Thursday, May 5, 2016

Mazda, And Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca Plays Gracious Host to Historic IMSA Race Weekend

Mazda Prototype cars No, 70 leads eventual Continental Monterey Grand Prix powered by Mazda, IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Pole winner No. 55 out of Turn 11 on to the front straightaway at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Image Credit: Edmund Jenks (2016)

Mazda, And Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca Plays Gracious Host to Historic IMSA Race Weekend

The way the weather opened up to perfect springtime cloudless skies over Saturday and Sunday, it seemed as though everything else would be perfect for Mazda Motorsports and Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca during the Continental Monterey Grand Prix powered by Mazda race event weekend ... and it almost was. The one thing clear, from the beginning, was that this weekend seemed poised to go down in the motorsports record books and be remembered as historic (as opposed to hosting 'Historics').

The race weekend was full of competition everywhere for nearly every fan featuring the IMSA sanctioned series that include - Feature Race: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship – Click HERE for pre-race entry list. Support Races: IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge | Global Mazda Battery Tender MX-5 Cup (Click HERE for entries) | Lamborghini Blancpain Super Trofeo | Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama (Click HERE for entries).

Located right next to the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca race track's Start/Finish Line and pitlane, is the Mazda Motor Corporation's effort to honor people who have purchased their cars.  On display (L to R) Mazda6, Mazda3, and a IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Mazda Prototype Class gasoline-fueled MZ-2.0T inline four cylinder engine powered sportscar ... all displayed in "Soul Red." Image Credit: Edmund Jenks (2016)

For Mazda Motorsports' contribution, all one had to know was that the MX-5 Cup would hold its first two races of the season in a unified effort (no Skip Barber) using the latest global spec version of the MX-5 Miata roadster released last year. The 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata has received rave reviews and multiple awards since its 2015 debut, including World Car of the Year.

During the opening rounds (1 & 2) of the 2016 Battery Tender Global Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires, the field of 40 cars and drivers, Mazda showed the way to lead in an undeniable effort at the development of race car drivers, racing, and the pursuit of happiness to all who witnessed this exercise in abundant competition.

Before the drop of the first Green Flag of the season, John Doonan, director of motorsports, Mazda North American Operations (MNAO), noted, "This MX-5 Cup race weekend represents almost two years of hard work by hundreds of people.  Having great partners like Battery Tender, BFGoodrich Tires, Long Road Racing and the many engineers within Mazda, both here and Japan, makes this a very special weekend. The rush of cars going into turn two on Friday afternoon will be an amazing sight. Those not in Monterey can tune in to the livestream. I predict epic racing action."

... and epic racing action ensued.

The 2016 Battery Tender Global Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires field of 40 drivers. Image Credit: Myles Regan (2016)

Included in this field of race car driving standout hopefuls were 2015 MX-5 Cup champion John Dean II, Sarah Montgomery (recipient of the Spirit of Mazda for March 2016), Certified Stunt Driver Drake Kemper, Earned $100,000 Mazda Scholarship awardees Robby Foley (2015 Skip Barber Champion), Glenn McGee (Mazda Road to 24 iRacing Shootout), Ara Malkhassian, Nikko Reger, Mark Drennan, Patrick Gallagher, Dean Copeland, and Gareth Nixon to mention a few.

With 40 global spec Mazda MX-5 Miatas in the field, room to race at speed seemed just a little hard to come by. On the first lap, the track was not wide enough to accommodate the thundering herd (4+ wide) as the dust at the rear of this image (exit of Turn 2) attests. Image Credit: Edmund Jenks (2016) 

This excerpted and edited from Mazda Motorsports - 

In the historic first race of the 2016 Battery Tender Global Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires, reigning 2015 series champion and Mazda Road to 24 (#MRT24) scholarship driver John Dean II (No. 16 Sick Sideways Racing) started the race on pole after an impressive qualifying session. Dean II led the 40-car field to the green flag for the start of the 45-minute race. With six lead changes and numerous position changes among the top-three, the first race of the Battery Tender MX-5 Cup was nothing short of thrilling.

Entering the first turn, Patrick Gallagher (No. 72 McCumbee McAleer Racing) fell back from second to eighth after getting trapped in the motorcycle lane in the first turn.

The incident allowed rookie Mark Drennan (No. 50 Winding Road Team TFB) to move up one spot to second while veteran Ara Malkhassian (No. 11 ALARA Racing) slid up two positions to third. Malkhassian’s place was short-lived, however, as MRT24 scholarship driver Robby Foley (No. 63 Atlanta Motorsports Group) made a move 10 minutes into the race to take the position.

Halfway into the race, only .115 seconds separated the top two drivers. As the top five continued to battle, Gallagher made his way back from mid-pack, overtaking Nikko Reger (No. 01 Copeland Motorsports) for fifth. In lap 14, at the exit of the last turn, Drennan would be punted off track, falling back to eighth. Gallagher slid into second, followed by Dean Copeland (No. 7 Copeland Motorsports) in third.
Looking down on the action through Turn 3 during late race movements with No. 1 Dan Martinson, Rogers, MN Atlanta Motorsports Group, No. 27 Nick Igdalsky, Long Pond, PA McCumbee McAleer Racing, No. 99 Drake Kemper, Thermal, CA Sick Sideways Racing, No. 23 Glenn McGee, Tampa, FL Sick Sideways Racing. Image Credit: Edmund Jenks (2016)

With less than 10 minutes remaining, Dean II led the field, followed closely behind by Gallagher and Foley in third. In lap 21, Gallagher made an exciting move for the lead, overtaking Dean II; the two were separated by only .263 seconds. Reger made an assertive move in lap 21 to slide into candidacy for podium position.

With one lap remaining, Dean II had one more opportunity to overtake Gallagher, but fell short. Gallagher won the race by 0.121 seconds, followed by John Dean II. Although he crossed the line in third, Reger was penalized for his car being underweight in the post-race technical inspection; Foley took the third place podium.

“We got trapped in the motorcycle lane and my car ended up in the dirt,” recalls Gallagher, when asked about the incident early in the race. “But I knew the car was going to be good at the end of the race and that’s what we planned. I stayed calm. I knew it was a 45-minute race and I just started picking off cars one by one.”

A notable finish was Gareth Nixon (No. 3 Nixon Investments) who won the Battery Tender Hard Charger award. Nixon began the race in 40th position and picked up 23 spots to finish in 17th place.

John Doonan, Director of Motorsports, Mazda North American Operations, did the official trophy presentation and noted, “Today’s race was the combined effort of many people and companies.  It was great to see 45 minutes of superb racing without a single caution flag.  It was special to have so many people from Battery Tender, BFGoodrich Tires, Long Road Racing and others here with Mazda.”
[Reference Here]

MRT24 scholarship driver Robby Foley (No. 63 Atlanta Motorsports Group) is interviewed by Racer's Steve Smith and  Tony Karis in post Round 2 press conference on his win. Robby was able to score two podium finishes in the first two rounds (P3 & P1 respectively) of the Battery Tender Global Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires. Image Credit: Edmund Jenks (2016)

And this -

Robby Foley Takes the Second Win of the Battery Tender Global Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires. Foley took the win, followed by Copeland in second and Dean II in third.

“Toward the beginning of the race, I was having some trouble with the brakes and that’s why I fell to third,” recalled race 2 winner Foley; he continued: “The guys behind me were racing really hard, but I was in that bubble where I couldn’t quite catch John and Patrick. I was matching their times, but couldn’t catch them. The caution actually helped me out and I was able to get back to the leaders. I took a chance in turn 2 near the end of the race and made it stick.”

Other notable finishes included rookie Nicholas Evancich (No.41 Sick Sideways Racing) who took the Battery Tender Hard Charger award with 22 positions gained moving from 35th position to 13th place.

Rounds 3 and 4 of the Battery Tender Global Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires will be at Watkins Glen on Saturday, May 14 and Sunday, May 15, 2016.

Global Mazda MX-5 Cup cars as they leave the Corkscrew and enter the technical downhill Turn 9. Driving (leading right to left) are No. 9 Matt Fassnacht, New York, NY ALARA Racing, No. 82 Max Faulkner, Rumson, NJ McCumbee McAleer Racing, No. 03 Ashton Harrison, Villa Rica, GA GB Racing, and No. 29 Justin Raphael, Franklin Lakes NJ McCumbee McAleer Racing. Image Credit: Edmund Jenks (2016)

Round 2 Details Here >>>

With the introduction to racing of the new global spec MX-5 Miata in Rounds 1 & 2, Mazda Motorsports also re-engineered its IMSA Prototype Class car from a SKYACTIV Diesel power-plant configuration used over these last three years to a 2-litre gasoline powered engine. The new package had showed some better pace over the diesel during the Daytona 24 and Sebring 12 hour endurance races as well as on the Toyota Grand Prix Long Beach street course previously run ... but now it was time to show what had been learned through the introduction of this new racing approach to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca home track.

From the drop of the first Green Flag for practice of the Continental Monterey Grand Prix powered by Mazda at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, the No. 70 and No. 55 bested the speeds set by all other competitors in the 4th Round of IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Series (save the final warm-up practice before the race) before setting first-ever Mazda Prototype program Pole Award in qualifications.

Tristan Nunez happy that these Mazda, Advanced Engine Research Ltd. (AER), and SpeedSource prepared Mazda Prototype gasoline-fueled MZ-2.0T inline four cylinder engines love the hills of Monterey. The first thing noticed by the driver with this change in configuration is how smooth the power is delivered in every gear through the RPM range ... there is great low-end torque with zero turbo-lag. Image Credit: Edmund Jenks (2016)

This excerpted and edited from Mazda Motorsports -

Tristan Nunez turned a fast lap of 1:18.143 (103.103 mph) [IMSA Prototype track record - 2008 Monterey Sports Car Championships, David Brabham set a pole position time of 1:10.103 in a Le Mans Prototype] to lock up his first TOTAL Pole Award in the No. 55 Castrol/ModSpace Mazda co-driven by Monterey resident Jonathan Bomarito. Tom Long settled for second, running 1:18.379 (102.793 mph) in the No. 70 Castrol/ModSpace Mazda co-driven by Joel Miller.
It is the first pole for the Mazda Prototype team that began life with a stock block diesel engine, but has leapt into contention this year with the new Mazda MZ-2.0T gas-powered engine.

“I’m at a loss for words. I think the whole team is at a loss for words right now,” said Nunez, shortly after his fast lap.  “We knew what we had coming in here. We had a strong car and our car loves this track. I mean, it’s Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, after all. We pushed our hearts out - in both cars. We’re starting tomorrow’s race one - two, so what better place than Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca - especially for our first pole? I’m extremely honored to be the one that got to do that so it’s awesome.

“I was driving on the edge - the absolute edge,” said Nunez. “I think we’re going to be doing that in the race as well. And we’re prepared to do that.

“We’ve been struggling for the past three year,” Nunez explained. “It’s been a challenging three years and now it’s really showing that we used that time to practice, like practicing pit stops. That’s so important plus every other little piece of the puzzle that we needed to get right. We put in the work, and it’s showing right now. We’re really going to show what we’re made of tomorrow in the race.”

The race, however, ended in a more disappointing fashion. After starting the race and gaining two successive leads of over 12 seconds on the field of large displacement earth-shaking DP Corvettes and experimental racing machines, the Mazda Prototype cars did not finish the race with such promise as the qualifications performance and the first 26 laps would suggest.

Biggest story of the two hour race in the Continental Monterey Grand Prix powered by Mazda, IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Prototype Class at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in one image. The No. 60 Michael Shanks Racing Honda HPD Ligier JS P2 driven by Oz Negri and John Pew (leading) qualified last in class go on to win Round 4 while the cars that qualified the best at P1 and P2 (following) encountered racing trouble starting on Lap 26. Image Credit: Edmund Jenks (2016)

This excerpted and edited from Mazda Motorsports - 

What had been a perfect weekend for the Mazda Prototype team at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca turned into disappointment in the final hour of today’s Continental Tire Monterey Grand Prix powered by Mazda. Tristan Nunez, who started on the pole position, and co-driver Jonathan Bomarito finished fourth in the No. 55 Mazda Prototype, which matches the best-ever finish for the team. The No. 70 Mazda driven by Tom Long recorded the fastest lap of the race (1:19.206) and ran in second place before handing over to co-driver Joel Miller. Unfortunately, soon after Miller climbed aboard, the oil pump failed [Turn 6 and stopping on the Rahal Straight], knocking the car from the race. They finished eighth in the Prototype class and 18th overall.

Until trouble found the No. 70, it had been a dominating performance by the two-car team.
When the race began, Nunez led with Long second for the first 25 laps (40 minutes into the two-hour race), pulling away from the rest of the field by more than 16 seconds. A yellow flag then flew, and the two Mazda came to the pits for fuel, tires and driver changes. An issue with refueling the No. 55 car led to a lengthy stop, which dropped new driver Bomarito to sixth place. At the restart, Bomarito sliced through the field, aggressively climbing to second place.

Running second to the eventual winner, Bomarito saw an opportunity to make a pass for the lead in heavy traffic going into Turn 10, but spun into the gravel at the exit of the corner. He was able to continue, but the tires were damaged enough that he was unable to match his earlier pace.
Jonathan Bomarito greets and talks with fans gathered during the pre-race grid walk ... a cherished tradition when everyone gathers on pit row (fans, drivers, mechanics, team owners, & etc.) where the cars are lined up in order of qualification before race start. Image Credit: Edmund Jenks (2016) 

Jonathan Bomarito, Driver, No. 55 Mazda Prototype
About jumping from sixth into second in only a few laps: “I knew we had the refueling issue, so I knew I had to push hard to get by the [Daytona Prototypes] because we didn’t want the No. 60 [eventual winner] car to get away. We were able to do that. It was fantastic and it was good, hard racing.

About the spin: “We had some traffic coming into [Turn] 10 and I saw an opportunity to go for the lead. It was just a little bit too aggressive getting back on the power and lost the rear-end. So, that was pretty much our race right there. Once you spin and flat-spot or hurt the tires, there’s not any coming back from that. We were on a storybook weekend and we didn’t finish it so I’m gutted for the team and everyone at Mazda and SpeedSource. These guys work harder than anybody else, so you wear that on your shoulders as a driver and you want it for them really bad.”

Tom Long, Driver, No. 70 Castrol/ModSpace Mazda Prototype
“Today was a difficult day, but if you look at the weekend as a whole, we had an incredible effort from our whole Mazda Motorsports team. The car that they gave me to race was absolutely fantastic. It was on rails around Mazda Raceway. It felt so good to be out there and set the fastest lap of the race. We certainly had the pace, but things didn’t fall our way today. It’s difficult to deal with, but you just swallow it and it fuels you for for the next time.”

No. 70 Castrol/ModSpace Mazda Prototype bookended up the back straight between Turns 5 & 6 by the No's 912 and 911 Porsche North America Porsche 911 RSRs. Image Credit: Edmund Jenks (2016)

Joel Miller, Driver, No. 70 Castrol/ModSpace Mazda Prototype
“I don't know if ‘character building’ is the right term. But, this is motorsports and these things can happen at the worst times. The 55 car battled through and came home with fourth - again matching our best result. The highlight of the weekend for us was to lead every practice and qualifying on the front row.

“Being as dominant as we were, I think that’s where we’re supposed to be for a team of this caliber. We went out there and did our jobs. The results are coming. Now, we know we’re going to show up at each race and have the potential to do that. It’s expected to be that way. We’re going to work on our set-ups to be better when we get to the next race.”

Lastly, in the GTLM Class, more history was made by Ford when the Eco-Boost powered Ford GT scored its first ever victory before its anticipated participation in the famed 24 Hours Of Le Mans.

Ganassi Racing's Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook pilot the new Ford GT through the Corkscrew turn to a fuel conservation aided win in the GTLM Class at the Continental Monterey Grand Prix powered by Mazda at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Image Credit: Edmund Jenks (2016)

This excerpted and edited from - 

Ford GT Makes History With GT Le Mans Win At Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca

Just four races into the heralded Ford GT program in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, No. 67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing co-drivers Richard Westbrook and Ryan Briscoe earned a breakthrough GT Le Mans (GTLM) class victory in the Continental Monterey Grand Prix powered by Mazda at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

Westbrook and Briscoe benefited by a mix of speed and strategy to earn the victory. Briscoe qualified the No. 67 Ford GT second on Saturday and slotted into second behind the No. 68 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GTE of Daniel Serra through the early stages of the two-hour race. He ran one position ahead of teammate Dirk Muller in the No. 66 Ford GT until he pitted to turn the car over to Westbrook 45 minutes into the race.

During that stop, the car momentarily got stuck in first gear, and by the time Westbrook rejoined the field he had fallen all the way back to sixth in class. With the loss of track position, the team elected to conserve fuel.

Father and son (top) celebrate Ford GT's first win - father Dan Binks, Crew Chief Corvette Racing, and son Phillip Binks, Mechanic (bottom) to the Chip Ganassi Racing effort on the No. 67 EcoBoost powered Ford GT as it becomes race ready for the 24 Hours Of Le Mans. Image Credit: Norm DeWitt (2016)

“[The pit stop] cost us five or six seconds and five or six positions, and you aren’t going to drive it to the front from that position” Westbrook said. “So that’s what you get when you race with Chip Ganassi, you get out of the box solutions.”

The out of the box solution eventually paid big dividends. Westbrook worked his way up to second in the running order, behind teammate Joey Hand in the No. 66, as his other competitors made their final pit stops.

With 15 minutes remaining, Westbrook dove to the inside of Hand entering Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca’s famed Andretti Hairpin (Turn 2). With six minutes to go, Hand pitted for a splash of fuel, dropping him back to an eventual sixth-place finish.

Westbrook, meanwhile, had conserved enough fuel that he did not have to stop again, going on to score the win by 12.545 seconds over Alessandro Pier Guidi in the No. 68 Ferrari. It was Westbrook’s ninth career victory in major U.S. sports car racing and his third at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, and was the 12th major U.S. sports car win for Briscoe.

“It’s just so exciting,” Briscoe said. “It’s been a tough few months getting this program running. These guys have been working so hard. We’ve struggled with battles. We struggled a bit with balance but figured it out. We just missed the pole, and to get the win for Ford is huge. It means a lot for me and the whole program.”

Dave Pericak, Director, Ford Performance, on the first victory for the Ford GT:  “We’ve been waiting for this win for a long time. I think it’s great that it came as a fuel economy win. It’s great for Ford EcoBoost, because that’s what it’s all about.”

Third place went to Frederic Makowiecki and Earl Bamber in the No. 912 Porsche North America Porsche 911 RSR.
[Reference Here]

Between hosting a full schedule of practice and races over three days, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca continued to prove its mettle and position in motorsports culture and history.

From historic first-ever full field races in the new global MX-5 Miata roadster platform, history-making first-ever Pole Award with the re-made Mazda Prototype platform plus highest-ever finish in the 3+ year IMSA Prototype program, and a first-ever win by the re-introduced Ford GT before the 24 Hours Of Le Mans ... all hosted at one of the most grand road tracks in the racing world - Mazda, as always, did itself well in creating a motor culture set of memories in a fashion no other manufacturer of cars can, or will, do.

... notes from The EDJE

TAGS: Mazda, Battery Tender, BFGoodrich Tires, Long Road Racing, Continental Tire, IMSA, MX-5 Cup, Prototype, GTLM, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, #MRLS, Continental Monterey Grand Prix powered by Mazda, Ford GT, EcoBoost, Lamborghini Blancpain Super Trofeo, Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama,

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