An exciting finish at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca for the first of two, two-hour TUDOR United SportsCar Championship races as race strategies determined who won and lost in PC and GT Daytona.
The 8Star Motorsports entry of Luis Diaz and Sean Rayhall looked like the overall win was going to come with ease, but following a final pit stop by Starworks Motorsport for right-side tires only, saw the Martini-sponsored No. 8 cross the finish line 12.234 seconds ahead of the No. 25 8Star car.
If the race for the overall win was good, the final laps of the GTD race were the most exciting of the event. Pole-sitter Spencer Pumpelly and teammate Nelson Canache led with ease from the start, but with the short two-hour race, fuel strategy would play a significant role. As Canache handed the No. 45 Flying Lazard Motorsports Audi R8 over to Pumpelly, the team took a massive gamble by trying to complete the race on one stop. The fuel economy offered by Pumpelly’s Audi R8 was phenomenal, however to meet the teams ambitious single-stop goal, Pumpelly spent his stint saving fuel while those on two-stop strategies left nothing behind.
Turner Motorsport also gambled, but in an entirely different way, pitting the No. 94 BMW Z4 early, which allowed Dane Cameron to go on the attack until the checkered flag. Flying Lizard Motorsports’s gamble nearly paid off, however with Cameron on a charge and Pumpelly surrendering nearly five seconds per lap with the race nearing its final lap, the No. 45 Audi sputtered and died entering the historic Corkscrew only a of a half-lap from the checkered flag. Cameron, followed closely by the No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Audi R8 of Christopher Haase, flew past Pumpelly, only yards from the finish line, to take the GTD win for Turner Motorsport. “They don’t tell me what was going on so I didn’t know if I was first or 10th,” said the Californian, who had just 0.168sec over Haase at the finish line. “That was good fun racing. We didn’t think [Pumpelly] would make it.”
Pumpelly was obviously disappointed to finish sixth after dominating the entire race, “The heart sinks; the guys worked so hard,” he said. “Trying to stretch an extra 10 minutes out of this stint was impossible.”
John Potter and Andy Lally took home third in the No. 44 Magnus Racing Porsche 911 GT America.
The race was green for less than two minutes before the full-course yellow flew to retrieve Patrick Dempsey’s Porsche from a gravel trap. Once the race resumed, 8Star’sLuis Diaz pushed his lead to 5.4 seconds over Duncan Ende after 20 minutes. Flying Lizard Motorsports’s Nelson Canache built a similar lead in his Audi R8 over Scuderia Corsa’s Stefan Johansson at the 25-minute mark.
Bryce Miller in the No. 48 Audi spun as he challenged for second, Palttala, who had his No. 94 BMW turned around by Ben Keating, and Keating also managed a spin in his No. 33 SRT Viper GT3-R.
The second yellow flew after 36 minutes for the hit, spun, and stranded No. 46 Audi R8 of Charlie Putman packed up the field, erasing the lead established by Diaz and Canache. Contact between the No. 8 PC of eventual winner Schultis and No. 54 CORE autosport PC of Jon Bennett resulted in right-front suspension damage for Bennett requiring an extended visit to the pits. After two consecutive wins to open the season, the PC points leaders at CORE lost any hope of going three-for-three.
The caution allowed most teams to pit and make driver changes, Luis Diaz handed over the No. 25 to Sean Rayhall, and Nelson Canache gave the No. 45 to Spenser Pumpelly. Rayhall built an immediate lead while Pumpelly sat on a three-second lead over Alex Job Racing’s Leh Keen in GTD, Cameron’s Turner Motorsport team rolled the dice, pitting the BMW Z4 from third with 59 minutes left, filling up the gas tank to make a run to finish without knowing if it would pay off.
Rayhall established an 8.6-second lead and pitted with 48 minutes remaining, but the No. 25 sat stationary for far too long as he waited for all four tires. Pumpelly was locked in a fuel-saving battle as the first- and second-place runners sought to make it to the finish without stopping.
David Ostella, spun exiting Turn 3 and smashed his left-rear suspension, as he attempted to limp back to the pits, the Canadian spun once again at the Corkscrew, eventually pulling off to the right side of the track and retiring. With concerns for a full-course yellow looming for Ostella’s parked car, teams ducked into the pits, including race leader Bruno Junqueira. Starworks’ Renger van der Zande, hammered away with fast laps including a quick second pit stop, would be the biggest beneficiary, inheriting the lead from Junqueira. Rayhall pulled the gap down to two car lengths as GTD traffic slowed van der Zande, but a risky move by the 19-year-old saw the 8Star car spin on the exit of Turn 10 as he tried to dive inside the GTD cars.
Sitting on a comfortable lead with six minutes remaining, van der Zande cruised home to a well-deserved to win for Starworks. As teams and fans waited to see how the exciting GTD race ended, Ian James pitted the No. 23 Alex Job Porsche from third for a splash of fuel with six minutes left, followed by Leh Keen in the sister AJR Porsche. This promoted Cameron to second as the field watched to see if Pumpelly had enough fuel to bring home the win.
Pumpelly slowed his pace as much as he could with two laps to go without giving up the lead, but Cameron was in full attack mode. As the Flying Lizard Motorsports Audi R8 entered the Corkscrew for the final time, the car suddenly lost fuel pressure and began to coast as gamble to run a one stop race ended in heartbreak as Pumpelly came to a halt to just a few car lengths from the finish line, out of gas.
Photos provided by LAT Photographic, Vickie Miller