RICHARD WESTBROOK of England has only qualified twice this year in the Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series and both times he’s garnered the pole in No.90 Spirit of Daytona Racing Corvette DP Daytona Prototype. This weekend at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, the Rolex Series is the feature race on Sunday of the three-day Continental Tire Sports Car Festival Powered by Mazda. Westbrook’s winning lap Saturday noon was 1:21.042/99.415 mph, the fastest time so far for the DP class.
JON FOGARTY/No.99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing DP made it an all Corvette front row, close behind Westbrook’s time, at 1:21.213/99.206 mph. Laguna Seca could be considered his home track, as he grew up near the track. His co-driver is ALEX GURNEY of Southern California.
Westbrook hasn’t raced at Laguna Seca since 2008 in American Le Mans Series, but except for a bit more slipperiness, he finds the venue mostly unchanged. What he finds does change is the track itself during a session. The climate – wind, sun, clouds – changes, and then there’s the sand. Westbrook said it’s tough for the engineers to nail the setups. He loves coming to Laguna Seca, and finds the 2.238-mile elevated road course challenging and really enjoyable.
Westbrook’s co-driver is ANTONIO GARCIA of Spain.
A real newbie took the Rolex Series GT pole – ALLESSANDRO BALZAN of Italy put No.63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 458 first in class at 1:27.594/91.979 mph. Thursday’s test day was his first-ever time in the car, first time in the series, first time at the track, first time on Continental tires, etc. Balzan confessed he’s not sure how he’ll go for an hour’s stint as he’s used to his version of a sprint race – half hour. Grand-Am classifies Sundays two and a forty-five minute race as a ‘sprint’ race, compared to its six and 24 hour endurance races.
Balzan’s co-driver is veteran sports car racer, OLIVIER BERETTA of France.
Joining Balzan on the GT front row will be ERIC FOSS/No.73 Horton Autosport Porsche GT3, with a lap of 1:27.857/91.704 mph. He has been coming to Laguna since childhood, and has raced four times at the track.
Both Balzan and Foss commented on the sand at Laguna Seca, something with which they’re not accustomed at other tracks. Foss finds the track to have low grip, and the elevation changes are tough. But he does rate it one of the Top Five race tracks in the United States. Balzan is having difficulty with braking points due to wind and track changes. It won’t be easy to save tires. He figures it will take ten to twenty minutes for the faster DP cars to start lapping.
Even though Foss’ uncle is BRUCE FOSS, Continental Tire Product Manager for the Grand-Am Series, young Foss said he gets no advantage. “My uncle doesn’t listen to my feedback.”
In Grand-Am, the qualifying driver must start the race. Often times the strategy is for the veteran drivers to finish the race.
Westbrook is excited about the unification of the two North American sports car series, Grand-Am and ALMS. He has raced in both series, and he reckons ALMS will be paying more attention to this weekend’s Gran-Am race. Westbrook is running the full Rolex Series season in the Corvette DP, and will also be racing a Corvette GT at the ALMS Petit Le Mans season’s finale. He’s a “bow tie kinda guy.” The Brit is really looking forward to 2014 when the new, yet-to-be-named, series will have its first race. If he had his way, he’d drive both a Daytona Prototype and a GT Corvette. Westbrook “really likes the DP cars. They’re brilliant.”
The groups of NASCAR folks I’d heard were going to be at the track Friday and Saturday must be under the radar, if indeed they are here. Not seen by me.