IMSA’s WeatherTech SportsCar Championship moves into its fourth round with competitors looking at a very different race from the previous three. From three flat circuits to one with elevation changes, a smooth surface and no 200mph straights. From the two longest races, to one of the shortest, to the first 2h40m race of the season. Sunday’s race at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca is the drivers’ and teams’ fourth different challenge in as many races.
It’s no secret that in the DPi era, the scenic circuit on the Monterey Peninsula has favored the Acura ARX-05 over the Cadillac DPi-V.R. The smooth circuit allows the car to be run low, bringing its Le Mans-tuned aerodynamics into play. There’s also no denying that Chip Ganassi Racing brings its Cadillacs to Laguna Seca with a head full of steam, having won the last two races, including a one-two finish at Long Beach, but the statistics are not on their side. For the Cadillac teams, it’s likely a matter of leaving Monterey with maximum points, and finishing better than their Cadillac stablemates.
They might consider Wayne Taylor Racing’s altered approach to races like that. Ricky Taylor notes WTR has taken a different tack for the No. 10 Acura he and Filipe Albuquerque drive. Going into Long Beach knowing that the most likely result was somewhere from fourth to sixth, why not roll the dice and go full attack?
“[We’re going to take] as many risks as we can and get the highest possible finish,” he explained. “But in the decisions we make … for example, Long Beach, we knew it wasn’t going to be a track that favors us, and we took a much bigger risk, first of all on setup. We committed to a completely different setup philosophy, because we had nothing to lose. We weren’t very hopeful to re-invent the wheel, you know, and win the race, but maybe we can get a couple of positions, or at least be a bit relatively stronger. That didn’t pay off but it was a risk we’re willing to take. And then in the race, going off strategy, kind of gambling on that 30-minute window where we could have had a yellow putting us in the effective lead of the race. So those situations where we might be kind of on the outskirts, racing against four Cadillacs vs two Acuras, we need to make points on those weekends. And so sometimes taking those risks for us seems worth it.”
At Laguna Seca, teams looking to do something different to maximize opportunity will likely be looking at tire wear and managing that tire degradation throughout the race. The racing surface of the 2.238-mile, 11-turn circuit doesn’t have a lot of grip, but it’s hard on tires. Both of those factors are compounded by the amount of sand often present on the surface, either kicked up by wind or drivers dropping wheels on corner exit.
“It’s one of the most difficult races we do on the schedule, and it’s one of the most enjoyable, personally, because I think it is so much in the driver’s hands,” noted Bryan Sellers, who shares the No. 1 Paul Miller Racing BMW M4 GT3 in GTD with Madison Snow, and won the last race at Long Beach. “Usually this race, you need a good race car, good balance. But how the race unfolds is up to us quite a bit how we manage our tire life through the stint, where we’re at if we have to push hard to catch, or upfront and we can conserve. I can’t stress enough the tire degradation over the course of a run. Managing that really can separate your program from anyone else as if you have a good car and you’re able to control the race.”
That’s easier said than done, even for veterans like Taylor and WTR, who won at Laguna Seca last year. The surface, the hills and the camber changes make for a challenging and technical circuit. Last year’s race went 118 laps. That’s 1,298 corners to get absolutely correct.
“Laguna is very challenging,” declared Taylor. “You have this expectation built up in your head that the corners are going to be a certain speed and you’re gonna be able to carry a certain gear here and it always comes down to just being patient. The track has weathered over the years, and the surface is so slippery that you find yourself over-driving the car. So for me [it’s about] being patient, taking the conservative approach every corner, not prioritizing the braking so much as you would in other places and just building up to the speed rather than going out and attacking. I find every time you go with a qualifying mindset to go and attack the racetrack, that punishes you and you just end up going slower.”
The Hyundai Monterey Sports Car Championship Presented by Motul also marks the return of LMP2, absent at Long Beach, adding another level of traffic for both the DPi and GTD drivers.
The race on Sunday gets the green flag at 12:10 p.m. Pacific, and will be broadcast on NBC from 3 p.m.-6 p.m. Eastern time. Qualifying at 3:45 Eastern on Saturday afternoon can be seen on IMSA.tv. The weekend also includes the two-hour WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca 120 for the Michelin Pilot Challenge on Saturday afternoon, and a pair of races for both Porsche Carrera Cup and Lamborghini Super Trofeo.