior driver. He turns 40 on Bump Day this year.

The race will run an extra ten laps, for 110 in all, totaling 198 miles/318.7 km. The 1.8 mile/2.897 km course has 14 turns.

In response to driver input, Firestone has come up with a grippier, softer alternative (red) tire, which is hoped to provide more passing and competition. Each driver gets 24 primary (black) tires and 12 reds. Five sets of rain tires are also part of the equation, if needed.

Joe Barbieri

Joe Barbieri

This race weekend will be additionally special for Firestone, as it marks the retirement of long-time Firestone Manager of Motorsports, JOE BARBIERI.

Thursday afternoon, the Dan Wheldon Memorial monument was unveiled in Albert Whitted Park, with Wheldon’s widow, Susie, and two sons – Sebastian and Oliver. Also unveiled was the Victory Circle monument, honoring the past winners of the St.Pete street race.

The Indy Lights Series St.Petersburg 100 Race has nine drivers, five Rookies.

The Mazda Ladder series, The Road To Indy, has two series running this weekend – the new Pro Mazda Championship with 12 drivers; and the USF2000 Series 31 drivers. The HSR vintage group has 25 drivers, with cars ranging from a 1961 MGA MKII to a couple of 2009 Porsche Caymans.

The largest field honors go to the Pirelli World Challenge Series, with 41 entries.

As far as I can tell this weekend, the IndyCar series is the only group with known female drivers – season’s regular, SIMONA de SILVESTRO/KV Racing Technology Chevrolet; and ANA BEATRIZ of Brazil, who was just signed by Dale Coyne Racing, for the St Pete race. Coyne’s plans for the second seat on his Honda team haven’t been made known. Both Beatriz and STEFAN WILSON, younger brother of Coyne’s regular driver – JUSTIN WILSON – tested with Coyne recently at Barber Motorsport Park. There’s talk of the two splitting the ride. Stay tuned.

So far, by mid-morning the weather is clearing, with partly sunny but chilly weather. IndyCars have two Friday forty-five minute practice sessions. All series practice and World Challenge ends the day with a qualifying session.

John Cardinale at the recent Beat Stomach Cancer Charity Walk at Sonoma Raceway. Photo by Mike Doran.

John Cardinale at the recent Beat Stomach Cancer Charity Walk at Sonoma Raceway. Photo by Mike Doran.

On another note, it with a sad heart I write that JOHN CARDINALE, VP of Media & Community Relations at Sonoma Raceway, has lost his valiant battle with stomach cancer. Sonoma Raceway hosts the August round of the IndyCar Series. RIP John.

UNVEILING THE NEW SCCA SPORTS CAR MAGAZINE & MAJORS TOUR

Paul Pfanner

Paul Pfanner

PAUL PFANNER, President/CEO/Executive Publisher of RACER magazine, has returned to what he says is his first love – SCCA’s monthly publication, SPORTSCAR magazine, one of the oldest racing magazines in the world. Pfanner is again the magazine editor for the largest racing club in the United States – Sports Car Club of America. Thursday at the annual Performance Racing Industry trade show, Pfanner unveiled the new look of the magazine. Although the publication is also available digitally, he said the majority of the readers prefer a print version.

SPORTSCAR Magazine

SPORTSCAR Magazine

The January 2013 issue reviews the 2012 SCCA Pro Racing season, with one of the two All-American championship-winning muscle cars – the Pirelli World Challenge Cadillac, raced by American driver JOHNNY O’CONNELL. American Corvette driver, SIMON GREGG, won the Trans-Am championship

Pfanner said some of the original staff will be part of the new, smaller but very effective staff, including RICHARD JAMES and MARK WEBER.

2013 Major's Tour Schedule

2013 Major’s Tour Schedule

Also part of the SCCA presentation Thursday was the announcing of the 2013 Majors Tour. This is a new program, revamping the current SCCA National Race Series, which culminate in the Runoffs – sometimes called the Olympics of American racing. The United States has been divided into four geographical conferences, each with its own schedule of four-six double-header Major Tour race weekends. The lone exception will be Chicago Region’s June Sprints, which has a long storied history. which will remain a single event, which has drawn upwards of 500 cars.

A series within a series will be the BFGoodrich Tires Super Tour: six premiere races at Auto Club Speedway, Circuit of The Americas, Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Sebring International Raceway, VIRginia International Raceway and Watkins Glen International.

The 2013 SCCA Runoffs will be its fiftieth, cause for celebration.

Jim Downing

Jim Downing

One driver who is particularly looking forward to the Fiftieth Anniversary Runoffs is JIM DOWNING, long-time club racer and more recently known as the HANS device originator/inventor/purveyor. At the first-ever SCCA National Runoffs at Riverside Raceway in Southern California, Downing was on pole in his Formula Vee, in the first of the many racing classes that weekend. Now he wants to bookend his SCCA career with a run in what could be his last club racing season before retiring from competition.

Intertwined with Downing’s club racing was professional racing with IMSA (International Motor Sports Association), winning five championships.

Recently Downing performed a sudden, unexpected, and unintended road test of his HANS device. During SCCA practice at Mid-Ohio in June, Downing had a mechanical failure causing a spin and crash, ending in an 200-foot long upside down slide- his first upside down in thirty years of racing. He suffered two compressed back fractures, resulting in wearing a back brace for a week. But, otherwise he was fine, for which he credits his HANS device.

Downing and crew cobbled the car together for this year’s Runoffs, and over the winter it will be rebuilt for next year.

Dr. Bob Hubbard

Dr. Bob Hubbard

Downing and his brother-in-law, DR. BOB HUBBARD, conceived and built the first HANS device in 1988. It was a long, slow process for the idea of head and neck restraints to be used. Despite Formula One and other major American-based racing series requiring them years ago, it wasn’t until the fatal crash of DALE EARNHARDT that there was a huge spotlight on the head and neck safety issue, and eventually NASCAR required such restraints.

Downing has always worn a HANS device.

SCCA Club Racing only mandated the use of head and neck restraints effective January 1, 2012.

Last year Downing bought out Hubbard, and then this year Downing gave in to long-time offers from Simpson Performance Products, and sold HANS.

GOOD MORNING FROM FOGGY SONOMA

IZOD IndyCar Trailer
Early morning IndyCar garage
Two-Seater Rides Queues
Panther Racing Guests
National Guard Two-Seater
………………………It started out foggy first thing Friday morning at Sonoma for the first of three days of race with IZOD IndyCars and the Pirelli World Challenge Sports Car Wars. But, the sun was quick to shine, in time for the morning rides in the IndyCar two-seaters and Pace Cars. IndyCar has a pool of drivers from which it draws each weekend to be the chauffeurs for these rides. This weekend they are MARIO ANDRETTI, LOGAN GOMEZ, DAVEY HAMILTON, ARIE LUYENDYK and ARIE LUYENDYK Jr. Among the lucky passengers Friday morning are the invited guests of Panther Racing – National Guard troops and first responders such as firemen, policemen, medical personnel, etc. One of the two seaters is decked out in National Guard livery. The Panther Race Car will have a special paint scheme for the weekend, but the car is not yet seen in the paddock.

IndyCars aren’t on track until 2:30pm local time, after World Series qualifying. The sports cars had their practice sessions Thursday, and Friday midday they Qualify.

Helio Castroneves

Helio Castroneves

The only driver sighting I had on my first stroll through the relatively quiet garage was HELIO CASTRONEVES/Penske Truck Rental Chevrolet.

Twenty-seven IndyCar drivers are entered, two more than usual. Andretti Autosport has added SEBASTIAN SAAVEDRA from Colombia to No.17 AFS Racing/Andretti Autosport Chevrolet; and Rookie KATHTERINE LEGGE of England joins SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS of France driving for Dragon Racing. Each will be sporting TrueCar sponsorship on their Chevrolets.

Legge joins this year’s youngest driver,  JOSEF NEWGARDEN of TN/Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda, and SIMON PAGENAUD of France/Schmidt Hamilton HP Motorsports Honda in the Rookie category. Pagenaud is currently leading those standings by 137 points, and if he finishes eighth or better this weekend, he will clinch the Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award. Also, he still can take home the trophy if he finishes 107 points ahead of Newgarden. Those two are the only Rookies running the full season. Legge has run selected races.

Chevrolet Logo
Honda Logo
Lotus Logo
In another points race, this weekend could see the clinching of the engine Manufacturer’s Championship. Chevrolet leads with 96 points to Honda’s 84 and Lotus’ 48. If Chevrolet wins this weekend, they win for 2012. Chevrolet has 15 drivers, Honda-11; and Lotus one.

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!

 

CHALLENGING POLES

Randy Pobst pole car

Randy Pobst Photo by Mark Weber

RANDY POBST/K-Pax Racing Volvo S60 has the overall and GT Class pole position for Saturday noon’s one-hour race by the SCCA Pro Racing Pirelli World Challenge Series, with a time of 1:26.361/93.292 mph. It didn’t break his lap record of 1:25.499/94.232 mph set last year. Pobst won the race in 2006 and 2002.

Qualifying mid-afternoon Friday at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca was held in 63 degreeF sunshine, under blue, cloudless skies and flags waving briskly in the crisp breeze.

Second and third fastest overall/GT were ANDY PILGRIM/Cadillac Racing Cadillac CTS-V Coupe, who won the 2007 GT race, and 2011 GT race winner, MIKE SKEEN, now driving the Hawk Performance Nissan GTR.

The fastest speed I saw on the Start-Finish radar sign was 135 mph, but no idea by whom as the actual radar is positioned up near Turn One out of sign.

PD CUNNINGHAM/Accura/HPD RealTime Racing Accura TSX set the only qualifying record in the session, turning a 1:33.094/86.544 mph in the GTS class, besting last year’s time of 1:34.178/85.548 set by PAUL BROWN in a Mustang. The top five in class all were faster than last year’s time. Second and third in class were JACK BALDWIN/Voodoo Ride-Inv Prp/Hot Wheels Porsche Cayman S and NICK ESAYIAN/Acura/HPD/realTime Racing/Accura TSX.

TRISTAN HERBERT/HPA/RennGruppe/Brimtek/SGRcng Volkswagen Jetta GLI was tops in the TC (Touring Car) class at 1:39.156/81.253. TODD LAMB/National Karting News/HPD/Honda Civic Si and Herbert’s teammate, JEFF ALTENBURG.

The World Challenge Series has the largest field this weekend with 43 cars. Two cars will start at the rear of their respective class field. LAWSON ASCHENBACH/Privacy Star/Entrust/TruSpeed Porsche 911 GT3 GT did not qualify as he’s commuting this weekend between Laguna Seca and New Jersey where he competes in rival series, Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series. Last year Aschenbach won the TC class.

ROBB HOLLAND/Emich RacingVolkswagen Jetta GLI was a late entry in TC, and broke his car during practice. The car is being repaired, so Holland can at least start the race.

Both SCCA’s series this weekend will have standing starts.

There are three Canadians and 40 Yanks in the field, and five of the group are Rookies.

The race will be streamed live on ESPN3 and shown tape delayed Sunday 27 May 2012 at 11pm EDT on NBC Sports Network.