LAGUNA SECA REWIND
Round 3 of the 2016 Continental Tires SportsCar Challenge at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca saw the CJ Wilson Racing team surround the top step of the podium with the #33 ONE Capital Porsche Cayman finishing second with the sister #35 Safecraft Safety Equipment car finishing in third. This was second time in three years that the Austin based team took pole position, second and third places at the Northern Californian track.
After a tense internecine battle over the second half of the race, which at some stages could have produced some unwanted fireworks and headlines, Marc Miller brought the #33 Cayman GT4 home in second ahead of teammate and close friend Tyler McQuarrie in the sister car.
Thursday’s opening practice saw McQuarrie top the timesheets in the #35 car with Miller just behind in P2. The second session saw both cars focus on race pace and without the aid of new Continental rubber with the Safecraft #35 car finished in third with the ONE Capital #33 car following one place behind. The drivers were generally happy with the day’s performance but knew that there was more work to do before qualifying.
The early practice session pace proved to be no fluke as Danny Burkett took pole in Friday’s fifteen minute qualifying session by an astonishing 1.4 seconds while Till Bechtolsheimer impressed his new teammates by putting the #35 car on the inside of row two in third. “Just before I went out to qualify, Marc gave me a great speech about the fact that we have a really good package and if I just drive and don’t push the car we will have a good run and if we don’t get pole it won’t be a big deal,” explained the 21 year old Canadian, Burkett. He went on to say that “once I got on track, I was not even looking at the lap times, I was focused on getting a good balance and not going over my limits. All of a sudden I heard on the radio that we were P1 and P2 was 1.4 seconds back.”
Burkett’s qualifying dominance was reflected in his opening stint of Saturday’s two and a half hour race around the 2.238 mile track on the Monterey Peninsula. The young Canadian was the class of the field right from the green flag opening up a 16.474 second lead after 15 laps. That gap was erased on lap 16 with the first full course yellow of the day. Till Bechtolsheimer was equally impressive during his opening stint as he battled both Mustangs and he took second on lap 11 completely belying the fact that this was his first visit to Laguna Seca.
At the restart on Lap 19, Burkett picked up exactly where he had left off as he began to stretch his lead by one second per lap. The CJ Wilson pair ran one-two for the next 12 laps until Scott Maxwell’s Mustang slipped by Bechtolsheimer for second. Two laps later the impressive rookie pitted the #35 Safecraft Safety Equipment car for fuel, tires and a change of driver. Two laps later, Burkett brought the leading ONE Capital Cayman in for his scheduled stop. As the GS field took their pits stops Miller and McQuarrie moved back towards the head of the field and it set the stage for their run to the podium.
For Marc Miller, second place was enjoyable but frustrating. “Any time you can get both team cars on the podium it means the results were solid. Danny put in a flawless opening stint and our car was definitely set-up to be stronger on older tires which gave us a great opportunity at the end to fight for the win.”
Third place was the very least that rookie Bechtolsheimer deserved for his remarkable opening stint in the #35 Safecraft Safety Equipment car. “I loved every minute of it. For me it was what racing is all about - an exhilarating battle from start to finish. Early in the race I was battling both Mustangs as their tires went off. Later in my stint I found myself defending like my life depended on it as my tires faded and the two Mustangs were now on fresh rubber. While Scott Maxwell finally got the better of me a couple of laps before the driver change, I was happy with where we were when I handed the car over to Tyler. He was then able to work his magic to put us on the podium. The only downside, I've been dreaming of Mustangs in my mirrors ever since.”
Round 4 of the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge takes place in the picturesque Finger Lakes region of New York State at the legendary Watkins Glen International from June 30th to July 2nd.