Michael Marsal delivered a breakthrough performance behind the wheel of the No. 97 IHG Racing BMW Z4 for Turner Motorsport on Sunday as he moved from 11th to fourth during an extended stint at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
Returning to the same track where he scored a big second place finish in GRAND-AM competition in 2013, Michael Marsal got his first chance of the year to take on the qualifying duties on Saturday in his first full season of IMSA GTD competition. Posting a fast lap time of 1:29.254 seconds to take 11th on the GTD Class grid, Marsal learned a lot in his qualifying debut.
“In Conti (Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge), you go out in qualifying and you really hit the tires hard right away to get the temperature and get a lap in the best window for the tire, and I kind of did that with the TUDOR car but I learned that really wasn’t the right approach,” said Marsal. “I could feel that by the time all the pressures and temperatures were where they needed to be for the best qualifying lap, I’d already used up more of the tire than I should have. So I wasn’t happy with the result, but at least I learned how to do a better job next time so that was good.”
Quickly putting the frustrating qualifying behind him, Marsal took the green flag from 11th on the grid and converted not only the lessons learned in the first two days of the event weekend, but also the confidence gained in the opening two races at Daytona and Sebring to methodically make up ground at the drop of the green.
“That felt really good and with all the training I’ve been doing and I’m not particularly tired,” said Marsal, who had a healthy group of friends and family on hand offering support during the Monterey weekend. “I was in and around so much action, the traffic was really crazy with all the prototypes fighting around me. We got bumped around a couple of times but the car was okay even after that.”
Marsal turned the car over to co-driver Markus Palttala just past the midway point of the race as he returned to the field seventh in the order. The BMW Trophy winner was looking to work his way back to the front, but unfortunately instead found himself off track after tangling with another GTD car, with the duo ending the day classified with a 10th place GTD finish.
“The car was pretty hurt after that so we were pretty much done at that point,” said Marsal. “It is too bad. The team won this race last year and it would have been great to come out of here with a stronger result. But we really learned a lot, and the car was closer as far as the aop (adjustment of performance), so I’m hoping we can get a quicker start to the weekend at Detroit and keep building.”
The IMSA TUDOR Championship is back in race action May 29-30 at Detroit through the streets of Belle Isle Park.