In typical IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge fashion, Saturday’s WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca 120 wasn’t decided until the checkered flag flew.
With championship implications on the line, the final 10 minutes of the two-hour race featured the top four Grand Sport (GS) cars running within two seconds of each other. The leading No. 28 RS1 Porsche Cayman GT4 MR of Dillon Machavern had paced the field for a majority of the final hour of the race, yet in the mirror loomed the No. 57 Winward Racing / HTP Motorsport Mercedes-AMG GT4 of Christian Hohenadel.
In third place was the most recent GS winner from Virginia International Raceway, the No. 46 Team TGM Mercedes-AMG GT4 at the hands of Hugh Plumb, and in fourth was the No. 15 Multimatic Motorsports Ford Mustang GT4 of Scott Maxwell, who co-drives with Ford development driver Ty Majeski.
However, heading to the checkered flag on the 2.238-mile circuit, the second-place Mercedes-AMG of Hohenadel began sputtering and dropped through the field as it began to run out of gas. The leading No. 28 Porsche, which had been on the same pit cycle, soon followed suit in the final turns of the final lap.
As the Porsche slowed, the No. 46 Mercedes-AMG and the No. 15 Ford – both of which had been on a later pit cycle than the leaders – soared past for a surprising 1-2 finish.
“Say no more, it was an unbelievably wild race,” said Plumb. “Running out of fuel, save fuel, conserve, don’t pass those guys, to full on, let’s go get ‘em. Awesome, awesome thank you to our guys at TGM, thanks to (Team Owner) Ted Giovanis and (co-driver) Owen Trinkler. Fantastic job, couldn’t think of a better co-driver. It’s just unbelievable. As I have said all along we have the best guys in this paddock and it shows every weekend.”
The wild ending featured two of the top three championship contenders entering the penultimate round of the 2018 season – the No. 28 of Machavern and Pumpelly sat in third, 23 points behind Plumb and Trinkler in first with the No. 60 KohR Motorsports of Nate Stacy and Kyle Marcelli in between.
While the race looked as if Machavern and Pumpelly would make significant strides to closing the championship gap with a victory, crossing the stripe seventh overall dropped the duo to 34 points behind the No. 46. Marcelli and Stacy remain in second, 31 points back.
“From a championship perspective, I feel like we are the underdogs in this deal,” said Trinkler. “We are just out doing our jobs that we are supposed to be doing and let the chips fall where they are, so we didn’t feel any pressure coming into this weekend or even at VIR. We are not changing anything with our race strategy and just letting things happen. Some days you are just really lucky and we have just been lucky here lately.”
Sliding into the third-place spot on the podium was the No. 39 Carbahn Motorsports Audi R8 of Tyler McQuarrie and Jeff Westphal with their best finish of the season.
Fourth victory catapults Long, Casey, Jr. into TCR championship lead
The last three Continental Tire Challenge TCR races have been a story of “so close, yet so far” for Tom Long and Britt Casey, Jr., with their last three finishes being fourth, second and third place.
But on Saturday at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, the co-drivers of the No. 77 Compass Racing Audi RS3 LMS returned to the top spot on the podium, leading 56 of 69 laps to win their fourth race of the season.
It was a dominating performance by the team that has shown strength and speed since winning the season-opener at Daytona International Speedway in January and back-to-back races at Watkins Glen International and Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.
“It’s a huge win for the team, a huge win for the 77 car, but I’ll tell you what, those Continental Tires lasted and lasted,” said Long. “We were trying to take care of them and you just don’t know if you’ve done enough. You try to do the best job you can and try to manage the gap to the second-place car and in the end you start hearing noises. Like, ‘Oh my gosh, I think everything’s coming apart.’ We just managed to hang on until the end.”
While the statistics show an easy victory for the No. 77 Audi, the car still faced pressure from the pole-sitting No. 12 Audi of Tom O’Gorman and Kenton Koch – coming off a win a VIRginia International Raceway two weeks ago – and its sister car, the No. 74 of Kuno Wittmer and Rodrigo Sales who entered Saturday’s race leading the championship standings by four marks over Long and Casey, Jr.
However, with the No. 74 finishing fifth on the day, the positions have swapped in the standings, with Long and Casey, Jr. now leading by five.
“This one was really, really big,” said Casey It’s awesome to win here. The last time we were on the podium (at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca), I was with Tom co-driving here also in 2015, so there’s a little hidden meaning to this win. But also, it’s absolutely imperative to our championship run. We have one race left to go and I think we really put ourselves in a solid position for that. We’ll see what the (No.) 77 Trumpf Audi can bring us in a couple of weeks here.”
The No. 54 JDC-Miller Motorsports Audi of Michael Johnson and Stephen Simpson finished second, while the No. 12 of O’Gorman and Koch rounded out the podium in third.
Entering Saturday’s race, a different manufacturer had won each of the last three races, creating a 15-point spread between the three marques atop the championship standings with MINI leading BMW and Porsche.
And while each manufacturer took its turn atop the leaderboard during the two-hour race, it was the No. 81 BimmerWorld Racing BMW 328i that claimed the class victory at the hands of Nick Galante – the Motul Pole Award winner – and Devin Jones.
The No. 81 BMW – decorated in a special “Racing to End Alzheimer’s” livery with names of fans’ loved ones affected by the illness to raise awareness for World Alzheimer’s Day on September 21 – scored its fourth win of the season, moving BMW into first place in the manufacturer’s standings by two points heading into the final race of the season.
“This late in the season, having this win with the points the way they are and teams on our heels has made this season so fun,” said Galante. “Devin drove great today. The track was slick out there and he drive beautifully. We came down to the last once of fuel and that couldn’t have been planned any better. The true winners are our Alzheimer’s victims that are on the car. They rode along with us and we raise a lot of money for a great cause.”
The move of the race came with 11 laps remaining, as Jones pressured the No. 73 MINI of Mat Pombo for several laps before finally overtaking the lead. The No. 73 ultimately finished runner-up despite being tapped by a GS car in the closing laps, which Pombo swiftly recovered from to avoid damage to the car.
“It was tough at the end,” said Jones. “We were right on the No. 73 tail and once we got there, we knew short on fuel. So we were trying to balance keeping up with him and conserving fuel as best I could. At the end I wanted to get around him and it was nerve-wracking right to the end. I put it in neutral down The Corkscrew to save as much fuel as I could on that last lap.”
Finishing third one race after capturing their first victory of the season was the No. 21 Bodymotion Racing Porsche of Max Faulkner and Jason Rabe.
The final race of the 2018 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season will be at the Motul Petit Le Mans weekend from Oct. 10-12 with the Fox Factory 120 at Road Atlanta on Friday, October 12. at 1:25 p.m. EDT and can be streamed live on IMSA.tv. It can also be heard on IMSA Radio.
The television broadcast of the WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca 120 airs on Sunday, September 16 at 7 a.m. ET.