After the first practice session on Friday for the IMSA SportsCar Championship at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, a sense of calm prevailed in the Acura Team Penske garage.
The no. 6 Acura was just a tenth of a second off the pace of the session-leading lap time of 1:16.442 logged by Oliver Jarvis in the no. 77 Mazda Team Joest on the twisting 2.238 mile track.
“If we can get the handling OK today we should be fine,” says Dane Cameron, season points leader in the DPi prototype class along with teammate Juan Pablo Montoya. “Normally everything’s better here when it’s cooler.”
Temperatures soared to 90—more according to some services—on Friday, but are expected to top out closer to 70 on Sunday for the scheduled race.
The no. 6 Acura enters the weekend just seven points ahead of Felipe Nasr and Pippo Derani’s no. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac in the DPi class. Both teams have been consistent all season, turning DPi into something of a two-marque race—the Konica Minolta Cadillac of Renger Van Der Zande and Jordan Taylor lurk 17 points down.
That is until recently joined in the fray by the red hot Team Joest Mazdas.
Team Joest has won three races in a row, with the no. 77 claiming one and the no. 55 piloted by Jonathan Bomarito and Harry Tincknell taking two—vaulting Bomarito into the title hunt.
“Mathematically we have a chance—on paper,” Bomarito says. “Realistically it’s going to be hard to accomplish.”
IMSA awards points on a sliding scale, with 35 going to the winner, 32 to second and 30 to third. Tenth place is worth 21 points.
Cameron and Montoya have finished third or better in the last six races. They gained 6 points on Nasr and Derani at Watkins Glen, picked up 2 more in Ontario, Canada and another 4 at Road America.
“We’ve been trying to extend our points lead,” Cameron says. “If we can leave here with a good haul of points, we will be in good shape going into Petite LeMans”—a reference to the series finale, a 10-hour endurance race at Road Atlanta.
Derani’s fast lap in Friday’s opening practice only put the no. 10 Cadillac in fifth. Bomarito and Ticknell struggled, as well, clocking in as the slowest of the 10 DPi cars.
In GTLM, the season points leaders also had a difficult session. The no. 912 Porsche of Earl Bamber and Laurens Vanthoor were two seconds off the pace and the last of the GTLM cars. The no. 911 driven by Nick Tandy and Patrick Pilet fared little better.
During the post-practice debriefing, the team tried to pinpoint the issue, without much success.
“If we knew, it would be easy,” Bamber says with a smile. “It’s never been our strongest track. But so far we’ve had a good season. We’ve always found solutions.”
Bamber and Vanthoor hold an 11-point advantage over Tandy and Pilet in the GTLM standings. The Corvette driven by Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia sits in third, 21 points down.
In GTD, Mario Farnbacher and Trent Hindman’s points-leading Meyer Shank Acura NSX also struggled in the first practice session. But their nearest challenger for the title—Zacharie Robichon, a distant 37 points back—had a tough session, as well.
Robichon is teamed with Matt Campbell.
IMSA runs endurance and sprint races. Each car has two drivers—more for longer events—and both must take a turn behind the wheel. Laguna Seca is a timed 2 hour and 40 minute race.
A second practice session is scheduled Friday afternoon. Qualifying for the IMSA SportsCar Championship takes place Saturday starting at 12:40pm. The race is Sunday, with the green flag waving at 12:05pm.
Support series—Michelin Challenge, Lamborghini Trofeo and Porsche Trophy West also run this weekend.