The sun came out Saturday as Grand Marshal GIL de FERRAN gave the command to the field of American Le Mans sports cars at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. It was just one of many special moments for the Brazilian team owner/driver at the Monterey Sports Car Championships weekend. He is retiring as a driver, but remaining as a team owner. The 41-year old driver put his No.66 Acura ARZ-02a LMP1 car on the pole with a flying lap at the end of the 20-minute Friday qualifying session.
The de Ferran Motorsports car had a special all-white paint scheme for the weekend, emulating that of his mentor and hero, JIM HALL, of Chaparral fame. Hall, and two of his famous cars were at Laguna for exhibition and several demonstration laps and lots of photo ops. De Ferran used to race for Hall and won his first Indy Car race with Hall at Laguna Seca in 1995.
The icing on the cake, so to speak, was de Ferran winning the four-hour race – with co-driver SIMON PAGENAUD, who started the race, and turned the race’s fastest lap. The team bested six other class contenders.
It was cold, windy and the Monterey Bay fog had rolled in at race’s end, but there were smiles all around enough to warm anyone.
De Ferran said “Coming into the weekend, there were a lot of different thoughts going through my head. But I had a job to do as a driver. In a way, the race was so intense that I never had time to think of anything else. This car I know is an Acura but for all effects, I think it was a Chaparral this weekend. When you look at the car from a distance, it really does look stunning.”
With more than an hour to go in the race, the No.9 Patron Highcroft Racing Acura ARX-02a LMP1 clinched the 2009 LMP1 championship. Drivers SCOTT SHARP and DAVID BRABHAM finished third overall, second in class. The team, which had been leading going into the race, had completed 70 percent of the race and sealed the deal. Good thing as they had some mechanical issues in their last pit stop.
Patron Highcroft Racing, owned by DUNCAN DAYTON, a vintage car racer, also won the Prototype Green Challenge.
The LMP2 winner was ADRIAN FERNANDEZ, team owner and driver of No.15 Acura ARX-01B – with co-driver and LMP2 pole sitter, LUIS DIAZ. They finished second overall, and they were the only other car on the lead lap. The Margin of Victory was 0.662 seconds. At the last pit stop Fernandez took on four tires, while de Ferran took fuel only.
The Fernandez drivers twice led briefly, during pit stops. Diaz turned the fastest LMP2 race lap. This is the last ALMS race for the Fernandez team. Unconfirmed rumors has the team considering Indy Racing League. There were four LMP2 cars in the race.
The GT2 class had the most cars (14) and perhaps the most exciting finish. That race was won by JORG BERGMEISTER and co-driver PATRICK LONG/No.45 Flying Lizards Porsche 911 GT3 RSR, finishing sixth overall. It was neck and neck with Pole sitter was JAN MAGNUSSEN/ No.3 Corvette Cr.6, with a crash ending right under the Starter’s stand.
Magnussen gave Bergmeister a good run for his money in the waning laps of the race, hounding him every step of the way. The two swapped the lead several times in one lap, making a Porsche sandwich out of another car going three wide through the apex of Turn Two, and putting on a thoroughly entertaining, if not nail-biting show. Magnussen officially took the lead but had to give it back for making the pass at pit exit. He turned the fastest race lap in the GT2 category.
It was neck and neck on the last lap, when Magnussen bumped Bergmeister who crowded Magnussen to the pit wall in front of the checkered flag, and the Corvette spun across track and crashed into the wall, finishing second in class and seventh overall.
Magnussen was taken to the track Medical Center and released, sore but walking back to his compound. Later, after being at the hotel, the Dane went back to the local Monterey Hospital for further observation. Race officials haven’t heard anything more.
Magnussen said “Going into the last corner I was too far away to make a proper attack, but Joerg parked the car. I didn’t see that, so I slid up and hit him a little – he went sideways and I managed to get on the inside. It was a drag race up the hill, and I managed to get ahead of him. Then he turned me into the wall, and he kept turning in. Then I spun around the nose of his car.”
Bergmeister said “I’m definitely sorry Jan went into the wall. I didn’t want that to happen. But it was a banging game. I’m glad he’s OK. It was just race – tough racing. The Corvette passed me the first time at the hairpin but he went in way too deep and I was able to get back around him. He was a little quicker I have to say. I wasn’t trying to figure out where he was gaining time on me. I was trying to stay on track and in front.”
The race results are official and the GT2 finish remained the same.
Flying Lizards won the GT Green Challenge.
The ALMS Challenge class winner (Porsche 911 GT3 Cup) was Velox Motorsport Porsche 911 GT3 Cup, with MITCHELL PAGEREY and SHANE LEWIS, taking sixteenth overall. Operative word is was. After the race, ALMS excluded the car for fuel capacity. This gave the victory to pole sitter GUY COSMOS/No.47 Orbit Racing Porsche, and his co-driver JOHN BAKER, who finished seventeenth overall. That class had eight entries.
ALMS also excluded Gruppe Orange No.36 Challenge car with drivers WESLEY HOAGLUND and BOB FAIETA, for minimum weight. They had finished third in class and eighteenth overall. Faieta had turned the fastest race lap in the class.
Thirty-two cars ran the race, and ten did not finish. There were four cautions for 21 laps.