By IMSA Wire Service
Ten down, two to go.
The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship springs back into action this weekend for the penultimate round of the season, Sunday’s two-hour, 40-minute Monterey SportsCar Championship Powered by McLaren. The race will be televised live on the NBC Network beginning at 3 p.m. ET.
“Picturesque” is a commonly used adjective used to describe the 2.238-mile road course here on the Monterey Peninsula, and it’s accurate. The racetrack features some of the biggest elevation changes anywhere, and the scenery around the racetrack is breathtaking.
“The Corkscrew,” otherwise known as Turns 8 and 8a, is one of the most iconic turns in motorsport, and also has been the site of some excitement over the years – most notably two years ago when Renger van der Zande pulled off a spectacular pass on Dane Cameron to win the race.
But there’s action all over the track, from the “Andretti Hairpin” (Turn 2) – which is particularly busy on starts and restarts – to another prime passing spot in Turn 5, to the inviting Turn 11 which leads onto the frontstretch. Good racing happens here quite frequently.
It’ll be an exciting weekend here in Monterey. Let’s take a look at some other storylines as the weekend approaches:
Bomarito Happy to Be Home, Riding Mazda Momentum Into Monterey
It’s a busy weekend for Jonathan Bomarito anytime he races at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, because the No. 55 Mazda Team Joest RT-24P DPi driver is a native of the Monterey Peninsula. But he wouldn’t trade it.
“I love WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca,” Bomarito said. “This is one of the best tracks we race at, just from a driver’s standpoint, but also, it’s the Monterey Peninsula. Everybody loves coming out here. It’s my hometown, so it’s a more difficult race in the sense that you have more obligations and trying to spend time and say ‘hi’ to everybody. They all want to come out and support me and say ‘hi,’ and this is an awesome sport that I get to do for a living. It adds a whole ‘nother element to the weekend, but it’s awesome to have that much family and friends and support out.”
Mazda Team Joest is riding a three-race winning streak dating to the program’s long-awaited first victory back in June at the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen. That victory, as well as the most recent one that came last month at Road America, belonged to Bomarito and his No. 55 co-driver, Harry Tincknell.
“We have amazing momentum; three wins for Mazda in a row coming in here,” Bomarito said. “We almost won this race last year, so to say that we’re optimistic for the weekend is an understatement. We just need to keep coming out and performing and see where it unfolds.”
Porsches Looking to Conquer WeatherTech Raceway in GTLM
The two Porsche GT Team entries have a stranglehold on the GT Le Mans class (GTLM) standings in the WeatherTech Championship and will continue their battle for intra-team superiority this weekend.
In the process, the No. 911 and No. 912 Porsche 911 RSRs will aim to put an end to a winless drought at WeatherTech Raceway.
Earl Bamber and Laurens Vanthoor, co-drivers of the No. 912, take an 11-point lead over teammates Patrick Pilet and Nick Tandy, co-drivers of the No. 911, heading into Sunday’s race. Each car has won three races this season to build a commanding lead in the standings. Porsche will wrap up the GTLM manufacturer’s title by just scoring points in each of the final two events.
But a GTLM victory has eluded Porsche at WeatherTech Raceway since the series began competing at the iconic California circuit in 2014. Bamber and Vanthoor finished second a year ago, a result they’d like to go one better in 2019.
“We were strong there last year and scored second,” Bamber said. “It would be wonderful if we could secure another podium place this year. It would help Porsche to take another important step towards the championship. Plus, it would put Laurens and me in an even better position in the fight for the drivers’ title.”
Porsche drivers have been on the GTLM podium at each race this season, including a five-race mid-season win streak. While overcoming the victory hurdle at WeatherTech Raceway would be another feather in the cap, the larger end-of-season prizes still consume the focus.
“For us, the penultimate race of the season is about consolidating our position in the championship or, preferably, to extend our lead,” Vanthoor said. “We don’t have to risk everything, but of course we’d like to win.”
“We’ve often been strong on the Californian racetrack but we’ve never won there,” said Pilet. “We’d like to change that next weekend. If our car wins, the situation in the drivers’ championship will get really exciting.”
Nielsen, Legge Team up to Go for Women’s ‘Three-Peat’ in GTD
The GT Daytona (GTD) class has seen a woman standing atop the victory podium each of the past two years at WeatherTech Raceway, with Christina Nielsen part of the winning team in 2017 and Katherine Legge doing the same in 2018. Now, the duo is teaming up to see if a female driver – or in this case, two female drivers – can reach the top step of the podium for the third consecutive year.
Nielsen and Legge are driving the No. 57 Heinricher Racing with Meyer Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3. Legge and Alvaro Parente wheeled the No. 86 Meyer Shank Racing Acura to victory a year ago, while Nielsen’s 2017 triumph came in a Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3 co-driven with Alessandro Balzan (with Legge and Andy Lally finishing second in an Acura).
Legge has been a full-season driver in the No. 57, while Nielsen is making her seventh start of 2019.
“Laguna was a great race for us last year, scoring the pole and the win in the Acura,” said Legge, who set a GTD track lap record in 2018 qualifying. “We will be focusing on trying to repeat those results this year. It’s great to also have Christina back in the car with me. She has performed very well all season long, so I’m feeling pretty confident heading into the race weekend.”
Nielsen also finished second at WeatherTech Raceway in 2016 and hopes a little “home cooking” will lead to another strong result.
“Laguna is sort of my home race since I am based here in California,” the Denmark native said. “It is one of the iconic tracks that we go to, and with the championship tightening up, everyone will be a little bit more on edge. I had a podium finish in 2016 and a win in 2017. Combining that experience with the strength the NSX has shown here in the past, and I’m confident we’ll have a good result.”
Nasr Enjoys Road Trip in Cadillac Prior to Race Weekend
No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac DPi-V.R driver Felipe Nasr had seat time in a different Cadillac over the past several days. Nasr and three buddies spent 10-12 days touring the West Coast in a Cadillac XT6 SUV, beginning in San Diego and ping-ponging around from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon, Los Angeles to Big Sur, and Carmel to Lake Tahoe before finally arriving at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca for this weekend’s race.
“It’s been pretty fun, actually,” Nasr said. “We’ve seen everything from the desert to the beach to Vegas to canyons to downtowns. California is full of life and I like to explore the outdoors especially. I like to see scenery and my friends – one of them was in the U.S. for the first time – they were pretty amazed by the country as well.
“We had a brand-new XT6 and, man, the car is amazing. Just the styling and the finish of the car, and it has a lot of space. I can put my whole crew in the car and all the bags and it was super comfortable. The car has a lot of innovations on the technology side. The car just fit like a glove on the trip and it was perfect.”
With the road trip in the rearview mirror, it’s time for Nasr and co-driver Pipo Derani to get down to business. They head into Sunday’s Monterey SportsCar Championship Powered by McLaren seven points in arrears of WeatherTech Championship Daytona Prototype international (DPi) points leaders Juan Pablo Montoya and Dane Cameron in the No. 6 Acura Team Penske DPi.
Tickets and Tune-In
Tickets for the Monterey SportsCar Championship Powered by McLaren weekend, which also includes the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge and Lamborghini Super Trofeo North America, are available now at the track’s box office as well as WeatherTechRaceway.com.
Sunday’s race will be televised live on the NBC network beginning at 3 p.m. ET. IMSA Radio also will have live coverage throughout the weekend on IMSA.com and RadioLeMans.com, with a live race broadcast also airing on SiriusXM Radio.