Ford GT brings new life to GTLM

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I have spent the last 10 years around race tracks in the Bay Area, and I have never seen more interest in a new car than the Ford GT, which arrived at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca for the Continental Tire GP of Monterey powered by Mazda.

Students of history will recall that the original GT40 was meant to beat Ferrari’s dominance at Le Mans. It did that, in spades, before walking away from the Circuit de la Sarthe for nearly 50 years. Now it’s back, with the support of Chip Ganassi and his major duomo, Mike Hull (pictured below with driver Ryan Briscoe).

This has become a great era for the GT class, with Porsche, Ferrari, Corvette, and Ford all battling for top honors. The teams are now in France preparing for the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

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IMSA at Mazda Raceway-Laguna Seca: Damn this traffic jam…

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The Tudor United Sportscar Championship returned to the Monterey Peninsula with one concern in mind: traffic.

Of course, Bay Area traffic is never a pleasure. But with the entire IMSA field together on track after last year’s split-class races, every driver knew that traffic would be an issue throughout the race.  This was also a shorter sprint race, leaving little time to waste behind backmarkers.

On Saturday, Jordan Taylor captured the second straight pole position for Wayne Taylor Racing in his Konica-Minolta Corvette DP.  With Michael Valiante’s Visit Florida Corvette DP lined up behind Taylor, and Scott Pruett by his side, Taylor knew that he would be harassed from the green flag forward.  Taylor showed early pace after a strong start from Valiante, and the pair of Corvettes took an early lead over Ozz Negri and his Ligier-Honda. When the inevitable traffic jam arrived, Valiante’s teammate Richard Westbrook finished off Taylor, giving Visit Florida Racing its first victory of 2015.

“It was clean [racing] for a while, but then we hit heavy, heavy traffic,” Valiante said.  “I got frustrated, I was really boxed in. I got by one PC with a little contact, going into turn 1 was a huge traffic jam. I made contact with a GTLM car, and I think it hit Jordan on the other side. We sort of forced him off the road and gave him a different line.”

After taking over from Valiante, Westbrook went on a tear to chase down Taylor.  He succeeded when Taylor ducked in for a pitstop and emerged in heavy traffic.

“When Ricky got in, we held the lead and then pitted,” Jordan Taylor said. “Richard (Westbrook) had clean laps while Ricky had traffic, and that’s where Richard made up his time. It was more a strategy and traffic race than anything.”

“The race was dictated by traffic,” Taylor said.  “Once we hit traffic we could gain a gap or lose a big gap. That’s what really changed the race today. We were leading by 10 seconds and then we’d lose the lead.”

Ozz Negri was persistent but couldn’t manage to keep pace with the leaders, his Ligier-Honda JS P2 a step behind the all-conquering Chevy power plants.  Mazda had a fantastic weekend, finishing sixth but most importantly, finishing – giving the marque a top 10 finish at its “home” circuit.

In GTLM, almost 40 years to the day after Hans Stuck won at Laguna Seca in a CSL, BMW Team RLL took a 1-2 sweep of the podium, with John Edwards and Lucas Luhr finishing ahead of teammate Bill Auberlen and Dirk Werner.  Porsche’s Patrick Pilet and Michael Christensen finished third on a day that saw an uncharacteristically subdued performance from both Corvette factory entries. In fairness, Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia’s yellow machine started from the back of the grid due to an engine change.

The larger question about BMW’s win is whether it’s pure pace or a generous balance of performance adjustment by IMSA. BMW’s minimum weight was reduced before the race, with its air restrictor enlarged, while Corvette didn’t receive any breaks.

In GTD, Park Place Porsche (Spencer Pumpelly/Patrick Lindsey) took top honors ahead of Paul Miller Racing’s Audi R8 LMS. Ian James and Mario Farnbacher finished third for Alex Job Racing.  In PC, Bruno Junqueira and Michael Cumming paired up for a class win over Colin Braun and Jon Bennett. James French and local racer Mike Hedlund finished third in the all-Oreca class.

Although their Corvette DP finished a modest fourth, it’s Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi who sit first and second in the driver’s championship, with Michael Valiante and Richard Westbrook just three points behind. The next round is at Belle Isle in Detroit.

More photos to come!

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Best in Show – the 2014 Ecurie

Here, in no particular order, are 10 of the most visually compelling cars that I photographed in 2014.

1. 1957 Ferrari 250 Testarossa, CSRG Sonoma Opener

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2. 1967 McLaren M6B, Sonoma Historic Motorsports Festival

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3. Michael Shank Racing Ford-Riley Daytona Prototype, Tudor United Sports Car Championship

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4. Corvette C7.R, GTLM Class, Tudor United Sports Car Championship

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5. 1970 Porsche 917, Sonoma Historic Motorsports Festival

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6. 1965 Holman-Moody NASCAR Ford Galaxie, Sonoma Historic Motorsports Festival

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7. 1972 Can-Am Shadow DN2, Sonoma Historic Motorsports Festival

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8. Krohn Racing 458 Italia, GTLM class,Tudor United Sports Car Championship

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9. Pirelli World Challenge Bentley Continental GT

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10. 1954 Ferrari 750 Monza Spyder, CSRG Sonoma Opener

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Where’s my mullet? The GTO and Trans-Am era lives on…

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The mullet is an under-appreciated hair style.  Known for being “business in the front, party in the back”, the haircut reached its peak somewhere around 1987, and it’s been in steady decline ever since.  While it still has fans, the mullet speaks to a different era.  Like this group of cars.

Think of IMSA and Trans-Am GT cars from the late 80s and early 90s as the Mullet Era of racing: manufacturers loved it – business in the front.  The cars produced heaping gobs of power – a little too much fun (party in the back), but the inevitable result of a wide-open rules package.  The Roush Mustang had about 750 bhp – in a four banger.  Roush wiped the floor with the competition, with drivers Robby Gordon, Tommy Kendall, and Dorsey Schroeder.  This chassis (M008) racked up wins at Portland, Road America and Del Mar.

These cars remind me of something my second cousin pulled up in around 1986.  He liked cocaine and wore aviator shades.  He rocked that mullet pretty well, too.

Some of these cars are ridiculous interpretations of cars you wouldn’t be caught dead in at the time.  A Chevy Beretta and a Buick Somerset? Maybe the Fiero, but an Oldsmobile Cutlass? Not so sure.  But, just like my second cousin, they’re still rocking that mullet.

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Driven by Elliot Forbes-Robinson, the Trans-Am Somerset won at Detroit and Sears Point in 1985, with three seconds and a third.  Good enough for fourth place in the championship that year.

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The 1987 Fiero earned two wins and three seconds to finish third in the GTO championship that year.

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Olds Cutlass (above) earned a few Trans-Am podiums but no wins.  1990 Beretta finished one-two.

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Baja Boat Beretta looked good but had a middling record running in the IMSA and Trans-Am series in 1988.

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Monterey GP – TUDOR United Sports Car Championship debuts at Mazda Raceway

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The TUDOR United SportsCar Championship made its formal debut this weekend at Mazda Raceway, the first race in Monterey since the ALMS and Grand-Am fields were formally joined.  ESM Racing made it another first, becoming the series’ first LMP2 race winner, and reassuring (at least momentarily) those who questioned IMSA’s ability to balance Daytona Prototypes and ACO-based LMP2s.

More pictures to follow, but the photo above is the end result of an incident between the Porsche 911 of Nick Tandy and the BMW Z4GTE of RLL Racing’s Bill Auberlen.  Auberlen and Tandy made contact coming out of turn 11 and again on the last lap, leading IMSA to assess a penalty on Tandy’s car and demoting it to ninth place in GTLM.  Was the contact worth a penalty, or was it a case of hard racing in the waning laps of a race?