2016 Monterey Grand Prix
Sometimes, like a driver or a racing team, you go into a weekend event with an anticipation of the unexpected. Will it live up to expectations? Will a story emerge, or will we have to search and scrounge for content like wringing out an old dry sponge? At some point, the other shoe will have to drop...it just has to. TLP has had a good luck streak going for almost two years now. We've yet to have our hopes dashed or have any experience that was less than pretty great, whether it's a cars and coffee event, an annual show or racing event. Needless to say, the streak was extended this past weekend to include a trip down to Laguna Seca for the Continental Tire Monterey Grand Prix, Powered By Mazda. This weekend was nothing but wall-to-wall, unadulterated, multi-class, action packed sports car racing at it's finest. From modified stock cars to state-of-the-art prototypes, this event brought its "A" game and and left nothing to be desired.
Before we go on, TLP sends out a special shout out to Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca Public Relations manager David Hart, for assisting us with a last minute complication. Without his assistance, our readers would be missing out on roughly half of the content we've prepared for this report. A second shout out goes to Jonathan Presby, who's the track's Assistant Director with Race Activities. Because we conspired to take a selfie on the podium at some point during the weekend, we were able to take an impressive selfie and incidentally caught a significant moment in Ford's racing history, and campaign to repeat-win at Le Mans 50 years after their first overall victory.
Frankly, this weekend threw everything at us. It was equal parts hot, cold, rainy, exhausting, dramatic, historic and a bunch of other redundant adjectives. On a personal level, we both pushed ourselves in order to bring our readers even better event coverage than before. We spent, dang near, the entirety of two days in the track capturing sights and sounds with only brief breaks to eat. (For our efforts, we discovered further evidence that we're not as young as we used to be (sadface), but on the other hand, learned that the more we push ourselves, the better our product.)
This single event featured a twilight bicycle ride, the Mazda MX-5 Cup, the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge, the Lamborghini Blancpain Super Trofeo Series, the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, and separate races for two groups of WeatherTech Championship cars. There was no rest for the wicked and no shortage of on-track action between warm-ups, qualifying and races. Over the years we've been a little concerned about the state of racing with all of the separations mergers and consolidations that have occurred in sports car racing, but after this weekend we can say with confidence that the state of sports car racing, with the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and the other participating series, is strong. All weekend, fans were treated to almost unhindered access to teams, garages, mechanics and their favorite drivers. On Sunday, before the WeatherTech racing started, everyone was invited on to the pre-grid in pit lane to walk among the Prototype and GT Le Mans cars as they were staged before the race start. Judging by the looks on everyone's faces, we're sure everybody got their money's worth from that experience alone.
The racing on Sunday would be divided into two sessions with the P/GTLM class as the opening act and the PC/GTD class in the closing event. The classes were split in this fashion due to limited space in the pit lane, yet it turned out to be an appropriate format that worked to provide drama for both races.
When the checkered flag dropped, the curse would be lifted from Micheal Shank Racing as they claimed the win, ending a four year drought. Driver Ozz Negri, with co-driver John Pew were on the hunt in the first hour of the two hour race. After some argy bargy in the opening hour, Negri would take the lead after the second full course caution, bringing the #60 Ligier JS P2 Honda home with a win 30 seconds ahead of second place.
The GTLM class would provide a historical moment with the Ford GT piloted by Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook claiming the maiden victory for Ford Chip Ganassi Racing. It undoubtedly represents a much needed shot of confidence in their 5th race on the road Ford’s return to Le Mans. It was gamble on fuel that paid off for the the #67 Ford GT, but the gamble would force the #66 driven by hometown favorite Joey Hand to come in for a quick splash of fuel with five minutes to go. It would be a well fought battle for the Ganassi team and potentially provides momentum as the season goes on.
In the afternoon race of the PC/GTD classes would provide a canvass for Porsche to claim their 550th victory in major U.S. sports car competition.
The #23 Heart of Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R of Team Seattle/Alex Job Racing driven by Alex Riberas pulled out the lead in the opening lap and never look back, even after changing over to co-driver Mario Farnbacher. Farnbacher would bring the Porsche home calming his fourth major U.S. sports car racing victory. It would also bring home 70 wins total in sports car competition for Alex Job Racing.
Ferrari 488 GT3 drivers Alessandro Balzan and Christina Nielsen would come home in second place but claimed enough points to take the lead in the WeatherTech Championship GTD class with 95 total points.
The next WeatherTech Championship round for the GTD class is the 100-minute Chevrolet Sports Car Classic presented by Metro Detroit Chevy Dealers at Detroit’s Belle Isle Park on Saturday, June 4. That race also will include the Prototype and Prototype Challenge classes and will be televised live on FS1 beginning at 12:30 p.m. ET.