The consensus coming into WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca was that it was an Acura track. Acura had won the past three IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship races in the DPi class, and Wayne Taylor Racing and the No. 10 Acura ARX-06 came in as the defending race winners and default favorite. While they showed that the feeling was warranted by leading every session, qualifying on pole and ultimately winning the 2h40m race around the 2.38-mile, 11-turn circuit, it wasn’t as easy as might have been expected.
Ricky Taylor started the No. 10 on pole, took the lead at the start and was able to put a gap on Oliver Jarvis in the No. 60 Meyer Shank Racing with Curb Agajanian Acura. “We managed to get a pretty decent gap,” explained Taylor. “Our strategy, being out front with such big pit stop windows, the only way to control what other people do is to build a gap. So they told me just push as hard as you can to build that cushion. That’s what I did, not saving tires, not saving fuel, just build a gap. And then they could play with the strategy.”
The face of the race changed when the first and only full-course caution for GTD polesitter Russell Ward’s Winward Racing Mercedes-AMG went hard into the wall up the hill from Turn 6. That caution came at 32 minutes into the race — about as ideal a time as it could be, just as the pit window was opening for the DPi and LMP2 cars to make the race on three more stops, and the GTD cars to make it in two.
Filipe Albuquerque took over the No. 10, and Tom Blomqvist entered the No. 60, and the race was on. The MSR crew brought the No. 60 in a lap earlier than the WTR car on the next stop. Although Albuquerque emerged from the pits in front of Blomqvist, the heat in the No. 60’s tires made the difference, and Blomqvist was shortly in the lead.
Traffic played a big part in the rest of the race and the ultimate outcome, and Albuquerque seemed to usually get the best of it. With just over an hour to go, Blomqvist got held up in traffic, and Albuquerque pounced with a forceful move in the Corkscrew, diving inside at Turn 8, and pushing Blomqvist wide and over the curbs in 8A. There was more contact between the two as they tried to negotiate the traffic headed toward Turn 9.
“When I was P2, I was really, really frustrated because I kind of felt that I had a better car,” said Albuquerque. “Somehow I didn’t understand how it could be he passed me in the pits, and it was like it was impossible to hold him. So I was really mad. Then when I caught him and I was like, ‘This is not going to end like this,’ so I just sent it and luckily, it paid off. The Corkscrew is always a tricky one because you don’t know what it’s going to be like on the other side. Sometimes you need to take some risks, but I’m glad it paid off for me.”
The Acura battle was fierce at the front. Richard Dole/Lumen
Blomqvist chased hard, setting the fast lap and a new lap record, 1m15.546s on lap 100 trying to hold onto Albuquerque. Given a clear lap, Blomqvist could catch the No. 10, but Albuquerque always got the better of him in traffic.
At the end, Albuquerque held him and won by just a tick over a second, for WTR’s second-straight win at Laguna Seca for he and Taylor, and Acura’s fourth in a row. Blomqvist was left with the consolation prize and a lot of frustration for himself and Jarvis.
“I had much more pace than them,” Blomqvist lamented. “So just had to bide our time. You know, initially, we did a good strategy call to stop a lap earlier and then basically undercut them. I did a really good out lap and managed to jump into the lead. Then we came across a bunch of absolute maniacs out there. I think I got the worst possible traffic at the worst time. Filipe was pretty forceful up into the Corkscrew and managed to get through. That kind of messed up our race, really, because there wasn’t enough opportunity to get past. It’s just too difficult to pass in normal running and I didn’t really get a good opportunity with traffic. It was a shame because our car was the for sure the faster one today and I think we should have won the race.”
The Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillacs had been the best of the rest for most of the weekend, but things went sour for them in the race. The No. 01 was revisited by electrical gremlins only 10 minutes in, with Sebastien Bourdais rolling to a stop headed up the hill to the Corkscrew. He managed to cycle the power and get rolling again, pitting the next lap, but the car never emerged again after going behind the wall. It was the third last-place finish of the season for the team. With a little over an hour left, Alex Lynn, pushing on hot tires on a clear track before pitting, sailed off in Turn 6. He got going again, but the No. 02 was never a factor after that.
That left Tristan Nunez and Pipo Derani to claim their second third-place finish of the season in the No. 31 Action Express Racing Cadillac, the first coming at Sebring. The podium was the team’s fourth consecutive third-place finish at Laguna Seca.
Tower Motorsport ruled the roost in LMP2 with John Farano and Louis Deletraz. Richard Dole/Lumen
Louis Deletraz made quite the impression in his American debut, winning LMP2 with John Farano in the No. 8 Tower Motorsport ORECA and getting a new lap record in the process. They finished 23s ahead of Ryan Dalziel and Dwight Merriman in the No. 18 Era Motorsport entry, with Juan Pablo Montoya and Henrik Hedman in the No. 81 DragonSpeed ORECA finishing third.
“It’s really amazing. I’ve been playing Laguna Seca since I was eight years old on Playstation, and to be here in real life, I’m very happy to be in IMSA for my first time and win at my first go,” said Deletraz. “It really is amazing. The team did an awesome job. And I’m very thankful for it. It was very nice. The car was good all weekend, I felt comfortable from the first lap. It’s always good to know I have a lap record. In the end, we were fast all the time, we made no mistakes and we were very smart on strategy so I can only thank them.”
Next up for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship is another 2h40m race at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in two weeks. LMP3 returns to the lineup, but GTD Pro won’t be part of the championship until the Six Hours of the Glen at the end of June.