The IMSA series came once again to WeatherTech Laguna Seca Raceway in California for the penultimate round in the 2018 WeatherTech Championship. The weather was typical California coastal September weather, cool with fog and cloud in the early morning, burning off later to reveal bright sunshine by mid-day. The good news for Porsche fans is that the race, run over 2 hours 40 minutes, saw Porsche on the podium at Laguna Seca!
All three championship classes, Prototype, GTLM (European ACO GTE Pro), and GTD (FIA GT3) were all still wide open with two races to go in the championship. From a Porsche perspective, though, it was not looking too good in either GT category.
Point standings in GTLM Manufacturers:
Although in the Driver’s championship, Magnussen and Garcia have just a four-point advantage over the Ford of Briscoe and Westbrook, and a nine-point lead over the second Ford of Mueller and Hand. Porsche is well back in both Drivers and Manufacturers points.
Point standings in GTD Manufacturers:
In the driver’s points, Sellers and Snow have a significant lead in the Lamborghini Huracan they share, being 13 points ahead of Katherine Legge in the Acura.
In the Prototype class, the Cadillac Dpi team of Action Express hold the top two positions led by Felipe Nasr and Eric Curran in the Whelan Engineering car over their team car. The LMP2 car of Braun and Bennett is third, only ten points behind, so it is all still in play.
IMSA recently made the announcement that the LMP2 cars in 2019 would run in a separate class, again creating four classes for fans to follow. Along those lines, they (IMSA) made some BoP changes for this race. Over the middle part of the season, the Dpi cars have been more and more restricted compared to the LMP2 cars, whose rules have remained unchanged (ACO/FIA rules). The net result is that IMSA have perhaps gone too far, as the LMP2 cars have won three races in a row. The major change this week was to add 10 kg to the LMP2 and remove three litres of fuel capacity from them. The rest of the Dpi are unchanged, save for Mazda, which received a 10 kg reduction and an extra two litres of fuel.
There was no change to GTLM, and nor has there been any change for quite some time. The only change in GTD was a minor change to the Ferrari 488 boost curve, that was all.
All in all, IMSA has done a fairly good job of managing the BoP this year as the races have been very competitive in all three classes. The last race in Virginia (GT cars only), was quite exciting down to the last lap in both classes, with the BMW M8 taking its maiden win, just barely.
Laguna Seca, as a track, is a tough place to pass. Some time ago it was modified to accommodate MotoGP, who now no longer come here, making passing even more difficult. Track position, good pit work, and strategy are keys to success at this track. The race, run over 2 hours 40 minutes, would normally include two pit stops, although some in the GT cars, have made it with just one stop in prior years depending on conditions.
Friday Practice showed that possibly, once more, IMSA had gotten it right on the BoP. The top four times in the two sessions were set by Dpi cars, although the top eight were only 0.5 seconds apart. In GTLM, the two Fords were ahead of the two Corvettes with the Porsches well back. However, you can’t really read much into it, as traffic is bad here, and the race usually comes down to who can keep the tyres under the car for the length of a fuel stint, not who can make the fastest lap.
Saturday – FP3 and Qualifying
FP3 on Saturday, was cool but clear, as it was early in the morning. The factory Porsches were quickest in GTLM and my long-time friend Don Caesar, who manages the tyres for the #911 car of Patrick Pilet and Nick Tandy, told me they had worked late on Friday, to ‘improve the cars.’ The Mazdas also made big improvements running third in FP3. Wayne Taylor’s car (Cadillac–Dallara) ran at or near the front in all the Prototype sessions. Last year’s race winner in an LMP2 car, Renger van der Zande, seemed to do most of the work. In GTD, Patrick Long was quickest in the Wright Motorsports Porsche.
Qualifying, however, took place in the early afternoon when it was quite a bit warmer. The cars that were quick in the morning were nowhere to be seen in qualifying. After Renger van der Zande did most of the heavy lifting in practice, the team sent out Jordan Taylor to qualify, and he put it on the pole with a new track record. About a half second back were the two Penske Acuras driven by Cameron and Castro Neves. The Mazdas, who had been quick in the morning were only sixth and eighth, Bomarito ahead of Jarvis.
In GTLM, the Corvettes were first and third, led by Oliver Gavin, while one of the Fords was second. The Porsches, who were quick in the cooler morning conditions, were well back. Earl Bamber seemed to struggle with tyres and was off the road several times ending up seventh. Nick Tandy could only manage sixth.
The GTD class proved to be the most exciting. Katherine Legge did a superb job in getting the pole in her Acura, ahead of the championship leaders, Sellers and Snow in the Lamborghini. It was reported that this was the first time a woman had gotten a pole position in an IMSA race, so well done! To her credit, she did not think much of it, just doing her job as the driver, and gave most of the credit to the crew on a good qualifying setup. The two Porsches in the field were fourth and fifth, less than 0.4 off the pace. Patrick Lindsey did a very good job to take fifth in his RSR, as he is the amateur driver in the pairing, and Patrick Long was fourth.
Sunday – race day
Race day dawned sunny, and the normal fog burned off quickly. Warmup at 09h30 was uneventful as no-one seemed to be pushing too hard, as they knew the conditions would change by race time. Wayne Taylor’s pole sitting car just cruised around for a few laps and parked, while the Mazdas were the quickest. The general talk in the paddock as regards the race was tyre management and the lack of grip. Laguna Seca Raceway is built on an old US Army base in the sandy hills behind Monterey, very near the Pacific Ocean. There is a lot of sand around which blows all over the track. There are also many gravel traps that were installed for the MotoGP some years back, and this gravel of course ends up all over the place, as people go off-piste. Drivers were lamenting the lack of grip and realised tyre management over the course of the race would be key. The race would not be won, necessarily by outright speed, but rather the fastest car over the course of a full fuel load, and by conserving the tyres.
A few support races filled the mid-day time. The WeatherTech Grid lined up at around 12h30 and IMSA had their normal ‘fan walk’ and autograph sessions with the drivers. Fans wander the length of the pit lane and get to look at all the cars, pits, and talk to the crews. It is all quite well received, because IMSA is very fan friendly.
The race started at 14h05, the hottest part of the day. Things did not go well, as there was some bumping at the start and immediately three cars smacked into the wall and were out, including the #911 Porsche of Nick Tandy, the Ford GT of Mueller, and the #5 Cadillac of Joao Barbosa. After some time to clean up the mess, a second restart yielded the same thing as a few of the GTD cars in the back bumped, and again three cars were in the wall. Again, there was a long clean up and with 35 minutes of the race gone, we had not yet completed ONE green lap of racing!
Right at the third restart, we went yellow again, as the pole sitting car of Taylor and van der Zande stopped out on the circuit with a broken transmission. The whole GTLM field remaining, comprising the two Corvettes, the two BMWs, the one remaining Ford and the #912 Porsche all stopped at this point and took on fuel. By stretching it, the thinking was that they might be able to make the distance from this point with just one more stop.
At this early stage, the two Penske Acuras were leading the race overall. The Corvettes were leading GTLM with the BMWs close behind, while GTD was the normal battle of about 7 or 8 cars all bunched together. Patrick Lindsey pitted at this point and turned his RSR GT3 over to Jörg Bergmeister.
Over the course of a full stint, it became clear that the Mazdas were quick. They seemed to be able to maintain speed consistently, whereas the Cadillac of Nasr, and the Acuras and the LMP2 cars less so. The CORE Autosport LMP2 Oreca was running well with Colin Braun having taken over.
At about the half way point, the Mazda of Tincknell and Bomarito led from the two Acuras and the Nissan of Derani, and it seemed to be able to control the pace as required. The second Mazda had lost some time when it stalled during an earlier pit stop, but was still going as well.
With about an hour 15 minutes to go, all the GTLM cars pitted for fuel and tyres, as had all the leading GTD (GT3) cars with the exception of the #86 Acura of Legge and Parente. So, depending on what happened, they might have been able to make it to the end without stopping again. With about 45 minutes to go, Tincknell, in the Mazda DPi pitted from the lead for fuel and tires, as did his followers, the Acuras and the Nissan of Derani. After the cycling of the stops, the Mazda led overall, the BMW’s had jumped ahead to lead GTLM followed by the Porsche #912 and the Corvettes. In GTD, the Acura NSX of Parente had a big lead over the following pack of Bergmeister, Bleekemolen (Mercedes) and Sellers (Lamborghini), but he had yet to stop for the final time.
With about 30 minutes to go, Tincknell had a 16 second lead, and ran afoul of a backmarker on a pass attempt and spun, he continued, but Derani, two Penske Acuras and Nasr had gotten by. In GTLM, the two BMWs led the Porsche followed by the Corvettes. They all were going to be on the limit for fuel if they did not stop. The GTD leader, Parente, in the Acura stopped at this time with 25 minutes to go and took on new tyres and fuel. So, he was on a completely different strategy than the rest who had stopped some 50 minutes earlier. Parente rejoined in fourth place, BUT, he had plenty of fuel and NEW tyres. Fairly quickly he jumped onto the back of the GTD train which consisted of Bergmeister, Bleekemolen, Sellers. These three were conserving fuel and their tyres were worn. Parente got by each one in turn, passing Bergmeister on the next to last lap, and that is how they finished in a row, Acura of Parente, Porsche of Bergmeister, Mercedes of Bleekemolen, Lamborghini of Sellers.
In GTLM, it was also a train until with six minutes to go, the lead BMW ran out of fuel and stopped. The second BMW of Sims and DePhillipi took the point and just beat the #912 Porsche to the flag, with a small gap back to the Corvettes. The Germans had done a slightly better job of fuel and tyre management than the Americans.
In the Prototype overall battle, Derani held on to win in the Nissan over Colin Braun in the LMP2 car, and the Penske Acura of Cameron and Montoya. Nasr in the Cadillac faded as his tyres went away.
The race, once it got going after the start-line shambles, was a good one. As expected, strategy, pit work and tyre management proved to be deciding factors in all the classes. The points gaps in all three classes closed, which means it will all be decided at the 10 hours of Petite Le Mans, upcoming in early October.
Written by: Martin Raffauf
Images by: Martin Raffauf and Porsche Werkfoto