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.

FAST FRIDAY

Trent Hindman

Trent Hindman

TRENT HINDMAN of New Jersey is the overall pole sitter for Saturday’s race in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge Race. He set a new qualifying track record with a lap of 1:34.948/83.970mph in his No.46 Fall-Line Motorsports BMW M3, which is in the Grands Sports Class. His co-driver is JOHN EDWARDS of Ohio. He is hoping the third time will be the charm for him this season, after two runner-up positions. Historically, he said, Laguna has been a good track for the team. The teammates currently lead the GS points standings, and BMW leads the GS Manufacturer standings.

Elliott Skeer

Elliott Skeer

ELLIOTT SKEER of San Diego CA put the No.3 CJ Wilson Racing Mazda MX-5 on the Super Touring Class pole for Saturday’s race, with a lap of . As qualifying driver, he will start the race, in – position overall. Skeer used to race the MX-5 Cup Series, has been to Laguna Seca before, and really loves the track. He and teammate TYLER McQUARRIE of Danville CA in Northern California, were fastest in the early morning session, and fourth in class later as the track heated up.

MICHAEL LEWIS/No.98 Cmp Mot/Curb-Agajanian has the pole position for the first of two races in the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama Series. Young Lewis turned a 1:29.110/90.414mph. There are 33 entries, and 32 qualified. Lewis, son of STEVE LEWIS who sold the PRI Show to SEMA has been racing Formula 3 in Europe for the past three years.

Andrew Palmer No.14

Andrew Palmer No.14

ANDREW PALMER/No.14 GMG Racing has the pole position for the Lamborghini Blancpain Super Trofeo race for the first race Saturday morning. His record-breaking lap was 1:27.831/91.731mph. Palmer had been fastest in the second Friday practice and fourth in the first. There are 14 cars in the race, and Palmer is in the Pro Class, one of six. The rest are in the Amateur class.

The cars in the Mazda MX-5 Cup Presented by BFGoodrich series had a busy day Friday. They ran first, last and in between. After two practice sessions, they qualified and raced at the end of the day.

Pole position went to KENTON KOCH/No.12 ALARA Racing, with a lap of 1:42.096/79.814. Fastest in the Skip Barber class was DRAKE KEMPER/No.99 Royal Rugby, with a lap of 1:47.572/77.789. He qualified nineteenth overall of the 28 cars. ARA MALKHASSIAN/No.11 ALARA Racing was fastest in P1 and overall. The third ALARA Racing driver, CHRISTIAN SZYMCZAK/No.34 withdrew.

Generally the cars were faster in the 8am session than the one held at 11:30am, as the track and air warmed up. ROB FOLEY/No.93 Skip Barber Mazda MX-5 was also fastest in P1 and overall. In P2, SEBASTIA LANDY/No.41 Excitations.com/AMG was fastest, with ZACH LEE/No.60 fastest in the Skip Barber group. That group could be called MX-5-Lite. The cars have older, bigger tires, less horsepower and other differences.

John Morton

John Morton

Among the group is a special anniversary car – No.68 Mazda Motorsports/BFGoodrich Skip Barber Mazda. JOHN MORTON was one of three BFG drivers who drove the No.68 Jim Busby Racing Lola T-616 Mazda with BFGoodrich tires in the C-2 class at LeMans, and won. The other two drivers were JOHN O’STEEN and YOSHAMI KATAYAMA. Morton is driving a MX-5 garbed in the same iconic livery – car, helmet and driver’s suit. Two of the LeMans Lola’s, owned by JOHN DAVIS, are on display in the paddock.

JOHN DEAN/No.16 Sick Sideways Mazda won the race, which was marred by a six-lap full course yellow for an accident on Lap 2 in Turn 4A betweens No.27 CHARLES PAQUIN MX-5 Cup and CHRIS BEAUFAIT/No.69 Skip Barber Mazda. The drivers are OK – they walked from the tow truck back to the paddock. BEN ALBANO/No.61 Skip Barber won that class, finishing fourteenth overall.

On another note, the Reverend RICHARD ANDERSON, head of Motorsports Ministries which tends to the sports car races, passed away last week. Sunday at the track there is a special Sunday Chapel Service dedicated to him, and his Memorial Service Saturday in Santa Rosa will be streamed live for viewing at Laguna Seca, 11am PT in the Skip Barber top floor classroom in the paddock.

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!

 

MAZDA EXTENDS LAGUNA SECA NAMING RIGHTS

Jay Amestoy, Patrick Dempsey, Gill Campbell and John Pineo.

Jay Amestoy, Patrick Dempsey, Gill Campbell and John Pineo.

It was a picture-perfect day at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca for the announcement that Mazda North American Operations is extending its naming rights contract with the Sports Car Racing Association of Monterey Peninsula. JAY AMESTOY, Vice President, Public Affairs and Motorsports of MNAO said the extension was for five years-thru 2017, and he expected more extensions after that.

It was smiles all around, including GILL CAMPBELL, CEO/General Manager of the track, and JOHN PINEO, Monterey County Director of Parks. And the icing on the cake in the announcement was the addition of one of Mazda’s favorite drivers, PATRICK DEMPSEY, who has been driving Mazda’s since the beginning of his race career. He lauded all the support of Mazda throughout the years. He feels the love from those in motorsports.

Dempsey had the option of running Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series in Utah or making his planned ALMS debut at Laguna Seca, his ‘home’ track.’ Easy Choice said he. The track has great history, with PHIL HILL winning his first race here in a 120 (Jaguar), and “I want to be part of that history.”

Dempsey said this weekend will be a “Test With Traffic.” Laguna has great rhythm.

On another subject – the progress of Dempsey’s movie “The Art of Racing in the Rain” … he’s aiming for shooting in the fall. The director’s choice is down to two. Meanwhile, on the website of author GARTH STEIN, there is a trailer for the movie, mainly focusing on ENZO.

Thursday’s schedule for the American Le Mans Monterey Presented by Patron weekend called for practice and qualifying for Cooper Tires Prototypes Lites Power by Mazda, IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge by Yokohama, and SCCA Pro Racing Pirelli World Challenge and Playboy ALMS field is 35 strong. The class breakdown is: P1=2; P2=5; GT=12; PC=9; and GTC=7.

CALIFORNIA DREAMING

Wednesday was a beautiful spring day at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca for the American Le Mans Series Monterey Presented by Patron weekend. Once the morning fog lifted and was blown away by the crisp ocean breeze, it was clear skies and sun all day. The ambient temperature was in the high sixties, while the track temperature was in the seventies in the morning and nineties in the afternoon – as per a Pirelli tire engineer.

ALMS is the feature race this weekend, with a six-hour endurance race Saturday afternoon and into the dusk.  The other series are SCCA Pro Racing Pirelli World Challenge and Playboy Mazda MX5 Cup, IMSA GT3 Challenge by Yokohama, and Cooper Tires Prototypes Lites.

All but ALMS tested Wednesday, and as it’s unofficial, no times were given. There were a few Red Flags to tow cars who ran into trouble – mostly self-inflicted. But, there were no injuries to drivers, and mostly minimal to cars. Once in awhile I would look at the trick radar sign on the Start-Finish bridge, and the highest speed I saw was 132 mph. Wait until tomorrow.

Dempsey Racing Logo

The big news Wednesday was the late entry of Dempsey Racing … as in that Dempsey – actor and race car driver/owner, PATRICK DEMPSEY aka Dr. McDreamy on “Grey’s Anatomy.” Dempsey, along with long-time co-driver and mentor, JOE FOSTER of Georgia and co-driver JONNY COCKER from the UK, will debut No.27 Lola B12/87 with a Judd BMW V8 engine, running Michelin Tires and using E-10 fuel.

The ALMS Trina Solar/GNC Beverages/Motel Racing car will run in the P2 category, bringing that field up to five cars.

The last-minute decision to run the race at Laguna Seca came after a three-day test-shakedown session last weekend at Miller Motorsports Park in Utah. Dempsey had his first run in the car last Friday. “This race will really be a continuation of our learning and testing process, only this time in front of a bigger crowd.”

Dempsey has been running GT cars in the rival sports car series, NASCAR’s Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series. His ALMS plan include a partial 2012 season, a full 2013 season and then The 24 Hours of Le Mans. All will be revealed Friday in a press conference.

Dempsey racing will also be running another car in the Saturday ALMS race. In the PC class, the team will run No.25 Oreca FLM09 with a Chevrolet engine. Michelin Tires and E-10 fuel. Every car in the PC class runs the same car, engine, tire and fuel.

Dempsey Racing's P2 car

Dempsey Racing's P2 car

The support series continue practice and qualifying on Thursday and ALMS has late afternoon/dusk testing.

KENSETH’S SURPRISE POLE

Matt Kenseth

Matt Kenseth

MATT KENSETH/No.17 Crown Royal Ford has the pole for Sunday’s 24th Annual Kobalt Tools 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Phoenix International Raceway. His lap was 26.258/137.101 mph. He said he “wasn’t expecting qualifying to be so difficult, so it felt good to be on the pole.” As for his chances in the race, he said “One lap qualifying is different than 300 laps. I need to run up front.” Kenseth played coy as to his choice for starting position – inside or outside. He’d tell us all Sunday.

Second and third fastest were the Petty drivers, A.J. ALLMENDINGER/No.43 WIX Filters Ford and MARCOS AMBROSE/No.9 DeWalt Ford. They each were on top for awhile. Allmendinger got unseated at the last minute by Kenseth, who was second to last to run.

Allmendinger said “That was insane. The track is way different than what we had yesterday, and the Wix Filters Ford was fast. Marcos put a good lap up and explained to us what the track was going to be like. The car was very loose out there. Even JIMMY JOHNSON/No.38 Kobalt Tools Chevrolet got loose. We tightened up the car after yesterday but it will wasn’t tight enough.”

Ambrose said “It felt horrible, treacherous and nasty. I hope the sun comes out. Sunday is going to be a handful, and a lot depends on the weather – it will make a big difference. I expected more grip, but with the cloudy weather, not so.”

A.J. ALLMENDINGER

A.J. ALLMENDINGER

Marcos Ambrose

Marcos Ambrose


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Rounding out the top five were MARK MARTIN/No.5 GoDaddy Chevrolet and MARTIN TRUEX Jr/No.56 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota.

Points leader CARL EDWARDS/No.99 Aflac Ford will start ninth, right behind his closest challenger for the Championship – TONY STEWART/No.14 Mobile 1/Office Depot Chevrolet. They currently are three points apart, with two races remaining – PIR and Homestead.

Three cars failed to qualify – SCOTT RIGGS/No.23 North Texas Pipe Toyota, DAVID STREMME/No.30 Inception Motorsports Chevrolet, and ANDY LALLY/No.71 TRG Motorsports Ford.

Lally had lost his right front tire Friday after hitting the wall. The car was munched enough so the team had to haul out the backup car, which has not run much this year.

The team had to scramble to get the backup car ready for Qualifying. It wasn’t good enough and the right front tire blew, ending Lally’s chances. Lally is the only Rookie in the field.

TRG No.71 Ford primary car

TRG No.71 Ford primary car

Andy Lally

Andy Lally

Apple Logo for No.71 TRG Ford SchoolMedia.com

Apple Logo for No.71 TRG Ford SchoolMedia.com

Crew Chief Doug Richert with Andy Lally and crew

Crew Chief Doug Richert with Andy Lally and crew


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Lally comes from a sports car background, where he’s raced with Grand-Am in the Rolex Series as well as the Continental Tire Challenge Series – two races every weekend. He’s raced in every year in both series. Lally holds the honor of being the Grand-Am all time racing mileage leader with 34,032 miles. Lally also holds the record for the most miles led in a single season – 2006 with 3,682 miles. Adding up his total racing miles, it would equal one and a third trip around the world, or more than five US coast to coast round trips.

WHAT A DIFFERENCE A DAY MAKES – IT’S HEATING UP • TRACK CHANGES

Saturday the day started out warm at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and just got hotter. By noon it was in the eighties, for a full day of practice, qualifying and racing at the Monterey Festival of Speed.

Friday started out cold, windy and very foggy. The fog was so dense Friday morning, the start time was pushed back twelve minutes, and early morning arrivals got lost in the fog looking for their special gate. 

TODD LAMB/No.84 AMG Racing has pole for the Saturday noon race with SCCA Pro Racing Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup. There are 21 cars in the field. His qualifying time was 1:42.382/78.693 mph.

Turner Motorsport swept the pole positions in qualifying for Saturday afternoon’s Grand-Am Koni Sports Car Challenge Series. MATTHEW BELL/No. got his third consecutive overall and GS class pole position with a time of 1:36.277/83.684 mph. His co-driver in No.96 BMW M3 is well-known driver, BORIS SAID. The race is Saturday afternoon. The ST pole position was set by DON SALAMA, who co drives with WILL TURNER in No.95 Turner Motorsport BMW 328i. The field has 19 GS cars, and 17 ST cars for the 2.5-hour long race, which starts at 3 PM race PDT.

The Mazda MX-5 cars in the Playboy MX-5 Cup Series are not at all the same as the Mazda MX-5 cars running in the Koni Challenge. Everything about the cars in the two series is different. The Series cars are convertibles and fairly stock, with bolt on Mazdaspeed kits and roll cage and different tires. The four Mazda’s in the Koni Challenge are hard tops and tricked out.

The 11-turn Laguna Seca road course is still 2.238-miles long. There have been some new runoff areas added to the track, but they don’t change the length. Turns Two and Eleven have additional asphalt runoff areas. The track wanted to keep race cars from going off in the gravel, and the MOTO GP who hold one of two USGP races at Laguna Seca in July have approved the addition.

The runoff construction was a two-week job, digging it all out and adding the new surface. The track, which is run by SCRAMP – Sports Car Racing Association of Monterey Peninsula, would like to add more runoffs in other corners, but time and money dictate that schedule.

The runoffs evidently did their job Friday as there was only one small off course excursion at the exit of Turn Eleven’s apex, barely making a mark in the gravel.

Friday there were a few spins and some minor tire wall bumps, but no major dramas. The drivers were fairly well behaved.

COOLER HEADS PREVAILED

The wind picked up and cooled off the Friday afternoon practices for the Monterey Festival of Speed at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. The skies were clear and folks were grabbing jackets, while the many colorful flags atop the transporters were blowing in the wind. Sounds like a song.

The Grand-Am Rolex Series had its second practice, and was done for the day. Its Qualifying is actually Saturday, not Friday. The cars were slower in the cooler afternoon session.  TIMO BERNHARD and ROMAIN DUMAS/No.12 Penske Racing Porsche/Riley had the fastest Daytona Prototype  at 1:20.559/100.011. ANDREW DAVIS and ROBIN LIDDELL/No.57 Stevenson Motorsports Pontiac GXO-R had the fastest GT class car, in seventeenth place overall. Their time was 1:27.547/92.028 mph.

The Koni Sports Car Challenge Entries number 39, twenty in GS class and 19 in ST class. DEAN MARTIN and KEN WILDEN/No.59 Rehagen Racing Ford Mustang GT in the GS class were fastest in the two Koni practice sessions, with a best overall lap of  1:36.427/83.553 mph set in the first session. The fastest ST car in the first session was run by TOM LONG and DEREK WHITIS in No.145 in Mazda MX-5, at 1:41.415/79.444 mph – eighteenth overall in the session. The fastest ST car in the second session was DON SALAMA and WILL TURNER/No.95 BMW 328i, running a 1:41.246/79.576 mph – twentieth overall. Great showing after not making it out for the first session.

Among the 80 Koni Challenge drivers, ten are from Canada, two from Puerto Rico and the rest from the US.

ARA MALKHASSIAN/No.11 Alara Racing was the fastest SCCA Pro Racing Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup driver in the early morning practice session – while it was still cold and foggy. He turned a lap of 1:42.99/78.237 mph.

There are 21 American drivers in this field.

In the new Ford Racing Mustang Challenge Series, ANDREW CADDEL/No.1 Kaufmann Racing was overall having the best time. He was first in the first practice and third test, and second in the other two tests. There are 18 cars in this fledgling series, and all are from the United States.

Saturday’s weather promises to be warmer.