This past Tuesday the 16th Street Racing League headed to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca for 45 laps on the 2.238 mile historic road course. Laguna is an incredible race track. It has some of the fastest corners and most extreme elevation changes you will find at any road course, especially in the United States. The “cork-screw,” made famous by Alex Zanardi and his legendary move “The Pass” when CART ran here in the 90’s, is one of the most difficult and iconic corners in all of motorsports.
We had a total of 25 drivers show up to give it a go around this twisty California race track.
As it is on most road courses we go to, getting a clean lap around here in practice and qualifying with 25 cars is no easy feat. It took me upwards of 20 laps before I finally had a clean run and was able to come close to my optimal time. I finished our 1 hour and 50 minute practice session with a solid 1:12.760 lap time with a full tank of fuel. I was pretty satisfied with this time, even though Ryan Murray, Andrew Kristensen, Yang Ou, Wyatt Gooden, and Pat Dotson were all in the 1:10.xxx range. I figured they had been running qualifying setups and that I would be close to hanging onto the tail end of the top 5 for the majority of the race.
We moved into our 20 minute open qualifying session and as you can probably imagine it was chaotic. Everyone is on track at the same time, pushing as hard as they can trying to get the bast lap possible in the short amount of time we have. To be honest, qualifying is almost more stressful than the race. In the race you don’t feel the same pressure at the start to nail your fastest lap right away. You can somewhat settle into a rhythm, make some strategy calls, and look towards the last 10 or so laps to make your big push. Qualifying is pure insanity, you really feel from the moment you take the green flag on that first lap that you have got to make the best of it. With so many cars, some faster, some slower, and some spinning you really have to focus to put down a clean lap. I managed to lay down at 1:12.296 putting me in 10th place which was decent but far from my optimal time of a 1:11.6 which would have put me in 8th position. I was to start right behind Highcroft Racing’s race engineer Ben Bretzman and just in front of super quick Courtney Terrell. Ryan Murray took pole position and the bonus points with a 1:10.070 while Yang Ou, Bryan Heitkotter, Pat Dotson, and Marc Payne rounded out the top 5. Wyatt Gooden, Volkswagen TDI Cup Rookie of the Year, started in 6th position.
We use rolling starts for all of our events in the 16th Street Racing League. Usually, this is a pretty simple deal but with a road course as tight and twisty as Laguna it was certainly nerve racking driving around at 60 mph with a car just a few inches away. It gets especially scary when going through the cork-screw. All in all, everyone managed to make it around unscathed to take the green flag, although drama was right around the corner, literally.
As the field plowed into turn 1, pole sitter Ryan Murray and current points leader Yang Ou made contact sending Yang off into the sand trap while Ryan retained the lead.
From there on the field started to spread out. I picked up a spot on the start but didn’t advance much more past that. I settled in focusing on Ben’s gearbox and pushed to try to catch up. My car was quick here, quite possibly the quickest car I’ve had on a road course in two seasons, but I still had nothing for the top 7.
I pushed harder and harder each lap which ended up having a lasting effect on my tires. I had a few half-spins before my pit stop, pushing me further back into the field. I headed to the pits on lap 28 in 11th position. Somehow I managed to come out without losing any positions. I had fellow Indiana drier and IndyCar Series mechanic Scott Manifold a few seconds in front of me and I focused on putting down consistent laps in order to catch him. I would gain on Scott, get to the back of his gear box and then make a mistake. This went on for the remainder of the race. The last lap I made a huge gain and was all over Scott heading into the cork-screw.
I was in a position where i could have really pressed the issue and gone for a Zanardi-esque pass but I figured it was better to stay as close as I could and try to make an out-braking maneuver coming into the last corner, which has a much cleaner and less dangerous braking zone. As we came to the final corner I made my move to the inside and got on the brakes as late as possible. Again, I probably could have let the brake out and slid underneath Scott for a not-so-clean pass but instead I locked the brakes up and hoped he would have some wheel spin trying to get off the corner. Scott held it together and managed to keep me behind him as we crossed the finish line. I finished a respectable 9th place. Not my best road course finish but pretty good considering how fast the lead pack was. Ryan Murray, 16th Street Racing League summer season champion, took home the victory with new-comer Andrew Kristensen, Pat Dotson, Tim Holgate and Ben Bretzman completing the top 5.
This Tuesday we head to Michigan International Speedway for 100 laps at the 2 mile oval. This track is awesome with these cars. There are multiple lines that can be run quickly here and if you get together with the right cars you can really get moving on the high-side. We had our largest race ever here when we had our PSRTV.com broadcast. We should have a pretty stout field so look for an exciting recap next week!