Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, Prototype #07, Prototype Challenge #8. Click image to enlarge
Or, Tudor United Sports Car Championships Continental Tire Monterey Grand Prix brought to you by Mazda at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca or something ridiculous like that… there was also a Patrón Tequila in there somewhere.
[Seriously sponsors, back off on the ridiculous names and worry about getting race fans to the track. –Ed.]
Article and photos by Jonathan Yarkony
This week we interrupt your regularly scheduled Black Flag Column for a trackside report from the Monterey Grand Prix in California.
Because of the small size of Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca (2.238 miles) and the number of cars combined in all four classes, the Tudor United Sports Car Championship split the groups and ran two separate two-hour races, one with the two classes of Pro teams and the other with the two classes of Pro-Am teams. The Pro class consists of the Prototypes, custom-built race cars, some of them the open-cockpit variety similar to Le Mans Protoypes, others with closed cockpits based on the Rolex Grand Am Series sports cars. The other Pro class, GT Le Mans, features sports cars based on production models, heavily modified for race duty, but still recognizable as the models they are based on, 911s, Corvettes, Vipers, Z4s, 458 Italias. The Prototypes are faster, but the Corvettes are the loudest.
In the Pro-Am classes, each team has a professional and amateur driver, and there are also custom-built Prototype race cars and modified street cars. These Prototype Challenge cars are built to series spec by Oreca and powered by Chevrolet for a level starting point. The GT Daytona class cars are based on production models with racing modifications, though not as heavily revised as the GT Le Mans cars.
The racing was exceptional, with an intense level of competition and dramatic storylines. We had last-lap heroics and disappointment, as well as some contact and hotly contested corners.
The overall and Prototype win went to the No. 2 Tequila Patrón Honda piloted by Ed Brown and Johannes van Overbeek, which passed the No. 10 Konica Minolta Corvette with 15 minutes to go in the two-hour race. The No. 10 driven by Brothers Ricky and Jordan Taylor held on for second, and Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas in the No. 01 Riley Ford Ecoboost rounded out the podium. This is the first win by an open-cockpit ‘Le Mans’ prototype (modeled on the layout of former ALMS P2 cars), with some credit going to series organizers limiting the ‘Daytona’ prototypes power to level the playing field. It worked, the racing was spectacular and the cars seemed evenly matched on this track, which commentators cited as being a bit slippery and slow.
Prototype #2 & #10. Click image to enlarge
However, the fastest car of the day was the OAK Racing No. 42 Nissan Morgan. During the first stint, Gustavo Yacaman was held up by Valiante in the No. 90 Corvette, who held off a hard-charging Yacaman on repeated passing attempts at pretty much every corner of the track. We watched him try to go outside on turn 1 at least three laps in a row, but he couldn’t make it stick and get line for turn 2. Eventually he had a moment elsewhere on track and got caught up in the pack. Had he got by, the Nissan would have been off and away, as the fastest lap of the day (1:19:747) was recorded by Yacaman’s teammate Alex Brundle during his stint in the latter half of the race. However, they finished 8th in class and 19th overall, 14 laps backs, spending time in the pits recovering from on-track contact.