IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship America's Tire 250
Who says racing is dead? While Formula 1 may be the world's most expensive parade lap, American sports car racing is alive and well.
The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship descended on Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca last weekend for the penultimate round of the 2017 championship. Throughout the season the WeatherTech series has provided fans with numerous exciting races and closing lap drama. Last year, this very race was the site of the Ford GT's first victory since making its comeback to LeMans. For whatever reason, Laguna Seca sets the stage for new talent to emerge or seasoned drivers to remind everyone of their skill. Maybe its the World Famous Corkscrew...maybe it's the hint of salty air...we don't know....but this race never fails to deliver. It wasn't "if" Sunday's America's Tire 250 would provide another masterclass in sportscar racing, it was "who" would step-up to be the hero.
From the start of the race things looked straightforward. The championship leading team of Jordan and Ricky Taylor from Wayne Taylor Racing took a commanding lead from pole position for much of the early part of the race. We weren't the only ones thinking that the Taylor boys were going to end the season just as they began, walking away from the pack, and never looking back. After mid-race pitstops, the WTR #10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R. slipped back to fourth position and essentially gave up a challenge for the win as coming home with points to add to the championship lead would be more important. This shake-up at the front put Dane Cameron in the #31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac DP-V.R. in first place. In the last hour of the 2-hour and 40 minute race, Renger van der Zande in the No. 90- Visit Florida Racing Ligier LM P2 car stalked Cameron lap after lap. In the last 10 minutes. van der Zande would close up to within a second, though it still appeared that Cameron could keep the lead based on his good exits coming out of corners.
The fans that stuck it out until the end were rewarded with a pass that will long be remembered and compared to Alex Zanardi's "The Pass" which has become the stuff of legend that occurred in 1996. With just 3 minutes left in the race as, they climbed the hill, van der Zande would come along side Cameron at the top of the Corkscrew and made a straight line pass as they dropped down the infamous 10 story drop. It was a move that fans that came to Laguna Seca will talk about for years to come. Surprisingly, Cameron did not return fire and settled into second position, preserving his podium position.
The victory for the No. 90 Ligier was the first in WeatherTech Championship competition for a new Gibson-powered global LM P2 race car.
Other plot lines--
Lost in the closing laps spectacle for the prototypes was a win for Ferrari in the GTD class for the Scuderia Corsa team of Alessandro Balzan and Christina Nielsen in their Ferrari 488 GT3. It was a win coinciding with the 60th anniversary of the very first victory at Laguna Seca coming by way of another Ferrari, Pete Lovely in the Ferrari 500 TR. It was a bittersweet victory on Sunday as it was the next to last race for the pair of drivers as Nielsen is set to leave the team at the end of the season. Nielsen is first female driver to win a major full-season professional sports car championship in North America when she won the 2016 WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in the GTD class. Nielsen has quietly built up a solid resume of wins and a championship along with the chance to win another championship this season.
Rarely does a racing a driver spin on the opening lap and then go on to take the victory, but thats exactly what happened for John Edwards and Martin Tomczyk. Edwards spun the No. 24 Team RLL BMW M6 GTLM on the opening lap. Tomczyk, a former DTM champion would drive during the middle stint pushing back up to 6th place in class for most of his time behind the wheel. On the final stint it was left to Edwards, who took the lead with 20 minutes to go as other teams made pit stops. It was a combination of great fuel management and relentless effort that captured the win, only the second for Edwards in the WeatherTech Championship.
A warm fall afternoon and a sportscar race would have been more than adequate to fulfill our racing needs, but American sportscar racing came alive in the rolling hills of Laguna Seca and exceeded all of our expectations in the waning weeks of the racing season.