Decisive officiating, smart race strategies, aggressive driving and some unpredictability made for an exciting close to the second and final race of the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship weekend at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
The pole-sitting No. 2 Extreme Speed Motorsports HPD ARX-03b car driven by Johannes van Overbeek and Ed Brown earned the first Prototype win for both drivers and placed a P2 car atop the podium for the first time in four TUDOR Championship races.
With Brown starting, the Pro-Am driver fell more than 10 second back and was the first to pit, handing over to JvO at the 22-minute mark. With the local Bay Area resident in the car and on a mission, he’d work tirelessly to pare down the gap, taking the lead from Jordan Taylor on the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Corvette DP with minutes left in the two-hour event.
“I’m trying to absorb it all,” said JvO. “Hat’s really off to Ed. He put us in a position to be here and Ed did exactly what he had to do.”
Brown, whose pace has been lacking in Prototype, was far more competitive at Monterey. He was also clearly moved to be standing in Victory Lane.
“It means everything,” he said. “We work really hard. It’s intimidating out there but I started having fun after the second lap. This is awesome.”
Taylor, who bobbled exiting Turn 2 which allowed JvO to get a run on him exiting Turn 3, came home 5.8 seconds behind while Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates driver Scott Pruett completed the podium a distant 47.5 seconds back in third after a needing a late splash for fuel.
Corvette Racing’s Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia also won from pole, but in contrast to the ESM team, they were never seriously challenged for the win in the No. 3 C7.R. BMW led thanks to using an alternate strategy, and Bill Auberlen put in a mighty drive to haul the No. 55 Z4 up to second at the finish, but crossed the line 4.7 seconds behind Garcia. Porsche’s Nick Tandy, who held second until the final corner, took third after Auberlen’s use of the chrome horn disconnected the No. 911 RSR’s rear tires from the tarmac.
A post-race penalty for contact would drop the No. 911 to ninth in GTLM, elevating the hard charging No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari F458 of Pierre Kaffer and Giancarlo Fisichella to third.
“Corvette racing did a great job, the C7.R was perfect,” said Garcia with a big smile after recording the No. 3’s second consecutive win. “We knew we had a very good car coming into this race and we proved that yesterday [in qualifying] and everything was running up to where we wanted.”
There was plenty of contact throughout the second race – the one comprised of IMSA’s two Pro classes – which differed from the morning race where the Pro-Am PC and GTD drivers were far more clean and accommodating than the Prototype and GTLM field.
IMSA, with fewer cars to keep track of in the afternoon, penalized those who caused spins and reckless damage in a timely manner and, it appears, has put its second event to bed without any controversy or major complaints. As RACER first noted after Long Beach, it’s exactly what the series needed as it looks towards Round 5 in Detroit on May 31.
Its efforts to close the gap between DPs and P2s, particularly in race trim, also deserves high praise. Either version of Prototype could have won in Monterey, which is all fans and teams have been asking for.
Brown, starting on pole, was down to second by the start/finish line and ended the first lap in fourth as Spirit of Daytona’s Michael Valiante took the lead in the No. 90. Oak Racing’s Gustavo Yacaman made a fearless move on the outside heading downhill into Turn 2 at the start, sweeping around the outside to move from fourth to second as he and Valiante.
The No. 912 of Michael Christensen spun at Turn 3 on the opening lap, dropping to last place, while the No. 3 Corvette C7. R of Magnussen led John Edwards in the No. 56 BMW Z4.
10 minutes in and Yacaman was just 0.09sec behind Valiante as he jabbed at the Corvette DP with his Morgan-Nissan P2. Their frenetic, panel-shedding duel allowed the No. 90 Action Express Racing Corvette DP of Christian Fittipaldi and the No. 1 ESM HPD ARX-03b of Scott Sharp to make it a four-car train. Brown, in seventh, was 10 seconds back and losing about a second per lap.
Magnussen was feeling similar heat from Edwards who sat 0.357sec back after 15 minutes.
Fittipaldi took second from Yacaman at the 20-minute mark as the Oak Racing driver understeered off the exit of Turn 4 while trying to keep pace with Valiante. With 22 minutes gone, Brown pitted to hand over to van Overbeek, who returned in 21st.
Valiante held 0.491sec over Fittipaldi a half-hour in, as Yacaman (0.815) and Sharp (1.411) fell back slightly in their P2s. Yacaman handed over to teammate Alex Brundle after 35 minutes and more Prototypes followed them into the pits for the same purpose.
Magnussen, who saw Edwards pit early to replace flat-spotted tires and give way to teammate Dirk Muller, pressed on with Porsche’s Richard Lietz a few tenths behind in the No. 911 Porsche and Andy Priaulx in hot pursuit with the No. 55 BMW Z4.
Valiante was in next as teammate Westbrook climbed in to take the car to the checkered flag. Sharp briefly inherited the lead, but pitted 42 minutes in and strapped Ryan Dalziel into the car.
Once the Prototype pit stops were completed, Jordan Taylor came out in front with Dalziel, Barbosa in the AXR Corvette DP, Westbrook and Brundle trailing. Brundle committed the only significant bonehead move of the day as he and Westbrook fought for position heading up the hill to the Corkscrew. The Oak Racing driver, out of room on the left while attempting to pass Westy, shot across the sand, smashed into the left side of Barbosa as he was turning left at the apex, and with the force of the hit, Barbosa was launched into the left side of the No. 07 Mazda P2 piloted by Joel Miller.
Brundle’s battering ram would ruin the day for the Mazda and require his Morgan-Nissan to go behind the wall for repairs. When he returned, a stop-and-hold-plus-55 was assessed.
Magnussen finally pitted at the halfway point, handing over to Garcia. A questionable pit release by the Corvette Racing team saw Garcia pull away just as the No. 912 Porsche was attempting to pull in to its stall in front of the Corvette. Contact was avoided, but the Porsche was left at an odd angle in its box, slowing its service and driver change between Christensen and Patrick Long.
The broken gearbox Dalziel’s P2 with 55 minutes remaining ended a fierce battle between the ESM car and race-leader Taylor. Anticipating a yellow for Dalziel, Taylor, Barbosa and Westbrook pitted for fuel to take them to end. Van Overbeek stopped with 50 minutes remaining, and unlike some of the Corvette DPs ahead of him, he could push without having to save fuel until the checkered flag.
Taylor held 6.3 seconds over Barbosa with 45 minutes left to run, and van Overbeek was 11 seconds back. BMW had a 1-2 in GTLM due to their early stops, but they would need to eventually surrender the positions. Risi Competizione, due to a smart call to use brand-new Michelin tires, started from the back of the field, yet driver Pierre Kaffer used the extra grip to scythe through the field. Handing over to Giancarlo Fisichella, the No. 62 Ferrari F458 sat in third, filled with fuel, and waited for the BMWs to pit.
Traffic helped van Overbeek carve into Taylor’s lead, working it down to seven seconds with 38 minutes left, and had it down to 4.8 two minutes later as he set his fastest lap of the race. Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Pruett ran third, 7.5 seconds back from Taylor, as the Ford EcoBoost turbo DP tried to keep touch with the leaders.
Down to 2.3 seconds with 30 minutes left, van Overbeek was determined to catch Taylor. Fisichella was 24 seconds behind Auberlen’s BMW at the same point, but was not pushing to catch the Z4 as much as he was trying to keep Corvette’s Garcia behind him. Auberlen’s stop with 28 minutes to go handed the lead to the Ferrari, and with Garcia less than a second behind, there was no choice for the Italian but to run flat out.
21 minutes remained and van Overbeek finally had the gap to Taylor under one second, while Fisichella built a 1.2-second cushion to Garcia. A slight off by the Ferrari driver at Turn 6 promoted Garcia to the lead, and once there, the Spaniard checked out.
A wiggle by Taylor on the exit of Turn 2 allowed van Overbeek to set the Corvette DP up for a pass exiting Turn 3. Diving down the inside of Turn 4, van Overbeek was through at the apex and put the hammer down. He’d been between 0.2 and 0.3sec faster per lap while chasing Taylor, and it grew to five seconds with five minutes to go.
Pruett stopped for a splash of fuel moments later, and Auberlen, who had been using fresh tires to make inroads on the Ferrari, passed Fisichella for third at the same time his BMW teammate Dirk Muller was serving a penalty for spinning the sister No. 4 Corvette.
Auberlen and Porsche’s Nick Tandy spent the last two laps trading paint as they tussled over second in GTLM. A bump under braking into Turn 11 on the final tour was all it took for Auberlen to claim second, ahead of an unimpressed Tandy.
Van Overbeek sealed the win with a 5.8-second margin of victory over Taylor, and Pruett, thanks to his late stop, was third, 47 seconds arrears.
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