Auto Racing: IMSA returns this weekend to Laguna Seca

Peninsula Premier Admin

LAGUNA SECA — Another round of world-class speed will raise the decibel level in the hills above the Monterey-Salinas Highway with the return of the International Motor Sports Association car series.

The chase for the WeatherTech SportsCar points title resumes at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca Friday with the Hyundai Monterey Sports Car Championship.

The IMSA series, which took a one-month break to allow drivers to compete in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in France last month, returns with four races left in the season. The series includes two drivers per car in every class at every event.

Unlike last season, when the Hyundai Monterey Sports Car Championship was held on Halloween weekend with no fans, the paddocks and hills are expected to be full of race fans this weekend. (Bob Heathcote — Special to the Herald)

“The speed of these cars is just shy of IndyCars,” said Barry Toepke, WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca vice president of communications. “The Daytona prototypes are wickedly fast.”

Unlike last season, when the event was held on Halloween weekend with no fans, the paddocks and hills are expected to be full of race fans.

“It’s going to be a pretty busy track this weekend,” Toepke said. “This is the first major series for race cars for us that will be open to the fans.”

The 19-month long pandemic kept Laguna Seca from opening its doors back in April for the Trans-AM speedfest.

The paddocks will open to fans, with a fan pit walk before the races on Saturday and Sunday. Fans who are unvaccinated are strongly encouraged to physical distance and wear masks.

Daily and multi-day tickets are available by visiting WeatherTechRaceway.com, or by calling 831-242-8200. There is a 25 percent discount for Monterey County residents.

Although Laguna Seca’s 11-turn, 2.238-mile track presents plenty of challenges for drivers, elite teams are expected to hit speeds of 170 mph or more on the straights.

Four different racing series’ (Grand Sport, Daytona Prototypes, LeMans Prototypes and GT Lemans) will be going on simultaneously in Sunday’s final, which is a 2-hour and 40-minute marathon.

“There’s a lot of passing in this race,” Toepke said. “The prototypes will start lapping some of the other series cars in 35 to 40 minutes.”

Looking to defend his series and Laguna Seca race title is Ricky Taylor, who teamed with four-time Indy 500 champion Helio Castroneves last year to win the IMSA points title.

Castroneves has spent most of his time this season back on the IndyCar circuit, having won the Indy 500 in May. So Taylor joined forces this season with Filipe Albuquerque and the pair currently holds a 41-point series lead, with three other teams all within a win.

Blistering tracks in the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acra ARX-05, Taylor and Albuquerque have two wins and five straight podium finishes coming into the weekend.

“Laguna Seca has always been a great track for the Acura,” Taylor said. “Felipe and I can not wait to get back on the track together and continue the momentum after the Le Mans’ break.”

Albuquerque, who is from Portugal, joined the WeatherTech series in 2018, finishing sixth as a rookie with two wins. He has won twice at Long Beach in his career.

Taylor has tasted success at Laguna Seca in the past, having earned the pole in 2019, and teaming with Castroneves to win the event last year.

“We need to have a good weekend before we get to Long Beach and Road Atlanta to try to build a little bit of a gap before the end of the season,” Taylor said.

Chasing Taylor and Albuquerque is Pipo Derani and Felipe Nasr, both of Brazil. The pair won the last event held on Aug. 8, capturing the IMSA SportsCar Weekend in Wisconsin.

“We are definitely defending off the No. 31 (Deran-Nasr) and the Mazda in the championship right now,” Taylor said.

All classes in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship series will be running, as well as the Lamborghini Super Trofeo, the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge and Mazda MX-5 Cup.

“This is one of the premier sports car series’ in America,” Toepke said. “It attracts drivers from all over the world. It’s a talented international field in IMSA.”

Laguna Seca has two more races slated for the year with the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey NTT IndyCar Series on Sept. 17-19, and the Velocity Invitationals on Nov. 11-14.

Contributed by local news sources

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