The overall them for this weekend could be summed up in a simple phrase from a movie title, “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.” It seems that has been a recurring theme for me at Laguna since my first race there in 2004. This track is proving to be my unicorn. I love everything about Laguna but I can’t seem to get the results I feel is deserved of the time and effort we have put in to being successful.
Before this weekend I was looking forward to spending time in Monterey. My wife Resa was making the trek out with my parents and I (mom and dad don’t miss a race). What makes this trip special is we were doing it without the kids. She and I don’t get this kind of opportunity too often with my race and coaching schedule so we were looking forward to hitting up a few of our local favorite spots to eat along with enjoying a some good time cruising along the coast. We started out by waking up early to go on a run down the coast in Monterey before our test day. We top the morning off with a nice breakfast a small breakfast spot we found last year. Again we don’t get to spend a morning like this too often so I really enjoyed the quality time I had with her prior to going to the race track.
Dan and I show up at the tack prepped to get the #38 Next Level European Cayman up to speed in the only test day session scheduled. We both had prepared for the session by spending time driving Laguna Seca on our iRacing simulators in the weeks leading up to the race. We both felt we needed to be up to speed at the track as quickly as possible because the Porsche Caymans were gifted with a restrictor plate to help balance the performance. This is where the bad starts. We get suited up with a game plan of how we wanted to tune the car for the session. About the time I am to get in the car to take the green flag our car decided to develop a fueling issue. It wouldn’t idle at all after it had spent time getting warmed up under the awning. The NLE crew worked hard all session to diagnose the issue and found the problem shortly after the session ended. We didn’t get to turn a lap in the first session.
Thank goodness we spent time on iRacing to get a start to the weekend. We felt we knew the track well and this small set back wouldn’t hinder us in getting up to speed the next day. And this would be the case as we ended Friday’s first practice session P5 on the ST charts. We kept working hard to find some more speed and we did in the second session but it seems the Caymans were no match for the lightweight Mazda MX-5s as they went 1, 2, 3 in the session. The Mazdas being that fast for the session was the start of the bad for Friday. Qualifying was next. He laid down big improvements in time in qualifying but we were no match for the MX-5s again. Dan matched my times from the second session only to find himself starting 23rd. The MX-5s went 1, 2, 3, again in qualifying. At this point, the race was going to be about who could create luck to get in front of the Mazdas and stay there. We decide the best way to strategize was over our favorite race week meal of Mexican food.
Race morning rolls around with the usual series meetings and team meetings. Again we know our work is going to be cut out for us getting to the front. We are prepped and ready. Dan starts the car quickly making his move up a few spots. He really drove a great first stint of the race working up to 15th. He made some great passes while setting a good pace for the opening stint. Then the Ugly happens. He gets hit in the driver’s side rear entering the corkscrew. This sends him and the results of his great drive spinning down the track. The contact broke our driver’s side rear toe link. Dan crabs the car back to the pits for repairs. The Next Level European crew got straight to work on repairing the car. In less than 10 minutes they had the new toe link on the car with a quick eye of the alignment and we were back on track. Unfortunately this put us 5 laps down on the leaders. At this point my job to get a great result for the team was pretty much over but I still had the job of getting the most out of the Continental Tires on our cars as I could to the finish line. Out of the pits the car was handling great. I was matching the pace and was slightly faster at times than the leaders. This we did setting the fastest lap of the Caymans in the field. We also were able to help our BimmerWorld teammates in the 81 car maintain their 6th place finishing spot (1, 2, 3, were Mazdas).
This race wasn’t our best since we were taken out of contention early. We did show our Next Level Caymans can compete at the front of the field. We are new to the Porsche world but with the best crew and the best team of drivers in the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge. Everyone fought hard keeping us in the fight no matter what happened during our challenging weekend at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.