Action! Action and activity all afternoon. Well, all day, but “afternoon” was more alliterative. Weekends at almost any track provide constant opportunity for fans and Saturday at WeatherTech Raceway was no exception.
From a racing perspective, in addition to the Mazda MX-5 Cup and the Lamborghini Super Trofeo, Saturday brought practice, qualifying, and the actual race for all different classes. We received your questions about “what a day in the life is like” at an event like this, so here’s a quick run-down.
Saturday started with a strangely bright and sunny morning around Monterey allowing the 8:00 a.m. scheduled 35-minute qualifying sessions for the Lamborghini Super Trofero. That was followed with almost two hours of practice for the WeatherTech Championship GTD, LMP2, GTD Pro, and GTP cars. Twenty minutes later, the TCR and GS cars in the Michelin Pilot Challenge started 35 minutes of qualifying. WeatherTech Championship drivers held an autograph session as noon, approached with the start of the first race for the Mazda MX-5 Cup providing the background soundtrack until 12:35 p.m.
With just over two hours since their practice, the WeatherTech Championship cars went back out for their own qualifying, yielding the track at 2:05 p.m. ahead of the first of two Lamborghini Super Trofeo races from 2:20 – 3:10 p.m. From 3:30 – 4:10 p.m., fans were able to stroll among the race cars and see the drivers during the Open Grid/Fan Walk. It took almost until “Drivers, start your engines!” rang out to clear the grid for the two-hour Michelin Pilot Challenge from 4:30 – 6:30 p.m. As crews and fans followed with post-race discussion and debriefing, the track still hosted more cars; Lamborghini and Corvette Corral Laps extended beyond 7:30. Many of the GS teams were there even longer loading up their trailers and exiting, leaving a gap in the paddock filled early Sunday with team and guest cars.
For BMW fans, all that means they got to see the seven participating BMWs numerous times throughout the day. This was the GTP cars first visit to Laguna Seca, with its notorious low grip and unique elevation changes. Driver Connor De Phillippi shared that RLL Racing used different set-ups on the #24 and #25 Hybrid V8 GTP cars to dial in the best approach more efficiently. While both BMWs qualified within one second of the pole sitting Penske Porsche 963s, in this tightly contested field of nine, De Phillippi and Nick Yelloly will start seventh and Augusto Farfus and Philipp Eng will start eighth.
Grand Sport qualifying Saturday morning resulted in a wide range for the three BMW GT4 participants. The Turner Motorsport #95 car piloted by Cameron Lawrence and Robert Megennis landed in P4 while the other Turner car, the #96 G82 M4 driven by Vincent Barletta and Robby Foley, landed P19. In between the yellow and blue M4s, Sean Quinlan and Greg Liefooghe again shared the driver’s seat in Cameron Racing’s orange and blue #43 car started in seventeen.
These three BMWs were coming off a collective success in their last race, Sebring’s 12-hour endurance in March. Turner finished one-two there with Cameron Racing ninth. Saturday afternoon at Laguna Seca, with #35 GS and TCR cars tailing each other around the 2.238-mile eleven-turn course, many cars did not escape unscathed, the Turner cars included. Cameron Racing managed to climb to seventh while the Turner #95 car finished tenth followed three places and twelve seconds later by the #96 car.
“It was a super competitive race but the BMW just didn’t have the pace of the Mercedes and Porsches [that claimed the top six spots in GS],” Will Turner explains. “We did the best we could with the equipment we had. We tried to take a gamble with track position versus new tires and it didn’t pan out.”
Turner is back at it Sunday with two GTD entrants in the WeatherTech Championship. Running with GTD Pro, LMP2, and GTP class cars, Patrick Gallagher and Robby Foley will be back in the Liqui Moly #96 car starting in P7. In the McIntosh #97 car, Bill Auberlen and Chandler Hull will be on the grid in P12. Just ahead of them both with be the Paul Miller Quartz Oil #1 car in P5. Drivers Bryan Sellers and Madison Snow will be going for three wins in a row in this fourth race of the season.
Other highlights from Saturday included two of the three scheduled BMW CCA Meet and Greets at Paul Miller Racing and Turner Motorsport. These have become a highlight for members and saw more than 30 members registered for these. The teams open up their very active garages to give members special access to and insight about the cars and the race. It’s a great chance to meet and hear from the team owners, managers, and drivers.
“The Meet and Greets were fantastic again,” says Bay Area resident Mike Gessner, who also attended similar sessions in Long Beach and Daytona this year already. “At Paul Miller, Bryan Sellers was great talking about what they have to deal with as drivers here at Laguna Seca. Tire degradation was a hot topic for both teams. At Turner, Will led the first part and then introduced Jay, race engineer. Jay provided a lot of technical insight about the setup of the M4 GT3 for Laguna Seca that we had never heard before.”
More than a few members peeked into the open garages and spotted the KW Suspensions on the cars. Some had said they hadn’t known that the KW V5s on the BMW GT4 cars is the same system available for consumers, too.
The Golden Gate BMW CCA Chapter provided a corral for parking and watching the race, either from their spot above turn five or on TVs provided there. But BMW fans enjoyed spotting many models in the general parking lots, too, albeit slightly dusty and dirty by the end of each day.
Racing continues Sunday, culminating with the two-hour-and-forty-minute WeatherTech Championship race wrapping up at 2:50 p.m. PST.—Kyle van Hoften