Our Yosemite trip to Laguna Seca and the IMSA race was, well, interesting
It wasn’t much of a “Drive” because the caravan was only two cars: both drivers were named “Pierce” -Chuck and Sean (no relation turns out). Your reporter, Don (and Diane), came down separately. For starters, the hotel, Pacific Garden Inn, was very nice and reasonably priced! Our group rendezvoused at the hotel for some “wine and cheese” before heading out to dinner. Jennifer Pierce and Diane Chaisson did oversee us “guys”, making sure we didn’t get out of control. Dinner was a short walk away at the Fishwife, a local seafood restaurant with great menu and reasonable prices!
But, to the RACE!
The race was a mixed bag in so many ways. Overall, the race had a LOT of lead changes with both the Prototype and GTLM classes ending with drama. Though I didn’t focus (my camera) on the prototype cars, the race ended with the Visit Florida Ligier, a LM P2 car, no less, winning with one of the more dramatic passes in recent history, reminiscent of “THE Pass” by Zanardi in 1996 in the same Corkscrew corner! Check out the video below!!
But we were there for the GTLM class!
Porsche was represented by the 911 RSR (the 911 with the engine mid-mounted, not “rear” mounted!). The competition included:
Ferrari 488 GTE, Ford GT (a V6 twin turbo car designed from scratch as a race car that was then softened for sale as a “road” car), BMW M6 and Corvette C7.R. Ferrari was represented by a single car entry by Risi Competizione which took pole position (time: 1.21.91). The next four qualifying spots were taken by Ford GT and the BMW M6’s. Bringing up the rear were the Porsche’s and Corvettes, alternating positions 6th through 9th. The first Porsche, No 911, had a time of 1.22.76, or 0.85 seconds behind the Ferrari. And that is a lot for qualifying!. But to be fair, the full GTLM grid was covered by only 1.1 seconds. Such is the effect of BOP or Balance of Performance. What’s BOP? The governing bodies, such as IMSA, try and level the grid by assessing performance potential and then adjusting (mostly) fuel consumption rate and weight.
The excitement started when the green flag dropped with the No 24 BMW M6 getting spun around in the opening lap at Turn 2 — the hairpin corner at the end of the “front straight”. The BMW had to wait for the full field to clear the corner before re-entering the race, now in LAST place. The drama begins.
As for our Porsches, they sounded GREAT — something about those flatsixes with “normal aspiration”!! And frankly, they looked great also!
But the day belonged to the No 24 BMW. After finishing its first lap in “LAST” place, it worked its way up the grid, picking off cars right and left. It took only 6 laps to work its way totally through the GTD cars, which are more the GT3 level cars and included Porsche GT3, Lexus PCF, Lamborghini Huracan, Acura NSX, Mercedes AMG GT3, Audi R8 and a lone Ferrari 488 GT3 (which ultimately took the GTD win).
Through the second half of the race, the No 24 BMW started picking off GTLM cars, one by one. But then, races are not won by only the fastest, but the ones with the best “strategy”. As far as the fastest goes, the No 62 Ferrari 488GTE was the consistent leader. It was smooth and looked like it was on “rails” in the corners. A full course yellow mixed up the standings and the green flag waved to begin lap 63 with 65 minutes remaining in the race. The No. 67 Ford GT was called to the pits for a penalty for hitting the No. 25 BMW and the No. 912Porsche RSR also served a penalty for working while the pits were closed to GT cars. The BMW moved up to the second position and then into the lead on lap 65, passing the No. 66 Ford GT. Six laps later the No. 62 Ferrari that started the race on the pole went into first. But, a third stop for the Ferrari on lap 84 promoted the BMW back to the lead, and then went into a fuel conservation mode. But it wasn’t over yet. The Ferrari, now with enough fuel to go full song, began clawing back positions, With only a couple laps to go, it was breathing down the BMW’s exhaust. On the last lap, coming out of the last corner, the two cars drag raced to the line. The BMW pipped the Ferrari by 0.15 seconds at the line !! Behind that action, the Porsche No 911 inherited the last podium position with the No 66 Ford GT pitting for a splash of fuel. Yep, an exciting race.
A couple comments about the race and the series. My opinion only!
First. The GTLM cars are very sophisticated. If you haven’t had a good look at the rear end of the “new” 911 RSR, take a look! The motor is now in front of the rear axle, hence “mid-engined”. But the most obvious change is the rear “diffuser”. All of the GTLM cars have this enormous diffuser at the rear of their cars. Its the current aero-advantage of the series. Without it, the cars would be slower, to the point that Porsche made the decision to go mid-engined with its “icon”.
Second. BOP. It would be really interesting to see what the grid would look like if each manufacturer could just innovate without constraints. Since the BMW, the Ford and the Ferrari are all turbid, Porsche would be forced to bring a “twin turbo” to the party, and the Corvette like to bring a C7 06. The first outcome would be massive HP numbers all around. The series could end up with a 5 second spread between the grid, first to last, and IMSA doesn’t want to see this happen. This year, the series has seen the Ford GT’s win, the BMW’s win, the Corvette’s win and a Porsche win. Only Ferrari has been shut out of the winner’s circle. IMSA wants parity and that’s what they have.
Lastly. I remember coming to Laguna Seca for the “big” IMSA races, even the CAN-AM races of yore and the track was full of people. There were people all over the hillside, the corkscrew views were cluttered with people and it took a long time to drive home. For this event, there just weren’t that many people in attendance. The Porsche corral was even down compared to memories. The “Nissan” Coral had maybe a dozen cars. The Corvette corral this year was well attended, as was the BMW coral. But overall, I was disappointed. Not sure why. Demographics changing, maybe; television coverage is too good, well, it was good!.
I wonder what attendance will be when Formula E takes over?
Story and photos by D. Chaisson.
YouTube video of “the pass” from the web.